First Reading Commentary
In this Reading we see some of the rituals of the covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. Perhaps today it is more often referred to as the “Old Covenant.” In this covenant animals were sacrificed which prefigures the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. The book of the covenant was read aloud to the people so that they could all hear what the Lord expected of them.
Blood sprinkled on the people was symbolic. It was a reminder to the people of Israel to heed the commands of the Lord or it could be their blood that was spilled – a fate, actually an act of love, which God’s own Son fulfilled. At this point we can almost anticipate the infinite love that God would reveal to His people. As the people of Israel are reminded that their blood could be spilled if they defy the Lord, we now realize that God in His infinite justice, mercy and love for us did indeed allow Blood to be shed because of the sinfulness of His people; but the Blood that was shed was His own.
When we commit sin we distance ourselves from God; and it seems just that we should receive some sort of punishment for our failings. But now what we need to do is repent and confess our sins because God made a decision which revealed His infinite love for us when He became Man and took upon Himself the punishment that deservedly should be ours. This is not, however, an invitation to abuse His love by haphazardly committing sin thinking that the Sacrament of Penance is a quick fix. No, there must also be a sincere conversion of the heart as well.
Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself as payment for our sins in what is now known as the “New Covenant.” And it is not only a “New Covenant,” but an “Everlasting Covenant” as well. This was the ultimate and supreme Sacrifice. Nothing else will ever take the place of the Sacrifice of Jesus. And so we can say that God is indeed a just God because a price had to be paid; but we can also say that He is a loving and merciful God because He paid the price for us.
Second Reading Commentary
“The good things that have come to be” is referring to heaven and eternal life. In the old covenant the priests passed through a tabernacle made by human hands. Jesus is the “perfect Tabernacle” and this Tabernacle, as Saint John Chrysostom puts it, is framed by the Holy Spirit.
It is not the “blood of goats and bulls” that can redeem us; but it is the Blood of the Lord Himself that has restored our relationship with God.
In the old covenant there were both priests and victims for sacrifices. Jesus was both Priest and Victim and His Sacrifice has won for us eternal redemption, something that could not be achieved in the old covenant. In the old covenant, once a year the high priest atoned for the sins of the people in what was called the “Day of Atonement”. Christ’s Sacrifice is eternal; time has no value. His Sacrifice does not need to be repeated every year. At Mass, every time the priest says the words of Consecration, Christ is not being sacrificed all over again as if He needed to be sacrificed every Sunday or daily. No, Christ’s Sacrifice is eternal and at Mass that eternal Sacrifice is being re-presented.
When we speak or think about eternal things or eternity, it is difficult for our minds to comprehend this because we live in the limits of time and space. But when we are at Mass and the priest says the words of Consecration, we are, at that moment, at Calvary in the shadow of the Cross because the Sacrifice is eternal and has no boundaries of time and space; and it is that eternal Sacrifice of Jesus that has rewarded us with “the promised eternal inheritance.”
In the first half of this Gospel, preparations are being made for the Passover. Jesus tells His disciples, where to go, what to do, and what to say; and everything happens as He said it would. Perhaps this part of the story is included so that all the hearers and readers would be more easily convinced that Jesus was indeed the One Whose coming was foretold by all the prophets. Jesus knew that the disciples would meet up with “a man carrying a jar of water.” Who else but God could know in advance such details?
“Where do you want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” This verse seems insignificant but Saint Jerome says that by these words the disciples teach us to direct our every step according to the will of God.
“While they were eating, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is My Body.’” In Saint John’s Gospel, chapter 6 Jesus says, “The bread that I shall give is My Flesh,” but the Flesh is not seen by us because of our infirmity; for if we were allowed to actually see the Flesh and Blood of Jesus, it is highly unlikely that we would ever approach the Altar of the Lord. Our Lord, therefore, completely understanding our weakness, preserves the appearance of bread and wine, but changes them into His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Saint John Chrysostom, in his sermon on the treason of Judas explains, “Christ is also now present to adorn our table, the same that was present to adorn that table. For it is not man that causes the elements to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but the very Christ, the same that was crucified for us. The priest stands as His delegated authority, and pronounces the words, but the power and grace is of God. He says, this is My Body, and the Word changes the elements. These words of Consecration, once spoken, constitute an absolute, perfect Sacrifice upon every altar of the Church from that day to this, even to the time when Christ shall come again at the last day.”
“This is My Blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” These words are so explicit that it is difficult to find any other meaning than a literal translation. They are designed to speak of the memorial of Christ’s Passion and death.
“Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” This “vine,” as Saint Bede the Venerable explains, represents the synagogue or house of Israel; and of this vine Christ drank for some time.
The Church offers daily this banquet of the Body and Blood of Christ; and of this banquet Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, “How precious and wonderful is this banquet, which brings us salvation and is full of all delight! What could be more precious? At this meal Christ, the true God, is set before us for us to eat. What could be more wonderful than this Sacrament? No Sacrament contributes more to our salvation than this; for it purges away our sins, increases our virtues, and nourishes our minds with an abundance of all the spiritual gifts. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that it may be beneficial to all, as it was instituted for the salvation of all.”
And the Angelic Doctor also teaches us: “Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that men should share in His Divinity, He assumed our nature in order that by becoming Man He might make men gods. Moreover, when He took our flesh He dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation. He offered His Body to God the Father on the Altar of the Cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed His Blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us forever, He left His Body as Food and His Blood as Drink for the faithful to consume in the form of Bread and Wine.”