The Lord' Supper and the Fourth Cup.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is on Holy Thursday. The Mass remembers when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during the Jewish Passover Seder with his disciples.
The Passover Seder includes four cups of wine. The first cup has a special blessing spoken over it, followed by a serving of herbs. The Exodus Passover story is told, followed by the second cup. The main meal, consisting of lamb and unleavened bread, follows next, and afterwards the third cup, the “cup of blessing.” St. Paul seems to confirm this was the cup the Lord used in the institution of the Eucharist when he says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16.)
Paul gives us the earliest record of what happened: “On the night when he was betrayed [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks [Eucharist means thanksgiving] he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the chalice, after supper [also indicating he used the 3rd cup], saying, ‘this chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (1 Cor 11:23-26; cf., Lk 22:14-20; Mk 14:22-25; Mt26:26-29; cf., Jn 6:22-69.)
The culmination of the Seder is then the singing of Psalms 114-118, the hymns of praise, and the drinking of the fourth cup, the “cup of consummation.” Now Jesus makes a glaring, deliberate omission in the Passover ritual. No fourth cup. Instead he says, “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25).
We then read of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, passion, and crucifixion on Good Friday. Now nothing in a Roman crucifixion would indicate a sacrifice. Yet St. Paul says, “For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7), and Scripture testifies that this was a “sacrifice” once for all (Heb 7:27, 10:10) for sins (1 Pet 3:18).As Dr. Scott Hahn, in his book, “The Fourth Cup,” says, “The Last Supper is what transformed Good Friday from an execution into a sacrifice” by Jesus’ priestly offering. Then when Jesus takes the fourth cup, the “cup of consummation,” it is when he is suffering on the cross. The “cup” is sour wine (vinegar) given to him on a sponge on a hyssop branch (cf., Ex 12:22). At that moment, Jesus says, “‘It is finished;’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). The consummation of the sacrificial offering. The finishing of the Passover by partaking of the fourth “cup of consummation.” In his Kingdom, which he told the good thief was “today” (Lk 23:43).
Further, it is Christ’s Easter Sunday resurrection which transformed the sacrifice into a sacrament. Dr. Hahn says, “Christ’s body was raised in glory, so it is now communicable to the faithful. Indeed, the Eucharist is the same sacrifice he offered by instituting the Eucharist and then dying on Calvary; only now his sacred humanity is deified and deifying. It is the high-priestly sacrifice that he offers in heaven and on earth.” The one, same sacrifice. The holy sacrifice of the Mass. “If the Eucharist were only a meal, then Calvary would be no more than an execution.” Calvary was the holy sacrifice offered by Christ who loved us to the utter end (Jn 13:1) and so established the New Covenant in his blood saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
During this sorrowful Holy Week and joyous Easter season, we again give thanks to God for his indescribable gift, and wish blessings and Easter joy to all.
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church is located in California City, CA. Visit our website at ollcalcity.org.
Dibby Allan Green has a BA in Religious Studies (Westmont College, 1978) and MA in Theology (Augustine Institute, 2019), is a lay Catholic hermit, and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.