The Last Supper was the First Mass and Eucharist

Over at Vox Nova, Fr. Nathan O’Halloran, S.J., rejects the teaching of the Magisterium that the Last Supper was the first Mass and first Eucharist: Why the Last Supper was not the First Mass. He claims:

“It would only lead to heresy, in my opinion, to posit that when Jesus said at the Last Supper: ‘This is my body,’ the bread became his body. What body did it become? His physical body? That is heretical. His resurrected body? More likely… except the resurrection had not happened yet. Catholic theology has always taken temporality and history very seriously, so I think it is important that we not think that Jesus could somehow offer himself to his disciples in his resurrected form before the resurrection had even taken place!”

“So that last meal was something very important. But it was not a Mass.”

See my previous post: Was the Eucharist at the Last Supper the Glorified Body of Jesus? In brief, Jesus is God and God is unbounded by place and time. So by a miracle of God, the body of Jesus in the Eucharist at the Last Supper was his crucified, resurrected, glorified body.

Fr. O’Halloran unequivocally states that Jesus did not consecrate the Eucharist at the Last Supper, that the words of Jesus “This is my body”, etc., did not cause the bread to become His body (in contradiction to our Lord’s own words), and that the Last Supper was not a Mass. This set of errors is very grave. For the Magisterium clearly and definitively teaches that the Last Supper was the first Mass and first Eucharist:

Pope Saint John Paul II: The Evangelists specify that it was the Twelve, the Apostles, who gathered with Jesus at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:20; Mk 14:17; Lk 22:14). This is a detail of notable importance, for the Apostles “were both the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy”. By offering them his body and his blood as food, Christ mysteriously involved them in the sacrifice which would be completed later on Calvary. [Ecclesia de Eucharistis 21]

Pope Saint John Paul II: Reading the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels, we are struck by the simplicity and the “solemnity” with which Jesus, on the evening of the Last Supper, instituted this great sacrament. [Ecclesia de Eucharistis 47]

The Eucharist could only have been “instituted” at the Last Supper if that event was both a Mass and a valid consecration of the Eucharist. Furthermore, the consecration at every Mass since then is valid ONLY because the priest says the same words of consecration as Christ said at the Last Supper. But if those words, said by Christ in person over bread and wine, did not consecrate the Eucharist, then the same words said subsequently by priests who are fallen sinners, not God-made-man, also would not consecrate.

Pope Francis: “When I speak of liturgy”, the Pope explained, “I am mainly referring to the Holy Mass. When we celebrate the Mass, we are not representing the Last Supper”. The Mass “is not a representation; it is something else. It truly is the Last Supper; it is truly living again the redemptive passion and death of Our Lord. It is a visible manifestation: the Lord makes himself present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world”. []

Pope Francis: “Today is the feast in which the Church praises the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist. While on Holy Thursday we commemorate its institution at the Last Supper, today is for giving thanks and adoration.” [Homily on Feast of Corpus Christi, 2014]

The holy Pontiff taught that the Mass today “truly is the Last Supper”. And since every Mass is truly the Last Supper, the Last Supper must have been the first Mass. It is important to understand that the Church universally celebrates, every year on Holy Thursday, the first Mass and first Eucharist at the Last Supper. That fact alone is sufficient to establish that this teaching is a truth of infallible Sacred Tradition. But the Magisterium has also taught this truth, definitively.

Compendium of the Catechism: Jesus instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday “the night on which he was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23), as he celebrated the Last Supper with his apostles. [n 272]

Catechism of the Catholic Church: The essential signs of the Eucharistic sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper: “This is my body which will be given up for you…. This is the cup of my blood….” [CCC 1412]

Second Vatican Council: At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries 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 eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us. [SC 47]

The Compendium teaches that Jesus instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, at the Last Supper. The CCC teaches the same. The institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist occurred at the Last Supper, on Holy Thursday, the night before Christ died. The very same words said by Christ to consecrate the first Eucharist are said at every subsequent Mass to consecrate the Eucharist.

