5th Luminous Mystery: Institution of the Eucharist

We continue our Patristic Rosary Project today with the:

5th Luminous Mystery: Institution of the Eucharist

The Eucharist, its celebration and the Sacred Species, is the greatest of the sacraments. It is the only of the seven which actually is that which it confers. It is like the great jewel of a heavenly centerpiece set about with other gems, each making the others more beautiful by their relationship.

Holy Mass has been celebrated in one form or another in the Church since the Last Supper. The early Church bears witness to its celebration. Here is a famous passage from St. Justin Martyr (165):

There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion. And this food is called among us Euxaristia, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body; “and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood; “and gave it to them alone. [First Apology 65-66]

The Supper occured on that fateful evening when Christ was betrayed. The Fathers teach us that even the details are significant. St. John Chrysostom (+407) talks about “evening”:

But the evening is a sure sign of the fullness of times and that the things were now come to the very end. [He took bread] and gave thanks to teach us how we ought to celebrate this sacrament and to show that He does not unwillingly come to the Passion. He is teaching us so that whatever we may suffer, we may bear it thanksfully. So it is a sign of good hope. If the [Mosaic] type pointed to deliverance from bondage, how much more will the truth He embodies set free the whole world. He is being delivered up for the benefit of our whole human race. This is why He did not ordain the sacrament before this time. But from then on, when the rites of the law were no longer in effect, Jesus ordained it. [The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 82.1]

The mighty Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose (+397) talks about the consecration of the bread:

Do you wish to know how it is consecrated with heavenly words? Accept was the words are. The priest speaks. He says: “Perform for us this oblation written, reasonable, acceptable, which is a figure of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the day before He suffered He took bread in His holy hands, looked toward heaven, toward You, holy Father omnipotent, eternal God, giving thanks, blessed broke, and having broken it gave it to the apostles and His disciples,” saying: “Take and eat of this, all of you; for this is my Body, which shall be borken for many” (1 Cor 11:24). Take note. Before it is consecrated, it is bread; but when Christ’s words have been added, it is the Body of Christ. [On the sacraments 4.5]

Sound familiar? It ought to. It is the Roman Canon. There is a two-fold consecration at the Last Supper renewed in Holy Mass. Again, Ambrose:

Before the words of Christ, the chalice is full of wine and water; when the words of Christ have been added, the the Blood in effect redeems the people. So behold in what great respects the expression of Christ is able to change all things. Then the Lord Jesus Himself testified to us that we receive His Body and Blood. Should we doubt at all about His faith and testimony? [On the sacraments 4.23]

Christ’s words can change all things. When was the last time you heard the alter Christus, the other Christ, the priest say, “I absolve you of your sins”? Have you received Communion without hearing those words? His words, through the priest, can change all things. He made this possible… all for you. Christ’s Blood was poured out “for the many”, since although He died for all, not all will accept the gifts He offers. This is clear from the Greek text of the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper. The Fathers knew this, of course. St. Jerome certainly did when he gave us “pro multis” in the Vulgate.

Perhaps more is needed about this all important issue. In the Latin Church (as in all the ancient Churches) we have ever said “for many”. But in the terrible English translation (which, though horrible does not invalidate the consecration), we hear “for all”. We should get at this a little more.

What has the liturgy of the Mass actually had in the past? We get “pro vobis et pro multis … for you and for many” in the formula of consecration from a blending of the accounts in Mark 14:24 (translated from Greek: “this is my blood of the covenant (diatheke) shed for many (tò peri pollôn)”) and Matthew 26:28 also says “for many” together with Luke 22:20 (translated from Greek: “Likewise also the cup, after the supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant (diatheke) in my Blood which will be poured out for you.’” The choice to do this had theological significance. Our Patristic sources, such as the writings of Ambrose when describing the words of consecration in the Eucharistic liturgy, have pro multis and not pro omnibus, etc. The liturgical formulas were from Scripture. Jerome, who translated from Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin giving us a Bible translation called the Vulgata, chose to use pro multis when translating the Greek tò peri pollôn (genitive plural of polus) in describing Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. In Greek polus means “many” or “much” or even “most” as in the majority: it does not mean “all”. In the ancient Church, no one said “for all” instead of “for many”. In the Greek Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus uses a form polus “many”. The liturgical rites of the East retained a form of polus. The rites of the Latin West have ever used pro multis.

