“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them." - Matthew 5:17
By Christ's life, Passion, and resurrection, He carried out and fulfilled the entirety of the Law of Moses, the prophecies and the sacrifices. Nothing which was Willed by God to the Israelites was left unresolved by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But in fulfilling the Law, He did not abolish it. No, the Old Law was elevated and truly sanctified by the merits of Christ's sacrificial death. In fulfilling the Law, with leaving nothing unresolved, that means that every aspect must be met and resolved. By this criteria, the view that the Eucharist is symbolic makes Christ sacrifice out to be incomplete, because from this viewpoint it would stand to mean that the Old Law was not entirely fulfilled.
The Last Supper and the Crucifixion are inseverable. Christ offers the Supper to His Apostles in the form of a sacrifice in connection to His Passion which is to take place the following day. It is an infallible teaching of the Catholic Church that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and in particular, the one sacrifice of Christ. However, the sacrifice of the Mass is not a new sin offering but a participation anew in Christ’s one Sacrifice of Calvary that culminated in everlasting glory in the heavenly sanctuary.
The Council of Trent declared:
If any one saith, that, by the sacrifice of the mass, a blasphemy is cast upon the most holy sacrifice of Christ consummated on the cross; or, that it is thereby derogated from; let him be anathema (The Canons on the Sacrifice of the Mass, canon 4).
The Last Supper follows a similar formula to that of Old Testaments sacrifices: first, in the action of the separating of the blood from the body, second, within the language itself, and lastly, in the consumption of the body of the sacrifice.
Christ uses sacrificial language to describe what is happening while He is celebrating the Passover with his Apostles. He refers to His Blood as being poured out in the present tense and declares that it is given. He explains that the Blood poured out is indeed the blood of the new covenant. He charges them not to only do it themselves, but to do it in remembrance. And lastly and most importantly, they are told to eat of it. So, let's break it down.
First, Christ refers to His Blood as it indeed being the blood of the new covenant (Matt 26:28), in a similar way that Moses himself refers to the sacrifice during the ratifying ceremony of the Sinaitic covenant:
“Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” -Exodus 24:8
Second, Our Lord uses the phrase "poured" out. The pouring of blood is a prevalent aspect within the Old Testament atoning sacrifices. Such as in Leviticus 4:7 which details that the priest performing the sacrifice was to pour the blood at the base of the altar that the victim was offered upon. When Jesus speaks of pouring out his blood, we can reasonably conclude he was being intentional with his wording around the Eucharist being an atoning sacrifice—especially when we consider how Jesus speaks of his blood being poured out for the forgiveness of sins (see Matthew 26:28).
Third, in St. Luke’s account of the Last Supper we see the usage of the Greek word didomi, which is the word that Our Lord uses for "given" within his statement: “This is my body given for you” (Luke 22:19; emphasis added). In other instances within the New Testament didomi is used in reference to sacrifices. For example, Luke records, “[Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord . . . and to offer [didomai] a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:24).
St. Mark, in his Gospel account, uses didomi when he speaks of Jesus’ Passion: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give [didomai] his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Fourth, we can deduce the sacrificial nature of the Last Supper by Christ’s charge to “do this” (Luke 22:19). In the Greek it reads poieite touto and this word poieo (which is the root for poieite, which is translated as “offer”) within the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) is used in regards to sacrifices as well:
“Now this is what you shall offer [poieseis] upon the altar: two lambs a year old day by day continually” (Exod. 29:28).
“Draw near to the altar, and offer [poieson] your sin offering and your burnt offering, and make atonement for yourself and for the people” (Lev. 9:7).
“I will offer [poies] to thee burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams” (Psalm 66:15).
Fifthly, on top of these aforementioned points, not only did Jesus tell the apostles to “do this,” he said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; emphasis added). We see this language being present within God's direction to Moses with the institution of the Passover, which is what the Lord is commemorating with His apostles during the Last Supper:
This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever. - Exodus 12:3-14
The Greek word for remembrance is anamnesis, which has sacrificial connotations in both the New and Old Testaments. As per another example, in the Septuagint, Moses explains to the Israelites that their burnt and peace offerings' purpose would serve as an anamnesis (“remembrance”) before God (see Numbers 10:10). The author of Hebrews showcases his view of the Old Testament sacrifices in the exact same light:
“But in these sacrifices there is a reminder [anamnesis] of sin year after year” - Hebrews 10:3
So, when we consider this sacrificial language in regards to anamnesis, combined with the sacrificial meaning of poiete, didomai, and the language referring to Christ's Blood, we have good reason to believe Luke’s use of anamnesis also suggests the Last Supper is indeed a sacrifice.
