A new Calvary

The Council of Trent teaches that in each celebration of the Eucharist the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is offered in an unbloody manner (Session XXIII, The Doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Chapter 2; cf. DS 1743), sacramentally. The Bethlehem just relived in the words said over the bread, bringing Christ among us sacramentally quickly passes to a new Calvary where Our Lord sheds his blood. Our Lord does not just take flesh and come among us; his flesh is broken and sacrificed on our behalf, something to which the second half of the Institution account alludes.

“In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice,  and, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying…”

There are many Old Testament allusions to the cup (or chalice) of God’s wrath, representing a punishment being administered (see Isaiah 51:17–22, Jeremiah 25:15,  as well as the New Testament in Revelation 14:10, 16:19). Our Lord asked James and John whether they were prepared to drink the cup he must drink (see Mark 10:38-39, Matthew 20:22-23), and early Christian writers would refer to martyrdom as sharing in the chalice of Christ. It’s not a chalice that you want to drink; it is suffering. Our Lord in Gethsemane asked to not drink of the chalice of suffering if there were any other way (Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:42), yet he accepted it as his Father’s will.

However, Scripture also alludes to a chalice of salvation (see Psalm 116:13). For Christ and those who choose to imitate him in martyrdom the chalice implies suffering, but to us all it also implies salvation. The Catechism describes the Eucharist as the cup of salvation (n.1355). Just as the Passover meal commemorates salvation from slavery in Egypt, the Eucharist brings about an even greater liberation: from sin and death. This chalice implies suffering, but also salvation. Our Lord passed around the chalice not to spread suffering, but to spread salvation.

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins…”

This chalice does not only represents wrath, suffering, and salvation; it also constitutes the establishment of a new covenant. In the Old Testament the covenant between the Lord and Israel was sealed by the blood of a sacrifice in order to establish peace:

[Moses] rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:4–8).

The Lord said through the prophets that he would establish a new covenant with his people, since they had continually broken the old one (see Jeremiah 31:31–34, Ezekiel 37:26), a covenant of peace. Our Lord shed his blood to establish a new covenant and enable the forgiveness of our sins in order to be acceptable partners in that covenant.

For Israelites the blood represented life itself, which is why they were prohibited from consuming it; life was God’s property alone (see Genesis 4:9, Leviticus 3:17,7:27). His disciples will drink his blood sacramentally under the species of wine. In drinking from this cup they drink from Our Lord’s very life. Unlike past sacrifices where the blood was sprinkled, poured out, or discarded, now the life it bears will be given to us through Holy Communion. Our Lord, then as now, will always be faithful to this covenant, and we have to examine ourselves every time we prepare to receive Communion to see whether we’ve been faithful to it as well. He doesn’t expect everyone to imitate him in martyrdom, but he does ask for our fidelity to the new covenant ratified in his blood, a blood that purifies us (see Ephesians 5:21–32) and brings us peace.

“Do this in memory of me.”

The Institution account ends by recalling Our Lord’s command to do this in memory of him. Every celebration of the Eucharist harkens back to that first celebration on that fateful night, but also connects us to his sacrifice on the Cross. The forgiveness that the blood of Our Lord shed then and there achieved reaches us sacramentally through celebrating in memory of him here and now.

What did you think?

Share your review! Just log in or create your free account.

Leave a Reply

Want more?

Sign up for the weekly email and access to member-only content

Skip to content