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The Last Supper

  • GRACE MACKINNON

Dear Grace, A Jewish friend of mine pointed out a supposed problem with the Christian concept of the Last Supper. As we all know, Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine during that Passover Meal. My friend claims that bread is never served during the Passover meal. Is that correct?

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Since ancient times, the Jewish people have celebrated the salvific (saving) acts of God in their lives in the feast of the Passover, and this very sacred holiday included the Seder Meal. It was this meal that Jesus (being a Jew) shared with His apostles on the night before He died (the Last Supper). The ritual for this meal was prescribed by God to Moses and Aaron and is recounted in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus. Bread was most definitely a part of the meal, but it had to be unleavened bread (made without yeast or any other leavening agent which causes the dough to rise) (Exodus 12:8).

Perhaps your friend is assuing, for some reason, that Jesus did not use unleavened bread at the Last Supper when He instituted the Eucharist. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke in the New Testament tell us, however, that "On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, 'Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?'" (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22: 1). Then, we also read that "When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer'" (Luke 22: 14-15).

Scripture goes on to say that Jesus "took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.'" During the Passover feast, the eating of or even contact with anything with leaven was strictly forbidden. God had instructed them, "From the first day you shall have your housesclear of all leaven. Whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh shall be cut off from Israel" (Exodus 12: 15). It is quite clear, therefore, that Jesus did indeed celebrate the Jewish Passover meal with His apostles and that unleavened bread was used. To this day, the bread used for the Eucharistic sacrifice in the liturgy of the Roman Rite must be unleavened. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal)

It seems that many people do not realize how closely linked the Catholic Mass is to the Jewish Passover or Seder Meal. This is precisely where the Mass finds its roots. God had given very specific directions regarding how the meal was to be prepared. One very important element was the lamb. Each family was to slaughter a year-old male lamb without blemish (Exodus 12: 5), the most perfect lamb they could find. Some of the blood of the lamb was to be applied to the doorposts of every house in order to protect the Israelites when the Lord would come to destroy th Egyptians. The rest of the lamb was to be roasted and eaten on that day. After this, they were to keep this as a memorial feast for all generations to come, as a perpetual institution (Exodus 12: 14).

On the night when Jesus celebrated this traditional Jewish meal with His apostles, something very different happened. This time, He gave them the bread, which He had blessed and said, "This is my Body." He, thus, became the sacrificial, unblemished lamb (without sin). This is why Jesus is called the Lamb of God. Both the Jewish Passover and the Last Supper (later the Mass Eucharist) are memorials of the salvation of God's people. Let us pray that one day God may find us sharing this meal together at His Table, united by that love which He has placed in our hearts.

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Acknowledgement

Grace MacKinnon. "The Last Supper." (March, 2003).

Reprinted with permission of Grace MacKinnon.

The Author

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She is the author of Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith published by Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at osvbooksosv.com or call 1-800-348-2440.

Readers are welcome to submit questions about the Catholic faith to: Grace MacKinnon, 1234 Russell Drive #103, Brownsville, Texas 78520. Questions also may be sent by e-mail to: grace@deargrace.com.

You may visit Grace online at www.DearGrace.com.

Copyright © 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon
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