And lastly, the most crucial point, the Apostles are told to eat of it. This command also is present within the Lord's establishment of the Passover:
[T]hey shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household; [...] according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old [...] you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. [...] In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. - Exodus 12:3-13
We also see the command to eat the sacrifice within the instructions for the sin offering found in Leviticus:
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and his sons, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it; in a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy; and when any of its blood is sprinkled on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was sprinkled in a holy place. And the earthen vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken; but if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured, and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. - Leviticus 6:24-29
Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, is the ultimate sin offering, the new and final Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), and the Lamb of God (John 1:36), meant to be consumed after His Passion and sacrifice on the Cross. This is why in John 6:47-58 Jesus says:
"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. [...] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
We do not see Christ stopping to clarify His words that we must eat of His flesh and drink His blood for the sake of His followers who are leaving Him, if His words truly were simply metaphorical. He only looks to the Apostles and asks if they too will abandon Him over this teaching.
After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (66-69)
With all that Christ is, as the new and final sin offering and Passover Lamb, and as the new and final Manna, he is to be eaten within the sacrament of the Eucharist, and Our Lord was not ambiguous about it.
There is a serious problem with interpreting Jesus' words within John 6 as being symbolic. Fr. John A. O’Brien, in his book The Faith of Millions explains as such:
“The phrase ‘to eat the flesh and drink the blood,’ when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense” (The Faith of Millions, 215).
When fundamentalist evangelicals speak on John 6 they will allege that they can prove Christ was speaking only in a metaphorical sense by comparing the teaching in John 6 to verses like John 10:9 (“I am the door”) and John 15:1 (“I am the true vine”). The issue is that there is not a connection here to John 6:35 (“I am the bread of life”) when it comes to how language is used. John 10:9 and John 5:1 do make sense as metaphorical language, but Our Lord uses language that is far beyond symbolism in John 6. The Greek word that Jesus used for “eats” (trogon) is very blunt and clear, and its meaning is that of “chewing” or “gnawing". To have eternal life we must chew and gnaw on the Lord figuratively? This is not the kind of language for a metaphorical teaching.
To add on to this defense, St. Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, says:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” - 1 Corinthians 10:16
St. Paul also goes on to say:
“Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord [...] For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” -1 Corinthians 11:27, 29
“To answer for the body and blood” of another person meant to be guilty of a crime as serious as ending the life of that other; as per Ezekiel 3:18:
When I say to a wicked person, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.
How could simply eating plain bread and consuming mere wine in an "unworthy” manner be so serious as this? What could make someone unworthy of eating plain bread? Paul’s comments only makes sense in light of the bread and wine truly becoming the real Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord's Passion is two-fold: the sacrifice on the Cross, and then the re-presentation of His sacrifice in the reception of the Eucharist in the Mass, both offered to us in perfect tandem by Jesus Christ. One cannot be separated from the other, for it is to be offered and received in anamnesis by the absolute command of our Lord. There was no option left to us by Christ, nor Tradition, for it to be otherwise, for as the Jews ate of the Sin Offering and the Passover Lamb, so we are to eat of the Lamb of God, the perfect Sin Offering, by no exceptions, in perfect fulfillment of the Old. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
In the Eucharist, Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross (CCC, 1365-1366).
The symbolic view of the Eucharist robs Christ's sacrifice of its absolute fullness, and it lessens Christ's fulfillment of the entirety of the Old Law and its sacrifices when we reduce or refuse the Eucharist as it was and is offered within the Church. When one lessens Holy Communion down to only its symbolic aspects it is an offense against the entirety of the Passion and ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
What Did the Early Church Believe
Protestants will argue that the early Christians would agree with their symbolic interpretation, but how true is this? The Early Church can supply an enriching insight into the direct affect of the ministry of the Apostles and their disciples, and how the teachings of the Apostolic Age carried on within the heart of the Church. Because of this, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too” (July 7, 2007)
So to conclude, we will look to see their insight into the sacrament of 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 [A.D. 110])
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . 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 which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110])
St. Justin Martyr
“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, ‘This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, ‘This is My blood;’ and gave it to them alone.” (First Apology 66 (151 A.D.))
St. Irenaeus of Lyons
"Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity." (Against Heresies 4:18:5 (189 A.D.))
"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?" (4:33:2 (189 A.D.))
"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 to our bodies. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. [Ephesians 5:30] He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; [Luke 24:39] but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption, [1 Corinthians 15:53] because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness, [2 Corinthians 12:3]" (5:2:2-3 (189 A.D.))
