Tomorrow marks the thirty-third anniversary of my first Holy Communion, a day that I remember vividly and with great fondness. My firstborn son, Joshua, is preparing for his first Communion, and over the last few months we have been engaged in some wonderful conversations as he explores the mystery of the Eucharist.
For years now, our family bedtime ritual has included time for Scripture reading, followed by some basic theological reflection and prayer. I have always marveled at how engaged my children are during our bedtime faith sharing. Their many questions, although simple, have been among the most profound ever posed to me.
A few nights ago, after we read through Matthew's account of the Last Supper, Joshua asked, “Dad, did Jesus receive his own body and blood?”
What a great question!
Although Scripture does not state that Jesus received his own body and blood at the Last Supper, we can nevertheless find plausible evidence in the synoptic Gospels that indicates he did. Let us consider the following examples:
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?' He said, "Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples" (Matt. 26:17-18).
Note that the phrase "keep the passover" is synonymous with "eat the passover." We know from Scripture that Jesus was faithful to observing the Jewish feast of Passover as he had done throughout his entire life (see Luke 2:41). This observance necessarily involved the consumption of the Passover meal. All three Evangelists pont out that Jesus ate this meal along with his disciples:
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?" And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?'" (Mark 14:12-14, emphasis added).
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it." They said to him, "Where will you have us prepare it?" He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?"' (Luke 22:7-11, emphasis added).
When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating... (Matt. 26:20, emphasis added).
And when it was evening he came with the twelve. And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me" (Mark 14:17-18, emphasis added).
He [Jesus] answered, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me..." (Matt. 26:23, emphasis added).
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." and he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:26-29, emphasis added).
And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mk. 14:22-25, emphasis added).
And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15-16, emphasis added).
I believe that these verses clearly indicate that Jesus did in fact consume the Last Supper Passover meal along with his disciples. But did this include include his Eucharistic flesh and blood?
The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, takes up this question in his magnum opus, The Summa Theologica (ST Q. 81.1). It is a lengthy quote, but one that is well worth the read. In it he lays out three reasonable arguments against the idea of Jesus having received his own flesh and blood and refutes each of these objections with great clarity and theological depth.
Article 1. Whether Christ received His own body and blood?
Objection 1. It seems that Christ did not receive His own body and blood, because nothing ought to be asserted of either Christ's doings or sayings, which is not handed down by the authority of Sacred Scripture. But it is not narrated in the gospels that He ate His own body or drank His own blood. Therefore we must not assert this as a fact.
Objection 2. Further, nothing can be within itself except perchance by reason of its parts, for instance. as one part is in another, as is stated in Phys. iv. But what is eaten and drunk is in the eater and drinker. Therefore, since the entire Christ is under each species of the sacrament, it seems impossible for Him to have received this sacrament.
Objection 3. Further, the receiving of this sacrament is twofold, namely, spiritual and sacramental. But the spiritual was unsuitable for Christ, as He derived no benefit from the sacrament. and in consequence so was the sacramental, since it is imperfect without the spiritual, as was observed above (Question 80, Article 1). Consequently, in no way did Christ partake of this sacrament.
On the contrary, Jerome says (Ad Hedib., Ep. xxx), "The Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the guest and banquet, is both the partaker and what is eaten."
I answer that, some have said that Christ during the supper gave His body and blood to His disciples, but did not partake of it Himself. But this seems improbable. Because Christ Himself was the first to fulfill what He required others to observe: hence He willed first to be baptized when imposing Baptism upon others: as we read in Acts 1:1: "Jesus began to do and to teach." Hence He first of all took His own body and blood, and afterwards gave it to be taken by the disciples. And hence the gloss upon Ruth 3:7, "When he had eaten and drunk", says: 'Christ ate and drank at the supper, when He gave to the disciples the sacrament of His body and blood.' Hence, 'because the children partook [Vulgate: 'are partakers' (Hebrews 2:14)] of His flesh and blood, He also hath been partaker in the same.'"
Reply to Objection 1. We read in the Gospels how Christ "took the bread . . . and the chalice"; but it is not to be understood that He took them merely into His hands, as some say. but that He took them in the same way as He gave them to others to take. Hence when He said to the disciples, "Take ye and eat," and again, "Take ye and drink," it is to be understood that He Himself, in taking it, both ate and drank. Hence some have composed this rhyme:
'The King at supper sits,
The twelve as guests He greets,
Clasping Himself in His hands,
The food Himself now eats.'
Reply to Objection 2. As was said above (Question 76, Article 5), Christ as contained under this sacrament stands in relation to place, not according to His own dimensions, but according to the dimensions of the sacramental species; so that Christ is Himself in every place where those species are. And because the species were able to be both in the hands and the mouth of Christ, the entire Christ could be in both His hands and mouth. Now this could not come to pass were His relation to place to be according to His proper dimensions.
Reply to Objection 3. As was stated above (79, 1, ad 2), the effect of this sacrament is not merely an increase of habitual grace, but furthermore a certain actual delectation of spiritual sweetness. But although grace was not increased in Christ through His receiving this sacrament, yet He had a certain spiritual delectation from the new institution of this sacrament. Hence He Himself said (Luke 22:15): "With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you," which words Eusebius explains of the new mystery of the New Testament, which He gave to the disciples. And therefore He ate it both spiritually and sacramentally, inasmuch as He received His own body under the sacrament which sacrament of His own body He both understood and prepared; yet differently from others who partake of it both sacramentally and spiritually, for these receive an increase of grace, and they have need of the sacramental signs for perceiving its truth.
While this question of whether or not Jesus received his own body and blood is not settled doctrine, I find St. Thomas's reasoning to be most compelling and worthy of serious consideration.
What are your thoughts?