Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The Todah Sacrifice as Pattern for the Eucharist

by Stephen Pimentel


This series of four lectures by Stephen Pimentel examines different aspects of the Eucharist regarding the Old Testament: 1) how the Eucharist is related to the Todah sacrifice 2) evidence that the Eucharist is foreshadowed in the Old Testament 3) the Eucharist was already the central act of worship among the early Christians 4) the connection between the Ascension and the Eucharist (quoting from the Book of Hebrews).

Larger Work

Inside the Vatican


44 – 47

Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, March 2008

The Todah Sacrifice as Pattern for the Eucharist Lecture 1

Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Prophetic Foundations of the Eucharist Lecture 2

The Practice of the Eucharist in the Apostolic Church Lecture 3

The Eucharistic Tabernacle in the Book of Hebrews Lecture 4

The Todah Sacrifice as Pattern for the Eucharist

The Many and the One

Jesus Christ recapitulates all of salvation history in his person and work (cf. Eph. 1:9-10). He is the center of unity, the one to whom the many reduce.

This principle applies to the covenants encountered throughout salvation history, which find their unity in Christ.

Under the Mosaic covenant, there were many sacrifices and, indeed, many types of sacrifice.

In the new covenant, there is one sacrifice, that of Christ himself. The many sacrifices are "reduced" to the one, in the etymological sense (Latin "re-ducere") of being "led back" to Christ, so as to find their unity and true meaning. This "reduction" is the theme of Hebrews 10:1-18. In the center of that passage, the author cites the words of Psalm 40:6-8, applying them to Christ.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'" (Heb. 10:5-7)

Hebrews employs Psalm 40 to highlight the body of Christ as that which is offered in the one sacrifice of the new covenant. These lectures will begin by examining the relation between a particular sort of sacrifice — the "todah" or thanksgiving sacrifice — and the body of Christ in the context of the Eucharist, as instituted during the Last Supper. The category of the thanksgiving offering and its importance for the Eucharist was highlighted by the German scholar Hartmut Gese,1 whose research was strongly endorsed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.2

The Todah Sacrifice

The multiple types of sacrifice in the Mosaic covenant are detailed in Leviticus 1-7. These offerings can be divided and subdivided in various ways, but the major categories are the burnt offerings, the cereal offerings, the peace offerings, the sin offerings, and the guilt offerings. Peace offerings included the eating of a sacrificial meal and, indeed, were the only sacrifices in which non-priests were permitted to share in the meal. An important subcategory of the peace offering was the todah offering, described in Leviticus 7:12-15.

With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. (Lev. 7:13-15)

As often in the Pentateuch, the material is terse, and it is difficult to get a good sense of its significance from this passage alone. However, the importance of the todah sacrifice is further developed in the later Old Testament tradition.

Todah literally means "thanksgiving." In addition to the sense of thanksgiving or gratitude, it also has a strong connotation of praise. The todah offering was accompanied by an associated type of song, usually a psalm.

The todah sacrifice was offered by a person whose life had been redeemed or delivered from a great danger.

The person who had been delivered would express his gratitude to God by celebrating a sacrificial meal with family and friends. A priest would normally sacrifice a lamb and consecrate bread in the temple. The meat and bread would then be brought home for the meal, along with wine.

The meal would then be accompanied by songs of thanksgiving. Todah songs have a characteristic movement from lament to praise. Sometimes, the song is actually structured with two halves, the first a lament, the second a praise. The lament recounts the circumstance of impending death and the prayer to God for deliverance. The praise recalls and proclaims the deliverance from death, for which God is thanked and praised.

The crucial point is that todah presupposes a narrative, an account of what has happened in the life of the one giving thanks. One does not simply give thanks in a generic or abstract way. One gives thanks for a particular deliverance from suffering or mortal danger.