St. Hippolytus of Rome
“And she hath furnished her table:” that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honored and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper. (On Proverbs (217 A.D.))
Origen of Alexandria
"Formerly there was baptism in an obscure way [...] now, however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit. Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ [John 6:55]" (Homilies on Numbers 7:2 [A.D. 248])
St. Augustine of Hippo
“In the sacrament he is immolated [offered as sacrifice] for the people not only on every Easter Solemnity but on every day; and a man would not be lying if, when asked, he were to reply that Christ is being immolated. For if sacraments had not a likeness to those things of which they are sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all; and they generally take the names of those same things by reason of this likeness” (Letters 98:9 [A.D. 412]).
“For when he says in another book, which is called Ecclesiastes, ‘There is no good for a man except that he should eat and drink’ [Eccles. 2:24], what can he be more credibly understood to say [prophetically] than what belongs to the participation of this table which the Mediator of the New Testament himself, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, furnishes with his own body and blood? For that sacrifice has succeeded all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were slain as a shadow of what was to come [...] Because, instead of all these sacrifices and oblations, his body is offered and is served up to the partakers of it” (The City of God 17:20 [A.D. 419]).
"I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord's Table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know that you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ" (Sermons 227 [A.D. 411]).
"What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice is the Blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction" (ibid., 272).
St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage
“After having spoken thus [at the Last Supper], the Lord rose up from the place where he had made the Passover and had given his body as food and his blood as drink, and he went with his disciples to the place where he was to be arrested. But he ate of his own body and drank of his own blood, while he was pondering on the dead. With his own hands the Lord presented his own body to be eaten, and before he was crucified he gave his blood as drink” (Demonstrations 12:6 [A.D. 340]).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, yet let faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to you.
Having learned these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ ; and that of this David sung of old, saying, And bread strengthens man's heart, to make his face to shine with oil , "strengthen your heart," by partaking thereof as spiritual, and "make the face of your soul to shine." And so having it unveiled with a pure conscience, may you reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), and proceed from glory to glory, in Christ Jesus our Lord:— To whom be honour, and might, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen. (Catechetical Lectures 22:6,9 (350 A.D.))
[T]he Bread and Wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Holy and Adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, while after the invocation the Bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ (19:7)
St. Ambrose of Milan
Perhaps you will say, "I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?" And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed. [...] In that sacrament is Christ, because it is the Body of Christ, it is therefore not bodily food but spiritual. Whence the Apostle says of its type: Our fathers ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:3). for the Body of God is a spiritual body; the Body of Christ is the Body of the Divine Spirit, for the Spirit is Christ, as we read: The Spirit before our face is Christ the Lord (Lamentations 4:20). And in the Epistle of Peter we read: Christ died for us (1 Peter 2:21). Lastly, that food strengthens our heart, and that drink makes glad the heart of man, as the prophet has recorded. - The Mysteries 9:50, 58 (390 A.D.)
Theodore of Mopsuestia (Bishop)
“When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood’; for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements] after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit not according to their nature, but receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord. We ought . . . not regard [the elements] merely as bread and cup, but as the body and blood of the Lord, into which they were transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit” (Catechetical Homilies 5:1 [A.D. 405])
In reflection, it would be prudent to also consider the novelty of the idea of Eucharistic symbolism, in that it was not a wide spread theological belief until the past 500 years stemming from the Protestant Revolution. This belief is not in tandem with the first 1500 years of official, orthodox, Christian teaching and theology, as we saw the opposite being taught by those in the Early Church, and in the case of most of them the belief in symbolism and denying the Real Presence was rebuked. If the belief in pure symbolism is true, this would mean that the first 15 centuries of the Church was plagued with widespread cancerous heresy and it would thus stand to mean that Christ lied when He said:
Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. - Matthew 28:20
I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. - Matthew 16:18
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in to all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. - John 16:13
If the belief in the Real Presence is false, then the Holy Spirit truly failed to guide the Church in its first 1500 years and it allowed the gates of hell to prevail against the Bride of Christ by permitting the heretical idolatry of bread and wine to spread like wild satanical fire. But it would stand to reason, through faith, that this is an impossibility.
So knowing this, coupled with the evidence laid out above, we can conclude that belief in the Real Presence is the only belief which meets all of the criteria of fulfilling the Old Law and thus what fully encapsulates Christ's ministry and Passion through Christ's sacrificial usage of poiete, didomai, anamnesis, and trogon.