Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by John Chrysostom
This is my body. This is my blood (Mk: 14:22).
“As they were eating he took bread and broke it,” Christ instituted this sacrament at the time of the passover in order to teach us by every possible means both that he himself had been the lawgiver of the Old Testament, and also that the whole of the Old Testament had been a foreshadowing of these mysteries. He was replacing the type by the reality.
The fact that it was evening signified that the fullness of time had come and that all was about to be accomplished. He gave thanks to teach us how we ought to celebrate these mysteries, to show that he was not going to his passion against his will, and to train us to accept with gratitude whatever we have to suffer and so to derive from it hope of future blessedness.
If the type was able to free a people from bondage, much more would the reality liberate the world, and Christ’s death bring down blessings upon our race. We see then why he did not institute this sacrament before, but only when it was time to abolish the rites of the law.
Christ put an end to the most important Jewish festival by offering his disciples another far more awe-inspiring meal. “Take, eat,” he said, “this is my body which is broken for many.” He told them that the reason he was going to suffer was to take away our sins.
He spoke of the blood of the new covenant, that is of the promise, the new law. He had promised long before that the new covenant would be ratified by his blood. As the old covenant had been ratified by the blood of sheep and calves, so the new covenant was to be ratified by the blood of the Lord.
Thus, by speaking of his covenant and by reminding them that the old covenant had also been inaugurated by the shedding of blood, he made known to them that he was soon to die. And he told them once again the reason for his death in the words, “This is my blood, which is poured out for all for the forgiveness of sins and, Do this in memory of me.”
Notice how he leads them away from the Jewish customs by saying, “Just as you used to do this in memory of the miracles performed in Egypt, so now you must do it in memory of me.”
Blood was shed then for the salvation of the firstborn: It is to be shed now for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world. “This,” he said, “is my blood, which is shed for the forgiveness of sins.” He said this to show that his passion and cross are a mystery, and so again to comfort his disciples.
As Moses had said, “This shall be for you an everlasting memorial,” so now the Lord says, “Do this in memory of me until I come.” This is why he also says, “I have longed to eat this passover,” meaning, “I have longed to hand over to you these new rites, and to give you the passover which will turn you into people moved by the Spirit.
Homilies on Matthew’s Gospel 82, 1: PG 58, 737-39)
John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) was born at Antioch and studied under Diodore of Tarsus, the leader of the Antiochene school of theology. After a period of great austerity as a hermit, he returned to Antioch where he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. From 386 to 397 it was his duty to preach in the principal church of the city, and his best homilies, which earned him the title “Chrysostomos” or “the golden-mouthed,” were preached at this time. In 397 Chrysostom became patriarch of Constantinople, where his efforts to reform the court, clergy, and people led to his exile in 404 and finally to his death from the hardships imposed on him. Chrysostom stressed the divinity of Christ against the Arians and his full humanity against the Apollinarians, but he had no speculative bent. He was above all a pastor of souls, and was one of the most attractive personalities of the early Church.
**From Saint Louis University