The Council of Trent clearly and definitively taught that the Last Supper was the first Eucharist:

“for thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have treated of this most holy Sacrament, have most openly professed, that our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a Sacrament at the Last Supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, He testified, in express and clear words, that He gave them His own very Body, and His own Blood” [13th Session, Decree on the Eucharist, Chapter I]

“Therefore, our Savior, when about to depart out of this world to the Father, instituted this Sacrament, in which He poured forth as it were the riches of His divine love towards man, making a remembrance of his wonderful works” [Ibid. Chapter II]

“Christ, the Lord, in the Last Supper, instituted and delivered to the apostles, this venerable Sacrament in the species of bread and wine….” [21st Session, Decree on Communion, Chapter I]

“It [this holy Synod] moreover declares, that although, as has been already said, our Redeemer, in that Last Supper, instituted, and delivered to the apostles, this Sacrament in two species, yet is to be acknowledged, that Christ whole and entire and a true Sacrament are received under either species alone; and that therefore, as regards the fruit thereof, they, who receive one species alone, are not deprived of any grace necessary to salvation.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the Apostles “His own every Body, and His own Blood”. He not only “instituted” but also “delivered to the apostles” this Sacrament of His body and blood. This teaching of the Council of Trent is openly and directly rejected by Fr. Nathan O’Halloran, S.J.

Trent: “nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the Last Supper, on the night in which He was betrayed, — that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit, — declaring Himself constituted a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine; and, under the symbols of those same things, He delivered [His own body and blood] to be received by His apostles, whom He then constituted priests of the New Testament; and by those words, Do this in commemoration of me, He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood, to offer [them]; even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught.” [22nd Session, Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass, Chapter I]

The Council taught that the Last Supper was a sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Mass, which included a valid consecration of the Eucharist and the reception of holy Communion by the Apostles. This institution of the Mass and Eucharist also constitutes the institution of the priesthood, for only a priest can say Mass and validly consecrate the Eucharist.

But if, as the priest Nathan O’Halloran ironically insists, the Last Supper was not a Mass and had no Eucharist, then neither did it institute the priesthood. If the words of Christ at the Last Supper lacked the power to consecrate a valid Eucharist, as Fr. O’Halloran claims, then how can he himself consecrate with those same words? Does he have a power that Christ lacked?

There is a sickness in the Church today, a particular version of that ancient malady called pride. In the present age, this ancient root of all sin takes the form of pride in one’s own ideas. “I think it, therefore it is true.” And so today we have priests, theologians, and innumerable online commentators undermining and openly rejecting Church teaching, as if it were their right and duty to correct the Church with whatever shiny thoughts happen to pass through their mind. And no theological argument, nor any quotes or citations from magisterial teaching, has any effect on them. Their pride makes their own mind always seem to be the brighter light.

The faithful are called to seek truth, not merely by our own thoughts, but first and foremost in Divine Revelation (Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture) and the teachings of the Magisterium. The infallible teachings of the Magisterium, such as those quoted above from the Council of Trent, must be believed with the full assent of faith (theological faith). To obstinately deny or obstinately doubt any infallible teaching of the Magisterium is formal heresy. Then, too, the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium require the religious submission of mind and will (religious assent). So we are not free, as sinners who seek truth, to believe whatever seems right to our fallen minds. And if the Magisterium has no teaching on some point, we must still seek the truths found, perhaps only implicitly, in Tradition and Scripture. We are not free to believe whatever we want.

Fr. Nathan O’Halloran, S.J., has committed formal heresy by claiming, in contradiction to the teaching of the Council of Trent and the ordinary and universal Magisterium, that the Last Supper was not a Mass and did not include a valid consecration of the Eucharist.

Is his consecration of the Eucharist at Mass valid? Only if it meets all of the conditions for validity, including that the priest intends to do what the Church does. But the Church intends to do, in the Mass and at the consecration, just as Christ did at the Last Supper. So the validity of his consecration at each Mass is legitimately called into question.

Now the Sacraments can be validly administered even by heretics. And God has wisely chosen to make the Sacraments not fragile, not easily made invalid. So the Masses said by Fr. O’Halloran probably include a valid consecration of the Eucharist. Probably.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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