Isaiah 38 gives us an important example of a todah song because we have its corresponding narrative context. King Hezekiah fell deathly ill in the midst of the siege of Jerusalem by King Sennacherib of Assyria (Is. 38:1). Hezekiah prayed to the Lord and begged for deliverance (Is. 38:2-3). He then received the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah promising both personal deliverance from the illness and the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (Is. 38:4-6). In response, Hezekiah composed a todah song (Is. 38:9-20) to accompany his offering in the temple (Is. 38:22). The content and structure of the song reflect the todah pattern of lament followed by praise. In the song (Is. 38:10-20), Hezekiah recalls his lament for impending death (Is. 38:10-11) and plea for deliverance (Is. 38:16), followed by his proclamation of consequent deliverance (Is. 38:17), thanksgiving and praise (Is. 38:19-20).

The Todah Psalms

Hartmut Gese suggests that psalms intended for todah offerings formed the cultic basis for a major portion of the Psalter. This assessment is corroborated by the account in 1 Chronicles 16 of David's organization of the liturgical services after the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem. At that time, David appointed the Levitical clan of Asaph "to thank and praise the Lord" (1 Chron. 16:6) and to "sing thanksgiving before the Lord" (1 Chron. 16:7). Two todah psalms (Ps. 105 and 96) are then quoted at length within the text as examples. The account then states that the service of thanksgiving was to be performed by the clan of Asaph on a continuing basis (1 Chron. 16:37).

The canonical todah psalms follow the familiar pattern of lament, prayer for delivery and proclamation of praise, as the following examples illustrate. In Psalm 69, the psalmist begins with a prayer for deliverance from mortal danger (Ps. 69:1-2) and concludes by praising God in thanksgiving (Ps. 69:30). In the latter connection, the psalmist notes that the act of thanksgiving is more pleasing to God than animal sacrifice (Ps. 69:31). This theme recurs and is further developed in Psalm 51, which characterizes the spiritual movement from lament to praise as itself being the true sacrifice (Ps. 51:16-17).3 Only after one has offered the spiritual sacrifice of contrition is animal sacrifice acceptable (Ps. 51:19).

One of the greatest example of a todah psalm is Psalm 22. The psalm breaks cleanly into two halves, with the lament in verses 1-21 and the praise in verses 22-31. The psalmist begins with a cry of utter abandonment (Ps. 22:1), made famous by Christ's quotation of it on the Cross (Mt. 27:46). Employing antithetical parallelism between night and day, he describes the completeness of his sense of abandonment (Ps. 22:2), and leaves no doubt that his suffering is unto death (Ps. 22:15). At the end of the lament, he prays to God to deliver his soul from death (Ps. 22:19-20).

The psalm then turns to praise, and the following portion of the psalm is most remarkable. The psalmist does not address his praise to God alone but rather to successively larger audiences of his fellow men until it is addressed to every nation on earth. He first addresses praise to his brethren within the congregation, presumably within Jerusalem (Ps. 22:22). He then addresses praise to all Israel (Ps. 22:23). Finally, he declares that all nations to the ends of the earth will offer God praise (Ps. 22:27).

The narrative parallels with Psalm 22 in the synoptic accounts of the Passion of Christ are well-known (e.g., Mt. 27:35, 39, 43). John, for his part, explicitly cites the casting of lots for Christ's garments as a fulfillment of the Psalm (Jn. 19:24). Most striking is Christ's invocation, noted above, of the first verse of the Psalm while on the Cross (Mt. 27:46). Using the words of the psalmist, Christ laments his suffering and cries out for deliverance: not from death but through death. By quoting the first verse of a canonical psalm, Christ brings to mind the psalm as a whole. The holistic use of the psalm in confirmed by the evangelists' references to multiple parts of the psalm in the Passion narratives.

The significance of such holistic use of the psalm lies in the fact that a todah psalm does not stop at lament and deliverance but moves to proclamation. The proclamation of Psalm 22 points to the Resurrection as the greatest possible deliverance, one that will culminate in the evangelization of Israel and the nations. Though it is left implicit in the Passion narratives, the second half of the psalm is no less applicable than the first half, showing that the fruit of the Resurrection is the ever-widening proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God.


