The shedding of bloodThe first clue to the sacrificial nature of the Mass comes from the use of a present passive participle Christ uses to explain that in the new covenant, his blood “is being shed, poured out” (evkunnomenon). This verb appears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint, LXX) 137 times, with a number of interesting meanings. Numerous times it refers to killing people and pouring out their blood.
In Exodus 4:9, the text refers to Moses pouring out the water turned into blood. It frequently refers to pouring out the blood of animals, particularly in sacrifices.
Though the word has other meanings, such as to pour out one’s soul before the Lord, the meaning that best fits our Lord’s use at the consecration of his precious Blood derives from the frequent uses of the word in sacrifices.
This raises some key differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament sacrifices. The animals of the Old Testament sacrifices did not have a free will, so they could not agree to being sacrificed. In the New Testament, Jesus freely chooses to offer his blood for the many who are sinners. The sacrificial animals did not share the same nature as those for whom the sacrifice was offered, while Jesus did share the same human nature of the sinners for whom he died. Furthermore, Jesus also had a divine nature, so that his infinite greatness could be an adequate offering for offenses against the divine majesty. As Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out many times, an offense acquires its seriousness from the one who has been offended. Therefore, though it is serious to hurt one’s neighbor, it is still more serious to hurt the president or the pope because of their offices. If we offend God, the offense is infinite, and it requires an infinite sacrifice to pay that infinite debt. For that reason, God himself had to become the sacrifice for sins against the divine majesty. Jesus Christ fulfills this perfectly.
Blood of the new covenantA second way in which the words of the institution indicate their sacrificial nature is in the phrase describing Jesus’ blood as that of a “new covenant” in 1 Corinthians 11:25 and Luke 22:20. The Old Testament background lies in Exodus 24:8, after Moses had placed half of the blood of twelve young bulls in bowls and had splashed the other half on the altar (Ex 24:5-6). He read the book of the covenant to the assembled Israelites, who agreed to obey and do all that the Lord had said: “Then Moses took and sprinkled the blood on the people and said, ‘Behold, the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you concerning all these words’ ” (Ex 24:8, author’s translation).
This was the sealing of the old covenant with the blood of sacrifice, and likewise must the new covenant be sealed with the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. Instead of an external sprinkling with the blood of bulls, as in the old covenant, Jesus gives us his own blood and commands that his disciples drink it, taking it interiorly. He explains the importance of drinking his blood in John 6:53-56:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you do not have life within you. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (Author’s translation)Jesus makes the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood of the new covenant a requirement for remaining with him in this life and in eternal life. He becomes the very nourishment of our souls.
A command from ChristA third element from the words of institution points to the sacrificial nature of the Mass – namely, our Lord’s command for the apostles to “do” this (Lk 24:19; 1 Cor 11:24, 25). In most languages, the word “do, make” has a wide range of meanings; one of its frequent uses in the Old Testament means to offer sacrifice, as appears in many texts.
This is an excerpt from Fr. Mitch Pacwa's new book. The Eucharist: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics. To read the rest of this section on sacrifice and more, order the book today!
About The Eucharist
The Eucharist is an interactive study guide, perfect for either individual or group study. It delves into the meaning of the Eucharist – the "source and summit" of the Catholic Faith – looking at Jesus' teaching and actions in the New Testament as well as the connections with the Old Testament and Jewish practice.
You can learn more about Fr. Mitch Pacwa's new book here.
Here's what people are saying about it:
The Church teaches us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. If that is the case why do so many Catholics, according to recent surveys, see the Precious Body and Blood as a mere symbol? Part of the New Evangelization needs to be re-evangelization and that is why Fr. Mitch’s latest Bible study is so important. It gets right to the heart of the matter; the heart of our Lord as revealed in the Eucharist. This study guide will not only change lives but save souls and help re-build the Church.
– Teresa Tomeo, Syndicated Catholic Talk Show Host, Best Selling Catholic Author
Anyone who is open to truth and uses this study guide will never look at the Mass, the Eucharist, and the Bible in the same way again. This book is comprehensive in its breadth and scope, and is very accessible at all levels of interest: for the average parishioner who wants a deeper, more personal experience of God’s word, for the armchair apologist who is looking for sound biblical exegesis to explain the faith, and even those with a more scholarly or academic interest will be satisfied by the rich fare served in this book. This guide is also particularly relevant for students and young adults who are often searching for reasons why they are Catholic, and who desire to connect the teachings of the Church with their everyday lived experience.
– Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, M.T.S., EWTN Series Host, "Made in His Image: Family Life Today"; Author, The Mass in Sacred Scripture
The Eucharist is the saving mystery at the heart of Scripture, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa gives us an excellent way to approach that mystery. He draws our attention to biblical connections too often missed – between Old Testament prefigurement and New Testament fulfillment, between the Day of Atonement and the death of Jesus, between Passover and Eucharist. His reflections on priesthood in Israel and in the Church are profound and illuminating. I recommend this series of Bible studies for personal and group study, especially during this Year of Faith.
– Scott Hahn, the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization, Franciscan University of Steubenville