Jesus christ did not consecrate bread or wine
where tradition locates the Last Supper of Jesus.
RACHEL The microphones of Emisoras Latinas have returned to Jerusalem, and they are today transmitting from the Cenacle, the place where the marvelous event of Holy Thursday occurred. With us again is Jesus Christ, the protagonist of that memorable night. Jesus, in this very chamber you celebrated the Last Supper and the First Mass.
JESUS Well, what we did was eat the Passover meal together. We used to do that every year, with the full moon of spring. The Passover is the great feast of my people; it commemorates the Exodus, when Moses liberated the slaves from the pharaoh.
RACHEL Yes, but that Passover was special. Let’s review what exactly happened. Everybody was together for the night meal. You took the bread and said, “Eat it, for this is my body.” Afterwards you took the cup of wine and said, “Drink it, for this is my blood.” Those are perhaps the most sacred words of all the history of humanity. Is that how it went?
JESUS Well, I pronounced a blessing over the bread and the wine. I don’t remember the exact works, but … I’m not sure where you’re going with all this.
RACHEL To transubstantiation. When you pronounced those magic words, I mean mysterious words, then God was present in that bread. Is that true or not?
JESUS Yes, God was present in that bread.
RACHEL I’m delighted to hear it. I almost thought you were going to toss out another dogma.
JESUS But why are you so amazed, Rachel? In God we live and move and have our being. Don’t you know that already? Lift up a stone, and God is there. Split a piece of wood, and there you’ll find God.
RACHEL Wait just one moment. Don’t try to escape by confusing us. All our listeners know that you consecrated bread and wine on that night.
JESUS Bread and wine and oil are already sacred. The food with which we nourish ourselves is a gift of God, and therefore it’s sacred. What else are you referring to?
RACHEL I’m referring to transubstantiation, which means that by your words the bread ceased to be bread and the wine ceased to be wine.
JESUS But how is bread going to stop being bread and wine wine?
RACHEL The appearances remained, but the substance changed. In that bread was your body, in that wine was your blood, your very self, Jesus Christ, transubstantiated.
JESUS You’re talking a lot of craziness, Rachel! I was seated there in the middle of everybody. How could I be changed at the same time into a piece of bread or a cup of wine? What kind of trick would that be? Not even a magician could do that!
RACHEL Tell me, what was in that cup that you gave your disciples to drink? Wasn’t it your blood?
JESUS My people never drink the blood of any animal, much less that of a person. What you’re telling me is something … horrendous.
RACHEL Well, then, what did you do on that Holy Thursday?
JESUS I spoke about unity, about community. Then we shared out the bread. I toasted with a cup of wine, and then all of us drank from it, as was the custom.
RACHEL You told them to do that in memory of you.
JESUS Yes, that’s true. I was afraid that they’d arrest me soon, so I told them let’s form an alliance. Whatever happens, let’s stay united, like the grains of wheat on the stalk, like the grapes in the bunch. Even if I’m not here, meet together among yourselves to remember your commitment to the Kingdom of God.
RACHEL Well, now, let’s see if we’re on the same page. That night you did not institute the sacrament of the eucharist?
RACHEL And when a priest repeats the words they claim you spoke that night, what happens with the bread and the wine?
JESUS Nothing. Because … it already happened.
RACHEL What do you mean, it already happened? No miracle takes place?
JESUS The miracle is not in the bread or in the wine, Rachel. The miracle is in the community. When a group of men and women who love one another and defend justice come together and give thanks to God and recall my words, there is God in the midst of them.
RACHEL And here we are, in the midst of our radio audience and with too many questions unanswered. We’ll take a pause and be back with you soon. Rachel Perez, Emisoras Latinas, Jerusalem.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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The last supper during the feast of Passover
The feast of Passover was the most solemn feast of the people of Israel. It was during the days of that feast that Jesus was apprehended and murdered. Passover was celebrated during the first month of the Jewish calendar, the month of Nisan, which in our calendar would run roughly from mid-March to mid-April. The feast lasted seven days, but the 14th-15th of Nisan was considered the feast proper, for it was when people ate the paschal meal together. For Jesus that year this meal was to be his “last supper”.
