To understand how Jesus celebrated the Passover at which he instituted the Eucharist; to grasp the significance as well as the meaning of this action and of his words, we have to read and study the account given by the evangelists Matthew, Luke, and Mark as also a passage from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. It must be noted that these accounts were addressed to a specific audience which already celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Thus these accounts are not historical reports in the sense of the term used by modern historians.
The most complete account is that of Lk 22: 14 ff. This corresponds to the first blessing at Jewish meals: “Blessed be you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who gives us this fruit from the vine…who makes the earth bring forth bread…..” Luke indicates that the meal took place between a first and second blessing….three times specifically we read “take the cup and share it among you….he gave them the bread….and for the cup he did the same….”
The Narrative of Luke insists upon sharing. Thus according to Luke, the Lord’s Supper is indeed a community meal with a ritual character, the first essential element of Israel’s Passover. Luke teaches (also Mark and Matthew) that before the meal, Jesus sent Peter and John saying “Go prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it”. But today many scholars contend that Jesus could not have eaten the Passover on the night before his death, for he was condemned “on the day of the Preparation for Passover towards the sixth hour” (Jn 19:14), that is to say towards noon, thus he could have only a farewell meal ‘in a Passover atmosphere….then why Luke, Matthew, and Mark speak about the Passover? Only to highlight their conviction that Jesus was the Paschal Lamb.
In these circumstances the meal would certainly not have consisted of the meat of a lamb. However, Jesus words: “This is my body given for you…This cup is the new Covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you” suggest that the authentic Lamb of the Passover is the Person of Christ who will be sacrificed the following day on the cross. These words suggest a lamb, the second essential element to a Jewish Passover.
Thus as for the principal characteristics of Passover, both are present in this account of Luke: a meal reserved exclusively for certain guests: “he gave to them” to a particular group not to others. Further, it is the celebration of a journey, a passage – and how? It was no longer a journey like of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. But it is a Passover for Christ the Anointed One, a Passover from this world to the right hand of God the Father. Today it has become a memorial of Christ’s paschal Mystery. He commanded: “Do this in memory of me”.
Another characteristic: The Last Supper is a celebration of the Covenant…. “new Covenant in my blood”….
As for its finality as nourishment: not explicit in Luke but in Matthew we have: “Take and eat”…this is about food, therefore a direct reference to nourishment.
Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts, with the exception of the commands “take” and “take and eat” scarcely differ in essentials from Luke. But one can say that Luke situates more the Institution of the Eucharist within the frame work of the Jewish ritual, while Mark and Matthew develop in accord with the practice of the Christian celebration, where it took place during a meal (Mk 14:22; Mt 26:26. Mark and Matthew prefer the expression “blood.. poured out for all” (many) ……that is, for the many, for all human beings. Mt also adds: “for the forgiveness of sins”, thereby making specific the meaning to be attached to Jesus’ death.
Paul’s Account (1 Cor 11:23-26) is the oldest, and it is first of all an exhortation addressed to the Corinthian Community, where the Lord’s Supper was being disrupted, rather than being celebrated with sharing and dignity….Paul stresses “Here is what I received from the Lord, and what I passed on to you” (v.23). One must be dignified and conscious of the reality one is approaching. Thus one should not take Communion unworthy or without proper awareness…. This account of Paul makes no mention of a first circulation of the cup, but in 1 Cor 10:16 he uses the terminology of the Jewish meal ritual where: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?”. Thus Paul distinguishes the Supper of the Lord from an ordinary meal. He sees in the Lord’s Supper a real, sacramental presence of Jesus.
From the weight of these texts, one can conclude that: the structure of the unfolding of the religious meal in Israel was retained in the Lord’s Supper, especially in the four principal acts of Jesus – taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing. It is true that Jesus’ last meal was much like the other meals he had shared with his disciples, as well as with toll collectors and sinners, but this meal also marked a turning point; this farewell meal looks forward to the new situation that will be brought about by his approaching death. The presentation of the gifts in the context of the meal can be interpreted that beyond his death, the community will be maintained by Jesus, with his whole person and not by his cause.