Let us read the words of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (26:26-28), adding the words of the other sacred authors on the same subject:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and when he had given thanks (1 Cor. 11:24), broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19). And he took a cup after supper (Luke 22:20), 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 new covenant (Luke 22:20), which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor. 11:25).
Here is all that we have about the institution, other than that in place of Saint Luke’s “given for you,” Saint Paul has him say “broken for you” (1 Cor. 11:24 in certain ancient texts). The sense of each is the same. He was handed over to death, struck by blows, pierced with wounds, violently hung from a cross: he was broken. This is the body that Jesus gives to us, the same body that was about to suffer those things and that has now suffered them.
Just one more word on the text. Where the Vulgate translates “my blood, which shall be shed for you” (Luke 22:20, Douay-Rheims), the original reads “which is poured out,” that is, in the present tense. It is the same when he speaks of the means by which he will be captured and put to death: “woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!” (Matt. 26:24) In that case, he speaks in the present tense because his death has already been resolved upon and planned for the following day. In the other, it is so that at the same time that we receive his body and blood, we might regard his death as present.
Christian: you have seen all of the words that bear upon the establishment of this mystery. What simplicity! What precision in these words! He leaves nothing to be interpreted or commented upon. If there is any commentary to be made upon them at all, it is only to remark that according to the force of the original Greek, we ought to render it thus: ‘This is my body, my very body; the same body that is given for you. This is my blood, my very blood, the blood of the new covenant; the blood poured out for you in remission of your sins.’ The Greek liturgy puts it this way: ‘what we are given, what is made of this bread and wine, is the very body of Jesus and his very blood.’ There is the commentary we require. What simplicity, what precision, what force do these words have!
If Jesus had wanted to give us a sign, a mere resemblance, he would have known how to tell us. He knew quite well that God had said, when instituting circumcision, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh … and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen. 17:11). When he proposed metaphors, he knew quite well how to adapt his language so as to be understood without doubt: “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5). When he made these comparisons and spoke in metaphors, the evangelists said so: “Another parable he put before them” (Matt. 13:24); “he taught them many things in parables” (Mark 4:2). Here, without any introduction, without any qualification, without any explanation, neither before, nor after, we are simply told: “Jesus said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body; this is my blood” (Matt. 26:26, 28). This is what I give to you, and you, what will you do in receiving it? Remember eternally the gift that I gave you that night. Remember that it is I who left it for you and who made this testament, that I left you this Passover, and that I ate it with you before I suffered.
If I give you my body as about to be and as having been handed over for you, and my blood as poured out for your sins, in a word, if I give myself to you as a victim, eat it as a victim and remember that this is a promise that it has been sacrificed for you. O my Savior: what simplicity, yet what authority and power there are in your words! “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12): she was healed that instant. “This is my body.” It is his body. “This is my blood.” It is his blood. Who can speak in such a manner except the one who holds everything in his hand? Who can make himself be believed except the one to whom to do and to say is the same thing?
My soul, stop here and go no further. Believe as simply, as forcibly as your Savior has spoken, with a submission that corresponds to his authority and power. Once again, he wants to see in your faith the same simplicity with which he has spoken these words. In the ancient rite of communion, the priest said “the body of Jesus Christ” and the faithful responded “Amen,” or “so it is,” and “the blood of Jesus Christ,” and the faithful responded “Amen,” “so it is.” All has been accomplished. All has been said. All has been explained. I am silent. I believe. I adore.