It was a Jewish custom that the person who presided at meals, generally the father of the family, would break the bread and give a piece to each person there. He would then do the same with the wine: he would bless the common cup, which was then passed from hand to hand so that all could drink from it. Those practices were neither exceptional nor “mysterious”; they were everyday customs. All those who had supper with Jesus on Passover night had been familiar with these customs since childhood. Not only were the gestures familiar to everybody, but it was understood that all who ate the bread and drank the wine would share in the blessing that had been pronounced over them. Like other eastern peoples, the Israelites believed that taking meals together united people into a community. Eating at the same table linked people together in a special way and was the sign of a fraternity which would last long after the meal was over.
Where is God?
Jesus reminds Rachel that God is everywhere and exists in every thing. God is the very heart of all we see and touch. God is present in all the loaves of bread and all the cups of wine. He reminds her of this with the phrase: Lift up a stone, and God is there. Split a piece of wood, and there you’ll find God. This saying is attributed to Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas.
Drinking blood: a strict prohibition
The text in John’s gospel which explicitly puts in the mouth of Jesus the command to “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” (6,52-57) is something totally alien to Jewish culture, which prohibited imbibing the blood of any living thing (Genesis 9,4; Deuteronomy 12,16). For that reason the very idea would have been repugnant for Jesus, perhaps even horrifying and repulsive. John’s gospel is very different in style from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and was written many years after them. John’s gospel was addressed to communities of Hellenistic culture and Gnostic tendencies. For such communities the pagan ceremonies of eating “the body and the blood” of the gods had great religious meaning.
The dogma of transubstantiation
The doctrine of the Eucharist was defined at the Council of Trent (1545-1564), when the authority of the Catholic Church proclaimed: If anyone should say that in the mass there is not a real and true sacrifice being offered, let him be anathema [excommunicated]. If anyone should say that by the words, “Do this in memory of me,” Christ did not consecrate the apostles as priests or did not command the apostles and other priests to offer his own body and his own blood, let him be anathema. If anyone should say that the sacrifice of the mass is only an act of praise or thanksgiving, or that it is merely a commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but is not propitiatory, let him be anathema.
The term “anathema” was a kind of “curse”, used by the ecclesiastical hierarchy to disqualify all those who did not think or believe as they did. When an “anathema” was dictated against someone, the person was expelled from the community (excommunicated) and separated from religious society as someone “cursed” by God.
A doctrine on the defensive
Transubstantiation is a Catholic doctrine that originally emerged as a defensive “ideological weapon” against spiritual groups like the Cathars or Albigensians, which arose in the 12th century and were cruelly persecuted by Rome. These groups attacked the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the powers of priests, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The doctrine of transubstantiation was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in the 16th century, but now as a defense against Protestant reformers who did not accept the doctrine in the same sense as Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Christians, meanwhile, continued understand transubstantiation in the traditional sense.
Transubstantiation, according to the Council of Trent, consists in the marvelous and exceptional conversion of all the substance of the bread into the body of Christ and all the substance of the wine into his blood, so that only the species of bread and wine remain – understanding “species” here as referring to the “accidents” of bread and wine: color, taste, quantity, etc. The dogma holds that under the consecrated species of bread and wine, Christ himself, alive and glorious, is present in a true, real and substantial manner, with his Body, his Blood, his soul and his divinity.
“Do not doubt whether this is true”
According to the official doctrine, the transformation that takes places in the bread and wine is called “consecration” and can only be performed by priests using the precise words established by Christ during the first eucharistic celebration. Two philosophical terms are employed to help understand the doctrine of substantiation: “substance” and “accidents”. Substance is what makes a thing be what it is, and accidents are the non-essential properties that can be perceived by the senses. According to the official doctrine, any piece of the consecrated bread, as tiny as it might be, contains the whole Christ, and likewise every drop of consecrated wine contains the whole Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that “cannot be apprehended by the senses,” says St. Thomas, “but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.” For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 (“This is my body which is given for you.”), St. Cyril says: “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.”
A scandalous devotion
The practice of offering ritual sacrifices in order to win God’s good-will was rejected by Jesus, who like the prophets of Israel, taught that relations of justice and mercy among human beings are the only thing that pleases God. In this sense, it seems quite scandalous that the Catholic Church continues to interpret even today, as it has done for centuries, the “mystery” of the Eucharist from a materialist, magical perspective, according to which the celebration of the Eucharist, the sharing of one bread among brothers and sisters, is considered a “sacrifice agreeable to God”. The rite of the mass and the liturgical texts are full of sacrificial images that would be surprising and repugnant to Jesus, in whose memory this rite is celebrated.