The Passover sacrifice and the todah sacrifice were both peace offerings and, as such, shared the features common to that category. However, they also possessed elements in common that differentiated them from other peace offerings. For example, they both employed unleavened bread (Ex. 12:8; Lev. 7:12) and had to be eaten entirely on the same day that they were offered (Ex. 12:10; Lev. 7:15).

The chief difference between the Passover and todah sacrifice was that the latter was celebrated at the initiative of an individual, whereas the former was mandated to be celebrated annually on the same day throughout Israel.

Given their distinctive commonalities, the Passover sacrifice could be viewed as the collective todah of Israel under the Mosaic covenant.4

From this perspective, Passover would appear as the highest instance of a todah sacrifice in the Old Testament, constituting a unique sub-type of its own.

Within a todah psalm, the movement from lament to praise usually takes place within the life of the one offering the sacrifice. However, the example of Passover suggests an analogous movement within the corporate life of the People of God. Israel lamented her enslavement unto death in Egypt, cried out to the Lord for deliverance, was miraculously granted that deliverance in the Exodus, and then proclaimed the deeds of the Lord with thanksgiving and praise in the celebration of Passover. In fact, the Exodus narrative is the Old Testament's chief exemplar of the movement from lament to praise.

Passover strongly emphasizes the todah elements of remembrance and thanksgiving.

"This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast." (Ex. 12:14)

Then Moses said to the people, "Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten." (Ex. 13:3)

Passover has its own set of associated psalms, the so-called Hallel Psalms (Ps. 113-118). Psalm 116 is a key example that follows the todah pattern, moving from suffering at the point of death to a response of thanksgiving.

The psalmist laments his suffering at the point of death (Ps. 116:3) and prays to God for deliverance (Ps. 116:4).

When God delivers him, the adequate response is a sacrificial meal in which wine is consecrated (Ps. 116:12-13).

In the concluding section of the psalm, the sacrifice is expressly described as a todah sacrifice (Ps. 116:17), which is quite significant, given the Passover context of the Hallel Psalms.

The Eucharist as Todah

The synoptic Gospels clearly affirm that the Last Supper took place during a celebration of Passover (e.g., Lk. 22:1415). One element of continuity between Passover and the Eucharist lies in their connection with todah sacrifice. Christ reconfigured the Passover meal around his own self-sacrifice in a manner that more perfectly expressed its nature as todah.5 The very use of the Greek term eucharistia reflects the centrality of thanksgiving in this liturgical action. The words of institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper emphasize the essential todah elements of thanksgiving and remembrance.6

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." (Lk. 22:19)

But what is the object of thanksgiving and remembrance? Christ tells us that it is his "body which is given for you." Once again, todah presupposes a narrative, and the narrative to which the todah of the Last Supper refers is the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ. As suggested by the New Testament use of Psalm 22, the Passion, death, and Resurrection exemplify the todah movement from lament to praise.7

The Eucharist as New Passover

The relation between the Eucharist and Passover is not limited to their common todah pattern. Rather, the Eucharist is itself a New Passover in which Christ serves as the paschal lamb whose body and blood effect redemption.8 Paul understands the Eucharist within this paschal framework.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)

Just as Passover recalled and made present the Exodus from bondage in Egypt, the New Passover recalls and makes present the New Exodus from bondage to sin. By his paschal sacrifice, in which he was delivered from death to new life, the Messiah established the new covenant and redeemed the members of his body from sin. This deliverance brought about by the Messiah is the New Exodus.

For the Old Testament prophets, the New Exodus was a major theme associated with the Messiah (cf. Is. 11:1,11-12; 51:9-11; Jer. 23:5-8; 31:7-8; Ezek. 37:19-21, 24).

The prophets looked forward to a time when the ten northern tribes of Israel, which had been scattered by the Assyrians, would be delivered from the nations and reunited with the two southern tribes of Judah.

