The Dark Side of the Eucharist

In the United Kingdom, April’s Fools hoaxes are all revealed at noon — mostly because if you keep pretending for too long, it stops being funny. So it seems fitting to have a more serious post for the afternoon.

More importantly, of course, it’s Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday. I did a post last year which explained why Maundy Thursday is so important. In short, it’s because tonight celebrates the Last Supper, which was an absolutely essential moment in Church – and indeed, human – history. It’s here that we see the institution of the Eucharist, and Christ’s distinguishing between the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation in John 13:10, with the line, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over.” And finally, all of this is tied together in Christ’s priesthood: Priests were charged in Exodus 30:19-21 to wash their own feet to be ritually pure. Christ then turns this on its head, and as the great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 9:11), He washed not His own feet, but His Disciples. In doing so, Christ made clear that He was the Priest prophesied in Psalm 110:4. Hebrews 5:4-6 says of the high priest:

No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

And just as Aaron began the Aaronic line of priests, Christ began the Christian line of priests. Of course, while the Aaron line was one of biological descent, the Christian line was one of spiritual descent. We see Christ establishing this line of priests with His Disciples in John 13, immediately after washing their feet. John 13:12-16 says:

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

So the Disciples were tasked to follow Jesus’ lead, and to minister to others as He ministered to them: with humility and love. This is the mandatum (command) which gives Maundy Thursday its name. And in John 13:20, Jesus makes the amazing declaration, “I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” From this moment on, priests can act in persona Christi, acting on behalf of Christ. It’s astounding. Now, all of this makes tonight a beautiful Mass with lots to celebrate. But it’s got a darker side, too, an it’s important to note the undertones of betrayal that lurk within the Last Supper. It was this side which yesterday’s Mass — so the aptly named “Spy Wednesday — reminds us of.

For of course, it is at the Last Supper that Judas gets up and leaves to betray Christ. It’s important to remember (and the Gospels are quite clear on this) that Satan was actively at work in this betrayal. But Judas allowed Satan to use him because of his own anger over two issues. Those issues are first, the usage of money to glorify God rather than pursue a social agenda; and second, Judas’ disbelief in the Eucharist.

The first reason involves the annointing of Jesus’ feet, and we find it in Matthew 26:6-16, John 12:1-8 and in Mark 14. So, in Mark 14:3-9, for example, we hear:

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

This complaint should sound familiar. We hear it numerous times: in the perenial anti-Catholic complaint that the Church should “sell the Vatican”; in the claim that money should be given to charities, and not churches; or most absurdly, in complaints about how the pope’s shoes are too nice (when it was falsely claimed he wore Prada). It’s the constant cry that priests should be reduced to social workers, and we hear it both within and without the Church. It was alive and well at the fringes of the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America, and it’s still being utterred, in some form or another, by many within the Church’s walls. It’s the same false “either/or” which makes some Protestants protest praying to saints because it’s time spent not praying to God. But Christ’s words here make it clear that attacking one holy thing because it’s not another holy thing is a demonic urge. And what’s more, serving the poor always is second to, and flows from, serving God; serving the poor at the expense of God is no service at all.

It’s here that Judas can convince himself that he’s justified in turning Jesus in. It gives him a false sense of the moral high ground against God Himself. Of course, Judas was a complete hypocrite about this, but so is seemingly everyone who makes these complaints. The same people clamoring for the Vatican to sell its priceless works of art to private investors (depriving, it should be noted, the poor from being able to view these works of beauty) never seem to complain about movie stars flying private jets, or people buying from Whole Foods rather than Shoppers. The people who don’t want Christians to “waste time” praying to Saints never seem to have a problem with Christians going to movies, or sleeping in, etc. It is only holy and upright acts which these folks attack as taking time or money away from their cause célèbre.

Of course, Judas’ hypocricy is even worse. While he complains about the waste of money going towards Christ’s feet, he’s been skimming off of the top. The Bible outright says in John 12:6 that Judas “did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” And of course, his response to money being wasted is to take a bribe from the Temple. That is, the same Judas who complained that an individual’s private money was going towards Jesus instead of the poor had no problem taking Church money for himself. Think about that the next time a heretical priest complains about papal greed while taking a paycheck from a Church whose teachings he actively undermines.

The second reason is related to the Last Supper itself, or more precisely, to the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. We know this particularly from John’s Gospel. In John 6, Jesus announces that His Flesh and Blood are to be Bread and Wine for the Church, and necessary for salvation. He says things like, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51), “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,” (John 6:53), “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54), and “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:55-56). In response to this, “many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60), and ultimately, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). Then Jesus turns to the Twelve in John 6:67-71,

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

This if the first time that Jesus mentions Judas’ betrayal. He’s commending the faith of the Eleven in an admittedly hard teaching, while condemning Judas as a devil. For this passage to make sense, it must be that Judas didn’t believe the teaching — otherwise, Jesus’ anger is unprovoked. So we can safely say that Judas didn’t believe Jesus’ Eucharistic teaching in John 6. And this becomes more clear at the fulfillment of John 6 in John 13. Now, John doesn’t ignore the first reason (mentioned above). He recounts it in John 12, and then notes in John 13:2, that the “evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.” So before the Last Supper has even begun, the devil is at work in Judas. And yet, something at the Last Supper sends Judas over the edge. Mark 14:17-22 says that,

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his
disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

So the bread being eaten is the Eucharistic bread, and Jesus is reminded of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus hasn’t proclaimed the words of Institution yet, so this seems to have been merely bread at this point, but Jesus is quite aware that it is about to become His Flesh. In the parallel account of John 13:21-27, we learn that this dipping of the bread with Christ is the exact moment at which Satan took control of Judas:

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

In fact, every time the Gospels foretell Judas’ denial, it is related either to his disgust that money is being spent on Christ, and not the poor himself, or his outrage at the seeming blasphemy of the Eucharist. This signals, amongst other things, that both Jesus and Judas understood John 6 to be talking about the Eucharist.

I mention this because Protestants often claim that when Jesus says in John 6:51 “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” that He’s speaking literally about His Flesh but figuratively about the eating, while in Luke 22:19, when He says, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” that He’s speaking figuratively about His Flesh but literally about the eating. In other words, John 6 and the Last Supper are just two separate events which happen to use strikingly similar words and “metaphors.” In contrast, when John 13:21 tells us that Jesus “was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me,'” while at the Eucharistic table, John (or more precisely, Jesus) seems to be tying the prophesy in John 6:70-71 with its fulfillment in John 13:27.

This may just be why Jesus calls Judas’ bluff immediately before the Institution of the Eucharist. For as 1 Corinthians 11:27 tells us, “whoever eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord.” So Jesus seems to be doing the exact same thing here that priests do when (pursuant to Canon 915) they deny Communion to pro-choice “Catholics”: preventing mortal sinners from disgracing the Body and Blood of Christ, since “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29). As strange as this might sound, Jesus seems to be mercifully preventing Judas from heaping another sin upon his growing pile. Yet if Christ knows – be it from His encounter in John 6, or omniscience, or both – that Judas doesn’t believe in the Eucharist, He does well to prevent him from receiving invalidly.

That’s what I meant in the title by the “Dark Side” of the Eucharist: not only does it bring the saved closer to God, but it inspires hatred and betrayal amongst those who masquerade as God’s friends.

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