Theological challenge, especially heresy, forces us to reevaluate our doctrines and their formulations. Theological revolt and heresy constrains Catholics to go deeper, and the disputes bear great fruits in the long run. During the 16th c. the Church was compelled to battle the Protestant heresies concerning the Eucharist, grace, and justification, the nature of man, etc. The long process of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) deepened our understanding of the faith and gave clear expression to what we believe. We find the Church’s teaching enunciated succinctly by the Roman Catechism or Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), the practical guide for pastors of souls. This Catechism says about the pro multis topic:

But the words which are added for you and for many (pro vobis et pro multis), were taken some of them from Matthew (26: 28) and some from Luke (22: 20) which however Holy Church, instructed by the Spirit of God, joined together. They serve to make clear the fruit and the benefit of the Passion. For if we examine its value (virtutem), it will have to be admitted that Blood was poured out by the Savior for the salvation of all (pro omnium salute sanguinem a Salvatore effusum esse); but if we ponder the fruit which men (homines) will obtain from it, we easily understand that its benefit comes not to all, but only to many (non ad omnes, sed ad multos tantum eam utilitatem pervenisse). Therefore when He said pro vobis, He meant either those who were present, or those chosen (delectos) from the people of the Jews such as the disciples were, Judas excepted, with whom He was then speaking. But when He added pro multis He wanted that there be understood the rest of those chosen (electos) from the Jews or from the gentiles. Rightly therefore did it happen that for all (pro universis) were not said, since at this point the discourse was only about the fruits of the Passion which bears the fruit of salvation only for the elect (delectis). And this is what the words of the Apostle aim at: Christ was offered up once in order to remove the sins of many (ad multorum exhaurienda peccata – Heb 9:28); and what according to John the Lord says: I pray for them; I do not pray for the world, but for those whom you gave to Me, for they are Yours (John 17:9). Many other mysteries (plurima mysteria) lie hidden in the words of this consecration, which pastors, God helping, will easily come to comprehend for themselves by constant meditation upon divine things and by diligent study. (My translation and emphasis. Part II, ch. 4 (264.7-265.14) from the Catechismus Romanus seu Catechsimus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad parochos …. Editio critica. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989, p. 250. Cf. The Catechism of the Council of Trent. Trans. John A. McHugh & Charles J. Callan. Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.: New York, 1934, pp. 227-28.)

Think about it and decide. Back to the Fathers. The amazing Origen (+254) has this for our reflection:

If therefore we wish to receive the bread of blessing from Jesus, who is eager to give it, we should enter the city and go into the house, prepared beforehand, where Jesus kept the Passover with His disciples. We ascent to the “large, furnished upper room”(Luke 22:12) where He “took the cup”from the Father and, “when had given thanks, He gave it to them” who had gone up there with Him and said, “Drink this, for this is my Blood of the new covenant.” The cup was both consumed and poured out. It was consumed by the disciples. It was “poured out for the remission of sin” committed by those who drink it. If you want to know in what sense it was poured out, compare this saying with what was written [by Paul]: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” (Rom 5:5) If the Blood of the covenant was poured into our hearts for the remission of our sins, then by the pouring of that potable Blood into our hearts all the sins we have committed in the past will be remitted and wiped clean. He who took the cup and said “drink this all of you” will not depart from us who drink it but will drink it with us (since He Himself is in each of us), for we are unable alone or without Him either to eat of the bread or to drink of the fruit of the true vine. You should not marvel that He who is Himself the bread also eats the bread with us or that He who is Himself the cup of the fruit of the vine also drinks it with us. This is possible because the Word of God is omnipotent and is at once the bearer of many different names, for the multitude of His virtues are innumerable, since His is Himself every virtue. [Commentary on Matthew 86]

This takes nothing away from the necessity of baptism and and sacrament of penance, the obligation to be baptized and confess our sins to the alter Christus. However, it directs our gaze to the connect of the sacraments, especially how the forgiveness we receive flows from the Eucharistic Lord, offered and consumed, and culminates in His celebration and reception.

Recitation of the Most Holy Rosary, can be an excellent help for our preparation for confession and for Communion. The Rosary always guides us back to Christ through His Mother’s gaze, she who first bore the Eucharistic Lord within and beneath her heart so that we could receive Him.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Comment

  1. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: This wonderful patristic Rosary project illustrates the fact that your deepest posts, not surprisingly, frequently garner the fewest comments. Your readers (including me) being, naturally, more voluble about topical polemics than serious patristics.

    But this project midpoint at your conclusion of the luminous mysteries ought not pass by without remark on their … well, luminosity. Not least this beautiful tour de force on the fifth luminous mystery, Our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross down through the ages and to leave present with us His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament – my favorite since the very day in October 2002 when John Paul II’s apostolic letter on the Rosary appeared. On which day I added the five luminous decades to my daily routine of the joyful/sorrowful/glorious mysteries on the usual cycle, offering these new mysteries each morning specifically for the health and longevity of our Holy Father, for his intentions and the power and success of his papacy.

    It’s looking like my daily request with the fifth luminous mystery may actually be approaching some degree of realization, but you deserve assurance that this whole glorious project will continue to bear fruit in readers’ devotions long after this particular month of the Rosary is behind us.

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