Israel would then be restored in a united kingdom, along with the very Gentiles from whom the exiled Israelites were drawn.9

Yet, the New Exodus is not chiefly external but has a profound spiritual dimension, for the root cause of exile is covenantal violation or sin. Throughout Isaiah 40-55, the New Exodus is closely associated with redemption from sin. Peter, just before quoting Isaiah 40, echoes the theme of redemption from sin while identifying Christ's paschal sacrifice as the source of redemption.

[Y]ou were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

In summary, the New Exodus is a set of closely related events within salvation history that includes the return of the 12 tribes and the salvation of the Gentiles in a restored kingdom through redemption from sin. Jesus asserts at the Last Supper that just this set of events was then underway.

[A]nd I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel. (Lk. 22:29-30)


1. Hartmut Gese, "Psalm 22 and the New Testament," Theology Today 18 (1970), 237-243; idem, "The Origins of the Lord's Supper," in Essays on Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1981), 117-140.

2. Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 51-60. Particularly striking is Ratzinger's concluding statement: "The close connection made, in the New Testament tradition, between the toda psalms and Christology, the structural unity between these psalms and the content of the Eucharist — these things are so obvious that, on the basis of the New Testament texts, they cannot be disputed." Idem, 60.

3. Ratzinger, Feast, 56.

4. This suggestion is drawn from Tim Gray, "From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Todah Sacrifice as Backdrop for the Last Supper," in Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass, ed. Scott Hahn and Regis J. Flaherty (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2004), 65-76 at 74.

5. Roch A. Kereszty, Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eucharistic Theology from a Biblical, Historical, Systematic Perspective (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 12. In contrast, Gese suggested that the Last Supper was a separate todah sacrifice subsequent to the Passover meal.

6. Kereszty, Wedding, 29.

7. At the same time, the todah sacrifice of the Old Testament was not a sin offering and did not include atonement for sin as part of its function. We will address in future lectures how these crucial elements are integrated into the Eucharist.

8. Kereszty, Wedding, 204, n. 2.

9. Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 33-39.

Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Prophetic Foundations of the Eucharist

The Words Over the Cup

In the previous lecture, we discussed Jesus' words over the bread at the Last Supper. We will now examine the words he spoke over the cup, which are found in four places in the New Testament and in two versions.

One version is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark; another version is found in the Gospel of Luke and in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. Both versions refer to "the covenant."

In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus says, "This is my blood of the covenant" (Mk. 14:24) The whole verse reads: "And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'" (Mk. 14:23-24)

The phrase "blood of the covenant" echoes the establishment of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 24:8. At both Sinai and the Last Supper, the "blood of the covenant" is the blood of the sacrificial victim that is poured out during the ritual of covenantal institution.

It is helpful to review the context of the covenantal ritual within the Exodus narrative. Before leaving Egypt, Moses declared five times to Pharaoh that the purpose of the Exodus was to worship God through sacrifice.1

"And you shall say to him, 'The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, "Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness." But so far, you have not obeyed.'" (Ex. 7:16, cf. Ex. 8:1; 9:1, 13; 10:3)

The place and manner of this sacrifice was to be revealed by God himself. Thus, even the original Exodus was not chiefly external, not merely liberation from physical bondage, but rather was ordered to right worship in a covenant instituted by God.2

God then liberated the Israelites from bondage in Egypt; Moses led them across the Red Sea and into the desert; and finally they came to Mt. Sinai, where Moses went up the mountain for the first time to receive the Ten Commandments. After Moses came down from the mountain, he carried out a covenantal ritual as the culmination of the entire journey from Egypt to Sinai. This ritual contained a liturgy of the word and a sacrifice. Here is the text:

"And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and 12 pillars, according to the 12 tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, 'All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.' And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.' . . . And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank." (Ex. 24:4-8, 11)

The covenantal ritual was a peace offering during which the blood (in this case, the "blood of the covenant") was sprinkled and the sacrificial meal was eaten.3

