“Where was the lamb at the last supper” – the roasted lamb?
There is probably no more controversial topic between Catholics and Protestants than that of the Holy Eucharist. When Christ, at the last supper, said, “This is My Body – This is My Blood”, was He talking only symbolically or did He really mean that the bread and wine were to be miraculous transformed into His real Flesh and Blood, while still retaining the outward appearance of bread and wine? The Catholic response to this question is, a resounding, YES, and this has been the constant teaching of the Church, from apostolic times till now. Ever since the words of consecration were first spoken at the last supper, the apostles and their successors have believed in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.
This post is the first of three parts which are based on a letter I wrote to a Protestant friend in response to a previous conversation we had about what our Lord meant, at the last supper. So I thought I would share some of the ideas we discussed, with this forum. The discussion with my friend gave rise to the following question – “Where was the lamb at the last supper” – the roasted lamb? The answer to this question will lead us to the first of three scriptural proofs, which show that Christ was talking literally.
To begin our discussion, we should ask two questions just for clarity. Does Christ have the power to change bread and wine into his own body and blood? And secondly, if He does, did He will to do so? I think most people would agree that Christ does have such power. If He created the entire universe out of nothing, He can certainly change bread and wine into His own Body and Blood. So lets concentrate on the second question; was Christ talking literally when he said: “This is My Body”?
At the Last Supper, Christ was celebrating the Passover with his apostles. Now before going any further, we should refresh our memories concerning the requirements of the original Jewish Passover meal, the night before the Exodus. The people had to procure and eat a REAL lamb (for nourishment for the journey out of Egypt) - Exodus 12:8 (the Paschal lamb had to be eaten). Suppose a family didn’t like lamb, and decided to bake a cake in the shape of a lamb and symbolically eat that. What would have happened? The next morning, their first-born would be dead. The instructions for that first Passover were very specific: they had to eat a REAL lamb. Also, the Jews were commanded (three times) to do this, each year, as a perpetual remembrance of that event (Exodus 12: 14, 17, & 24).
Consider now the question I mentioned at the beginning of this post: “Where was the lamb at the last supper” – the roasted lamb? In none of the gospel narratives is a Passover lamb (animal) mentioned during the Last Supper. Why? No Jewish Passover would have been a REAL Passover unless a REAL Passover lamb was eaten. If no real lamb was eaten, that Thursday night, then the Passover would have been invalid, and in violation of the requirements of Exodus 12: 14, 17, and 24. How do we explain this apparent difficulty?
If the Protestant view is correct, then all the apostles ate was a piece of bread, but, as pointed out above, if that was the case, then the Passover celebration was invalid because no real lamb was eaten. Remember – bread is not lamb! Now do you think our lord would have participated in an invalid Passover? NO! So again, how do we solve this dilemma – or what conclusion are we to draw from this?
Well, some might say that there was an animal type lamb there, but it just wasn’t recorded. Scripture, however, easily refutes this idea. Let us look at both John the Baptist, and St. Paul. John refers to Christ as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29). In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Paul is more specific, and states:
“Christ is the Paschal Lamb who has been sacrificed.” Therefore, let us keep the feast…
In other words, Jesus is now the new Passover Lamb for all time. He is the lamb that was to be eaten at the last supper, and when he said to the apostles: This is My Body, they received the actual body of Christ - the living, heavenly, resurrected, glorified body of our Lord (not dead, earthly, flesh, in the cannibalistic way the Jews who walked away were thinking).
Paul confirms this again in 1 Corinthians 10:16, where he says: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a partaking of the body of Christ?)
There is one other point we must stress. Notice again, that Paul tells us that Jesus is our Pascal lamb who has been sacrificed - OK, but then Paul adds an additional requirement to Christ’s sacrifice when he says: “…Therefore, let us keep the feast…” What does this mean? It means that we must eat the lamb. “… let us keep the feast…” is a direct reference back to Christ’s command in John 6: 53-54 -“Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have eternal life”.
So, just as the directions for the original Passover were very specific (they had to eat a real lamb), so too the directions for the New Testament equivalent of the Passover (the Eucharist at Mass) are very specific: we have to eat the Lamp – the real Lamb – Christ.
Remember that the Old Testament is basically a prefigurement of the New Testament. Many Old Testament events or situations dealt with physical life and death, and prefigured similar events or situations in the New Testament, which deal with spiritual life and death. So just as the Israelite’s had to eat a real lamb for physical health, so too, we must eat the lamb for spiritual health.
For a more in-depth discussion of this topic see Dr. Scott Hahn’s talk: “The 4th Cup”