Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Exodus 24:3-8
Two passages from the New Testament have made this section from Exodus central to the understanding of Christian redemption and its representation in the Eucharist.
The first is Mark 14:24: “This is my blood-of-the-covenant.” Here the covenant blood of Christ is contrasted with the blood that Moses sprinkled against the altar and over the people.
The second New Testament passage is Hebrews 9:15-21, especially verse 20, which actually cites Exodus 24:8. (It is curious that the second reading stops short of this verse. When the Lectionary is reviewed, the desirability of extending it accordingly should be considered.)
Why was it necessary in the Bible for a covenant to be ratified in blood? The idea seems to be that the death of the victim has a finality about it that makes it, and therefore the covenant that it ratifies, irrevocable. Sacrifice is expressive of the offerer’s total commitment to carry out the terms of the covenant.
This passage suggests a way in which the Eucharist can be related to the atonement. Before the covenant is complete, the people have to become participants.
In the Sinai covenant this is achieved when Moses sprinkles the people with half of the blood, after applying the other half to the altar, representing Yhwh himself.
Similarly, in Christ’s sacrifice the sacrificial death is completed, on God’s side, when the Son presents himself to the Father (“blood”=his life surrendered in obedience unto death).
On the human side, it is completed when the communicant receives the Eucharistic cup in communion.
The Eucharist, understood thus, becomes an integral part of the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary.
Responsorial Psalm: 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
These same verses were used on Holy Thursday, the only difference being the refrain, which today is from Psalm 116:13 instead of from 1 Corinthians 10:16.
This psalm is very appropriate after the Old Testament reading, for, as we suggested above, it is in our partaking of the Eucharistic cup that the typology of Moses’ sprinkling the people with the blood is fulfilled.
It is the “cup of salvation,” in the sense that by drinking of this cup we partake in the saving event.
Reading II: Hebrews 9:11-15
Although this passage is going to lead up to the quotation of Exodus 24:8, the background is not what Moses did there but what the high priest did annually on the Day of Atonement.
It may be said that the Day of Atonement provides a better analogy for Christ’s role in his sacrifice, for it suggests the once-for-all event in which Christ entered into the presence of God at his exaltation, as the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.
On the other hand, the Exodus analogy suggests more strongly the mode in which the people partake of this sacrifice, and therefore provides a closer type for holy communion.
By fulfilling the work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, Christ puts himself in the position in which he can fulfill the work of Moses when he sprinkled the people at the ratification of the covenant. For this reason we would renew our plea for the extension of this reading through Hebrews 9:20.
Note: In Hebrews 9:11 the RSV translates “high priest of the good things that have come.” Other manuscripts have “of good things that are to come.” The latter reading is preferable not only on text-critical grounds but also theologically, for it emphasizes that Christ’s work is a piece of anticipated eschatology, thus leaving open (1) the idea of ultimate consummation, and (2) the continual anticipatory realization of this in the Eucharist.
Gospel: Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
This passage combines two Marcan pericopes—the preparation for the Passover and the institution of the Eucharist. Two points may be noted from Mark 14:12-16.
(1) It is here, not in the institution narrative, that Mark identifies the Last Supper with the Passover meal. As is well known, the Johannine account of the Last Supper dates it on the fourteenth of Nisan, a day before the Passover, which began at sundown on the fifteenth.
We are not called upon here to decide which dating is historically correct, still less to try to harmonize the discrepancy; rather, each account must be asked for its theological intent. Mark wishes to assert that the Eucharist is the Christian Passover meal.
(2) Jesus is depicted in Mark 14:12-16 as the eschatological prophet (an early Christological interpretation) by his supernatural foreknowledge, indicated by the direction to the disciples to meet the man with the water jar. Similar powers were ascribed to Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha.
The institution narrative is not a description of the Passover meal but is restricted to those aspects of the Supper that were liturgically important to the early communities.
What we really learn here is how Mark’s Church celebrated the Eucharist rather than precisely what Jesus did and said at the Supper, though, of course, what Mark’s Church did is ultimately derived from what happened in the upper room.
Apparently, in Mark’s Church the Eucharist was celebrated at the conclusion of a common meal (in Paul’s earlier account in 1 Corinthians 11, the bread precedes the meal, and the cup follows it). Seven actions were performed:
1. Taking the bread.
2. Blessing (of God for the bread; note, not of the bread; this accords with Jewish custom).
3. Breaking of the bread so that the congregation could share the one loaf in communion.
4. The administration (note that the words are words of administration rather than of consecration; consecration, in accord with Jewish ideas, was effected by thanksgiving).
5. Taking the cup.
6. Giving thanks over the cup (a Hellenistic word for the Hebrew act of blessing, retained for the bread).
Three important words are spoken by Jesus in Mark’s account: (1) the bread word, (2) the cup word, and (3) the eschatological saying.
In the light of the first and second readings, exegesis today should concentrate upon the cup word: “This is my blood-of-the-covenant, which is poured out for many.”
The trend in contemporary scholarship is to regard this version as a later rewording of the cup word in 1 Corinthians 11 due to liturgical development.
Once the intervening meal had been brought forward to the beginning, and the bread and the cup consequently brought together at the end, the tendency was for the two sets of words to be assimilated. So we get: “This is my body. This is my blood.”
Mark’s tradition interprets the blood as the blood of the covenant on the background of Exodus 24. Thus, what the cup conveys is not a thing (blood) but a participation in the event of salvation history, the new covenant.
**From Saint Louis University