In the ancient Near East, covenantal rituals were like adoption ceremonies: they established kinship, symbolized by blood, between previously unrelated parties. In the biblical conception, a covenant is not merely a contract, but a sacred bond that unites persons through the swearing of an oath. In the covenantal ritual at Mt. Sinai, Moses symbolizes the establishment of kinship between God and Israel. At the Last Supper, by declaring the cup to contain the "blood of the covenant," Jesus indicates that his own blood, poured out in his Passion and made really present in the Eucharist, re-establishes the bond of kinship between God and the restored Israel. What Moses symbolized with the blood of oxen, Jesus made real with his own blood.

In the Mosaic sacrifices, the priest killed the animal, poured out its blood, and burned a portion of its flesh. The burning of a portion of the animal's flesh symbolized its being offered to God. In the Last Supper, Jesus offered, through the miracle of transubstantiation, his own body and blood, yet to be pierced and poured out on the Cross. The Last Supper and Passion established the covenant, and the Eucharist is now an ongoing re-presentation of that covenantal establishment.

The New Covenant

Paul and Luke give a somewhat different version of the words that Jesus spoke over the cup. Instead of the "blood of the covenant," the cup is described as the "new covenant in my blood" (1 Cor. 11:25). In uttering these words, Jesus declared that His ministry was reaching its culmination in the institution of the new covenant. Thereafter, those who share in the Eucharist would be the people of God restored in that covenant. The focus here is on the new covenant, which was revealed in the prophecy of Jeremiah 31. This prophecy describes the return of the remnant of Israel and, in particular, of the ten northern tribes exiled by the Assyrians, through a New Exodus. Here is the text:

"For thus says the Lord: 'Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, "O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel." Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here." (Jer. 31:7-8)

The prophecy concludes with a description of the new covenant:

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jer. 31:31-33)

According to this prophecy, whatever the new covenant may be, it is not merely a renewal or re-institution of the Mosaic covenant. The distinctive element of the new covenant is that God will put his law into his People, writing it on their hearts. This interior law contrasts with that of the Mosaic covenant, whose law was written not on hearts of flesh but on tablets of stone, as we read in Exodus 31 and 34. The Jeremiah prophecy states that the new covenant is "not like" the Mosaic "covenant they have broken" (Jer. 31:32). The Mosaic covenant was repeatedly broken throughout the history of Israel as related by the Old Testament. The Mosaic law proved difficult to keep and was often violated.

This teaching of the prophets is crucial. It is not the New Testament, much less later Christian theology, that first declared the Mosaic covenant to have been broken; it was the prophets of the Old Testament. Thus, the approach of clinging ever more tightly to the Mosaic law, advocated by the Pharisees and later adopted by the rabbis, is not in accordance with Scripture, even within the Old Testament. The revelation given to Moses points from within itself to beyond itself, for Moses himself is a prophet and can be interpreted correctly only in conjunction with the prophets. The way forward lies with the new covenant given by the Father in the body and blood of the Messiah. As St. Augustine taught, "the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old is unveiled in the New."

Moreover, the sacrifices required by the Mosaic law, as formulated in Deuteronomy, had to be carried out in the temple. Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., it has not been possible even in principle to live in accordance with the Mosaic covenant. Yet, God would not abandon his people. Rather, he promised through the prophets to establish a new covenant by which Israel would be fundamentally reconstituted, and he did so prior to the destruction of the Temple. The sacrificial function of the Temple was taken up and perfected in the Passion of Christ and is liturgically re-presented in the Eucharist.3 This is why, at the moment of Jesus' death, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Mk. 15:37-38), signifying that the covenantal function of the temple was coming to its end.

The Children of Abraham

Although the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant have been taken up into the perfect sacrifice of the new covenant, this subsumption does not at all reduce the importance of the Old Testament. The Mosaic covenant was only one of several covenants in the Old Testament. Paul uses "covenants" in the plural to describe God's dealings with Israel (Rom. 9:4). In particular, the Old Testament distinguishes the Noahite, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants.

