The Eucharist Sacrament of the New Commandment

The Eucharist Sacrament

of the New Commandment

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros


1. The new commandment

In His last talk to His disciples during the Mystical Supper, Jesus said to them: “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13: 34-35). To love one another just as Jesus has loved us, this is the new commandment. And that means a love which emulates the “perfection” of God the Father’s love, according to the words of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said: An eye for en eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you: Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt. 5: 38-39). “You have heard that it was said: you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust… You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:43-48).

2. The way of Jesus to conquer violence

The theme of the last Synod of Bishops gathered in the Vatican (Oct 2-23, 2005) was: “The Eucharist: source and summit of the life and mission of the Church”. We read in the paragraph 79: : “In today’s so-called ‘globalized’ world, lacking in solidarity, conditioned by an increasingly sophisticated technology and marked by international; terrorism and other forms of violence and exploitation, the Eucharist maintains its timeless message, which is necessary in constructing society where communion, solidarity, freedom, respect for the person, hope and trust in God prevail”.

Violence is a reality spread all over the history since Cain until now. In the last century violence made victims in one hundred years more than all the centuries since the beginning of the human kind. And today we are living in an atmosphere of violence, terrorism, and fear of the complete destruction of humanity by the nuclear weapons stored in the civilized and so-called Christian countries, and that can destroy four times all life on earth, human, animal and vegetal.

In this context of universal violence, the Gospel has a Good News, which states, to say it in the words of Pope John-Paul II in Ireland: “Violence is not the Christian way; violence is not the Catholic way; violence is not the way of Jesus”. In his teaching Jesus commanded us “not to resist evil”, but “to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”. And when he was arrested, Peter wanted to defend him by his sword, Jesus said to him: “Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defense? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that say this is the way it must be so” (Mt. 26:52-54). This is the way of Jesus: “Never repay evil with evil” (Rom. 12:17); but conquer the evil by love and forgiveness. And when he was crucified the first sentence he said, according to the gospel of St. Luke, was: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

3. The peace and the sacrifice of the cross

We read in the Working Paper of the Synod: “Entrusting herself to the Eucharist as the inexhaustible source of grace, the Church promotes the cause of peace in a world vexed by conflicts and violence, terrorism and wars that wound the dignity of persons and whole peoples” (84).

In the Mystical Supper, Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (John 14: 27). The peace that Christ gives us is not like the “Pax Romana”, a peace based on war and violence and imposed by force by the Roman empire, but a peace obtained by the way of the martyr who gives himself as a sacrifice to witness to God’s truth and love.

Reverend Emmanuel Charles McCarthy has written a book entitled “The Nonviolent Eucharist”, and as subtitle: “The Word that has been on stage since the curtain rose, but left unsaid, must be spoken”. He says: “The sacrifice of Christ is not about salvation through mere physiological pain. It is about salvation through the nonviolent suffering love of Jesus toward all and for all, even lethal enemies. It is about revealing the true nature of Divine love, the true and authen­tic Face of God”. As the United States’ Catholic Bishops teach in their Pastoral, The Challenge of Peace (1983): “In all of His suffering, as in all of His life and ministry, Jesus refused to defend Himself with force or with violence. He endured violence and cruelty so that God’s love might be fully manifest and the world might be reconciled to the One from whom it had become estranged.” “Atonement and redemption, sanctification and salvation are the fruits of nonviolent, unconditional love made visible at a terrible cost to Jesus from Gethsemane to Golgotha” (p. 18).

This is the witness Jesus proclaimed before Pilate who asked Him: “So you are a king?” He answered: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). The death of Jesus on the cross was the death of a martyr who bore witness to the truth of God until death, and thus revealed to the world the infinite love of God. In His sacrificial death the true God was revealed to us, and the eternal life was given to us, as Jesus said in his priestly prayer: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Conquering violence by love until the sacrifice of His death by which “He showed how perfect His love was” (John 13: 1), dying for His enemies and praying for those who killed Him, He made known to the world the Truth of God and opened us the Way to the Life.

4. The nonviolent way of Jesus remembered in the Eucharistic Liturgy

The way of Jesus to conquer evil and violence must be the Christian way: the way of nonviolence, of love and forgiveness. This is the way of Jesus, and since Jesus is the Logos of God and the Wisdom of God, this nonviolent way is the way of God. This is the way all humanity is called to follow in its process of divinization. In order to help us to remember this divine way, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Eucharist in which he anticipated his death and gave it its full significance: his body broken and his “blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28).

The Eucharist is the principal means that the Church offers to the world for meeting the true God and the truth of God through Jesus Christ, as well as for overcoming evil and death in all their manifestations. The Eucharist is God’s gift of Himself through Jesus and His Church to hu­manity for its liberation from enslavement to any and all of the powers of darkness and for its entering into an eternal union with the Giver and Sustainer of Life.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God is remembered and “re-presented” in the preparation of the gifts before the Liturgy. The sacrifice of Christ as “surrendering Himself for the life of the world” is also remembered in the Anaphora. We read in the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. Basil:

“He (Jesus) left us memorials of his salutary passion, these which we have brought about by His command. For being about to go forth to His voluntary and eternally memorable and life-giving death, on the night wherein He surrendered Himself for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy and spotless hands, presented it to You, His God and Father, gave thanks and blesses and sanctified and broke it, and gave it to His holy disciples and Apostles and said: Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins….”

In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the same idea of Jesus surrendering himself to a voluntary death is also expressed: “When He had come and fulfilled all that was appointed Him to do for our sake, on the night on which He was delivered up, or rather delivered Himself up for the life of the world, taking bread in His holy, spotless and blameless hands, giving thanks and blessing, sanctifying and breaking it, He gave it to His holy disciples and Apostles and said: …”

In conclusion, we refer to the suggestion of Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy concerning a more detailed remembrance of Jesus’ voluntary surrendering to His salutary death in the Anaphora. He writes in his book mentioned above (p.25-26):

“In the context of what had just been said and to underline what has been previously stated, a historically, theologically, liturgically and pastorally accurate addition to the institution narrative-anamnesis of the Eucharistic Canons could read as follows:

“… On the night before He went forth to His eternally memorable and life-giving death, like a Lamb led to slaughter, rejecting violence, loving His enemies, and praying for His persecutors, He bestowed upon His disciples the gift of a New Commandment: ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another’.

Then He took bread into His holy hands, and looking up to You, almighty God, He gave thanks, blessed it, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.’ Likewise, when the Supper was ended, He took the cup. Again He gave You thanks and praise, gave the cup to His disciples and said: ‘Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.’

Obedient, therefore, to this precept of salvation, we call to mind and reverence His passion where He lived to the fullest the precepts which He taught for our sanctification. We remember His suffering at the hands of a fallen humanity filled with the spirit of violence and enmity. But, we remember also that He endured this humiliation with a love free of re­taliation, revenge, and retribution. We recall His execution on the cross. But, we recall also that He died loving enemies, praying for persecutors, forgiving, and being superabundantly merciful to those for whom justice would have demanded justice”.

This text is a theological development of the idea of salvation through the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Liturgy is the celebration of the love of Jesus who surrenders Himself to death in order to reveal to the whole world the true God and make known the only way to conquer violence: the way of “love to the very end” (John 13:1) .