The Lord’s supper
Tonight, on Holy Thursday, is the first night of the Paschal Triduum. Tonight the Catholic Church celebrates the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. In the Catholic tradition this is an especially prominent day, not just because we continue these days of Holy Week which began on Palm Sunday and will culminate on Easter Sunday. But also because Holy Thursday marks the end of the Lenten season and on this day – of all days and especially tonight – the Church celebrates the three great pillars instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper: the priesthood, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Holy Eucharist.
While each pillar, on it’s own, is worthy of examination, on this Holy Thursday we share what some of the Church Fathers had to say about the Eucharist, in their own words.
Eucharist is from the Greek (ευχαριστώ) for “to give thanks” or “thanksgiving”. The Catholic Church proclaims the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” Many of the great saints in our Catholic tradition were martyred for their refusal to deny this truth that Jesus is truly and substantially present at the altar at every Mass under the lowly appearance of bread and wine, which has been consecrated by the priest who is acting in persona Christi.
Today we explore some of the early Church Fathers sayings about the Eucharist. Many of our mainline Protestant brothers and sisters, who know their history, will agree who these early Church Fathers were.
So, Catholic brothers and sisters, though not a Holy Day of Obligation, Holy Thursday has rich and historical significance for each of us: for before departing the Upper Room to begin his Passion, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, giving thanks to his Father, and commanding his Apostles to love one another, as He has loved them (cf Jn 13:34); and he commanded them, “Do this in memory of me” (Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 10:16; Jn 6:53-57, 1 Cor 11:23-30).
For more on this great Mystery of Faith, from the Church Fathers in their own words, please enjoy below.
Peace be with you!
The Fathers of the Church are so called because of their leadership in the early Church, especially in defending, expounding, and developing Catholic doctrines. For the first two centuries, most of these men were bishops, although in later years certain priests and deacons were also recognized as Fathers. The list includes such notables as: Clement of Rome (d. A.D. 97), Ignatius (d. 110), Polycarp (d. 155), Justin Martyr (the Church’s first major lay apologist; d. 165), Irenaeus (d. 202), Cyprian (d. 258), Athanasius (d. 373), Basil (d. 379), Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), Ambrose (d. 397), John Chrysostom (d. 407), Jerome (d. 420), Augustine (d. 430), Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), Pope Leo the Great (d. 461), and Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). Credit: Who Were the Church Fathers?; Catholic Answers Information herein posted under the "rules of fair use" to foster education and discussion in accordance with Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976. For the daily Mass readings for Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, April 1, 2021, please find here at the USCCB website. For additional reading about the Church Fathers you can find it from our friends at Catholic Answers here and here.
At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1323
on the eucharist: church fathers in their own words
Early Christian writing can help us keep in mind that we can learn much about how Scripture should be interpreted by examining the writings of these early Christians.
Ignatius of Antioch – was a disciple of the apostle John and who wrote a letter to the Smyrnaeans around 110 A.D., referring to “those who hold heterodox opinions,” saying that:
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh that suffered for our sins and that the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.”
Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2, 7:1
Justin Martyr – a few decades after Ignatius wrote:
Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, . . . is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
First Apology 66: 1-20
Origen – in a homily written about 244 A.D., attested to belief in, what catholics still refer to the eucharist today as, “the Real Presence“:
I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence.”
Homilies on Exodus 13:3
"Whatever else might be said, the early Church took John 6 literally. In fact, there is no record from the early centuries that implies that Christians doubted the constant Catholic interpretation. There exists no document in which the literal interpretation is opposed and only the metaphorical accepted." An excerpt From The Essential Catholic Survival Guide on the Source and Summit of the Christian Faith; publisher Catholic Answers; can be found at your local Catholic bookstore or here.
How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.”
Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407 A.D.)
If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”
Saint Maximilian Kolbe
more from church fathers on the eucharist
ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH
I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.”
Letter to the Romans 7:3 (ca. 110 A.D.)
ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS
If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?”
“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh that is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?”
Against Heresies 4:33–32; 5:2 (ca. 189 A.D.)
ST. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA
“Eat my flesh,” [Jesus] says, “and drink my blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children.”
Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3 (ca. 197 A.D.)
Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His Body to His disciples saying: ‘This is My Body.’ No one partakes of this Flesh before he has adored it.”
Saint Augustine (d. 430 A.D.)
Jesus taught a new sacrifice which the Church received from the Apostles and offers throughout the whole world.”
Saint Irenaeus (d. 202 A.D.)
Saint Peter, upon this rock (Mt. 16:18), pray for us.
Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always. Holy Family, pray for us. Amen.