The biblical foundations of the Eucharist

| Father Michael Van Sloun | March 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

The Abraham and Isaac Going to the Sacrifice by P. Bril, and A. Viviani (1560–1620). Fresco from vault of stairs in Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Palatio ad Sancta Sanctorum. iStock/sedmak

Jesus instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper, and the three Gospel accounts of the institution narrative (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-20), as well as St. Paul’s explanation of the tradition of the institution of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-25), serve as the biblical basis for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

There are a number of events in the Old Testament that anticipate the Eucharist. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice (Gn 4:4), and Jesus offered an acceptable sacrifice. Melchizedek, the priest of Salem, offered bread and wine (Gn 14:18), and Jesus offered bread and wine. Abraham offered a ram as a holocaust (Gn 22:13), and Jesus offered his body on the cross.

Before the Israelites departed from Egypt at the time of the Passover, they “took their dough before it was leavened” (Ex 12:34), and “they baked into unleavened loaves” (Ex 12:39) bread that was compact enough to be carried in their packs as food for their journey to the Promised Land. The Eucharist is unleavened bread for every believer’s spiritual journey through his or her human life on earth to the Promised Land of heaven.

When the Israelites were on their exodus in the desert, each morning the Lord rained down bread from heaven, manna, to fill them with bread to eat (Ex 16:4, 8, 12). Moses explained, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat” (Ex 16:15). The Eucharist is the bread that the Lord Jesus has given us to eat.

The prophet Elisha performed a great feeding miracle when he needed to feed 100 hungry men with only 20 barley loaves. God told Elisha, “Give it to the people to eat” (2 Kgs 4:43), and by the grace of God, “When they had eaten, they had some left over, according to the word of the Lord” (2 Kgs 4:44). Miraculously, God multiplied the loaves to feed them all.

The miraculous feeding of Elisha prefigures the miraculous feedings of Jesus, which prefigure the miracle of the Eucharist. All four Gospels recount how Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 (Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:34-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-13). There were 12 baskets of leftovers, which symbolize how the bread that Jesus gives is more than enough to feed the 12 tribes of Israel, as well as a superabundant and inexhaustible source of grace for all. Jesus employed four eucharistic actions when he fed the crowd: He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it, all specific actions that he would repeat at the Last Supper.

Jesus also fed a crowd of 4,000 with seven loaves and a few fish, and when they were finished, there were seven baskets of leftovers (Mt 15:32-39 and Mk 8:1-9). Seven represents completeness because the bread that Jesus gives feeds everyone, not only the chosen people, Israel, but all people everywhere.

Jesus told the crowd that the Eucharist is “food that endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27). Jesus himself is the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35, 48), the bread that came down from heaven (Jn 6:41,51). Jesus further explained, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55), and that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (Jn 6:54).

After the resurrection, Jesus shared two eucharistic encounters with his disciples. On Easter Sunday night in Emmaus, when Jesus was at the table with Cleopas and another disciple, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30). When Jesus appeared to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee, he was on the shore near “a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread” (Jn 21:9), and he “came over and took the bread and gave it to them” (Jn 21:13).

Jesus asked his disciples to reenact the Eucharist when he instructed them, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19; see also 1 Cor 11:24, 25), and the early Church followed his instructions when they devoted themselves “to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42; see also 2:46 and 20:7, 11).

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his writing at


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Category: Faith Fundamentals