‘Jesus Explicitly Ratified the New Covenant by Instituting the Eucharist’
Excerpts from ‘Parousia: The Bible and the Mass’ from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology
Editor’s Note: Parousia: The Bible and the Mass is the fifth study in the Journey Through Scripture series from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. These excerpts from pages 9, 17 and 55 were reprinted with permission.
Liturgy in the New Testament
The centrality of liturgy does not vanish with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus observes the rituals of Israel. He goes to synagogue, makes pilgrimages, visits the Temple, and pays the Temple tax. He does not abolish liturgy but instead establishes new and more powerful rites in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist celebrated in the Upper Room in the context of a Passover. It is a memorial meal where He is the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, offering His flesh and blood in atonement for sins.
‘Do This in Remembrance of Me’
Memory is an essential part of any covenant renewal, which includes a memorial sacrifice, a recalling of the terms, reminding Israel of its identity in relation to God. But memory for the Jews in Jesus’ time was more than a mere mental exercise of recollection. A memorial was about making present an event of the past as if it were happening to the participants in that moment. The Passover was one such memorial sacrifice. The children of Israel commemorated the exodus event generations after their liberation, speaking as if they were there.
Jesus did not do away with ritual worship; on the contrary, He fulfilled the rites of the Old Covenant. Israel’s traditions all pointed to, and were fulfilled in, the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
Covenant and Communion
The language of covenant that is everywhere in the Old Testament gives way to communion in the New. We hear in the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians of koinonia — a communion, a participation — in the blood of Christ. Here St. Paul is explaining that salvation has come to all, whether Jew or Gentile, servant or free, woman or man, and all can now commune with God.
But the newness of this covenant is still in continuity with the old one. The worship of Israel is ordered to covenant remembrance by reading the terms of the covenant, in addition to covenant renewal by sacrifice. So too, Christian worship is a remembrance of God’s mighty works in history, especially in Jesus’ saving Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Eucharist is then both a covenant renewal and a sacrifice of thanksgiving for God’s continued presence among His people.
But His presence now is a true communion. He abides in us and we abide in Him. We are divinized as children of God through communion with the Son! This is what God has wanted all along: communion with us, in the blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, in the covenant renewal we know as the Holy Mass!
The Covenants in Hebrews
The Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the Old and the New Covenants. Both have a ritual system that includes a high priest who performs his ministry in a sanctuary, entering into a Holy Place to offer the blood of sacrifices. In both cases, the blood brings about purification and redemption for worshippers who have sinned. The mediation of both covenants is primarily liturgical. The Letter to the Hebrews uses the word “covenant” more than all the other books of the New Testament combined.
Hebrews even uses the phrase “New Covenant” — which appears in only one other place in the New Testament. Outside Hebrews, the phrase “New Covenant” appears only when Jesus Himself uses the term to describe a specific liturgical act, saying, “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20).
Jesus explicitly ratified the New Covenant by instituting the Eucharist. He initiated the sacrificial offering that He would consummate on Calvary, and then continuously offer in heaven — and He did this as “a priest forever” in the line of Melchizedek. He presents this offering in His deified humanity, which was crucified, resurrected, ascended, and enthroned “at the right hand” of the Father.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Christ’s crucified and glorified humanity embodies the New Covenant in these ways: First, His is the body of our heavenly high priest. Second, His body is our sanctuary. Third, His body is the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which constitutes the everlasting liturgy in the heavenly Jerusalem. Fourth, this heavenly liturgy is what the Church on earth enters through the Eucharist. Hebrews tells us how Jesus made both a perfect sacrifice and an everlasting liturgical action through His death.
In Parousia: The Bible and the Mass, the latest video Bible study from the St. Paul Center, discover why the liturgy is a major theme that runs through the entire Bible. Join host Scott Hahn to uncover how and why all of God’s action, in creation and redemption, is ordered to the Mass.
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