Paul teaches that the most important of these covenants are the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants, which he sharply contrasts. Whereas the Abrahamic covenant is guaranteed by God to endure perpetually, the Mosaic covenant was provisionally adjoined (Rom. 5:14, 20) and intended to fall away with the coming of Christ, who is the goal of the law (Rom. 10:4).

The promises given to Abraham form the foundation of salvation history, which unfolds in a continuous pattern from the patriarchs to Christ. Salvation history is not a two-part story, with the Old Testament on one side and the New Testament on the other, but a unified story in which each covenant flows from the previous ones until the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, from the perspective of eternity, there is only one covenant, which is the perpetual covenant of Abraham, now perfectly fulfilled in Christ.

The Abrahamic covenant was intended from the beginning to be fulfilled by Christ. As with the other covenants, the Abrahamic covenant was established with a ritual. In this ritual, God mysteriously offered his own life as a surety or guarantee of the fulfillment of the covenant:

"And he said to him, 'I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.' But he said, 'O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?' He said to him, 'Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.' And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram . . ." (Gen. 15:7-10, 17-18a)

If the fire pot and torch are understood to represent God, then the imagery of God passing through the divided pieces of the slain animals suggests the surety of the covenant: as the lives of the animals have been offered in sacrifice, so God will offer his own life if necessary to ensure that his promises are kept. Of course, it is man, not God, who repeatedly violates the covenant. The ritual of Genesis 15 pointed forward to the Passion and death of Christ, in which God pays the surety and secures the covenant by offering the life of his Son. Thus, the full meaning of the Abrahamic covenant is revealed only when God the Son takes human nature upon himself.

God promised Abraham that through him the Gentiles would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). Paul affirms that those in covenant with God by faith in him are the children of Abraham, and faith is the means by which the Gentiles are blessed. Here is the text:

"Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Gal. 3:7-9)

In this way, God's promise to Abraham is the foundation of the Gospel, and the Gospel is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (cf. Eph. 3:6). Within covenantal history, the promise of blessing was given to Abraham and fulfilled by Jesus, who enables the Gentiles to become children of Abraham. There is only one People of God, the Body of Christ, in which both Jews and Gentiles are welcome. Thus, the new covenant is truly continuous with the Abrahamic covenant that it fulfills.

Redemption for the Many

Both versions of Jesus' words over the cup make clear that his blood is shed to institute a new covenant. However, in the Matthean/Markan version, Jesus further characterizes the purpose for which his blood is shed: "For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28). These words allude most strongly to Isaiah's fourth Servant Song, which describes the Servant of the Lord's mission to the "many."

Before turning to Isaiah, we should note that Zechariah also describes the "many" who will be redeemed in the New Exodus.5 Here are Zechariah's words: "I will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before. Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return. I will bring them home from the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria, and I will bring them to the land of Gilead and to Lebanon, till there is no room for them. He shall pass through the sea of troubles and strike down the waves of the sea, and all the depths of the Nile shall be dried up. The pride of Assyria shall be laid low, and the scepter of Egypt shall depart." (Zech. 10:8-11)

Although it is chiefly the northern tribes exiled throughout Syria and Mesopotamia to whom Zechariah refers, he nevertheless uses imagery drawn from the Exodus from Egypt to describe their redemption, pointing to a New Exodus.

In his second Servant Song, Isaiah describes the role of the Servant as that of restoring the 12 tribes via the New Exodus: "And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him — for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength — he says: 'It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.'" (Is. 49:5-6)

Just before the fourth Servant Song, Isaiah describes the exile from which Israel needs to be redeemed:

"For thus says the Lord: 'You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.' For thus says the Lord God: 'My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing.'" (Is. 52:3-4)

As with Zechariah, Isaiah's concern is with the exiled tribes of Israel, with particular reference to the northern tribes oppressed by Assyria.

Finally, we come to the fourth Servant Song itself. Early in the song, we have imagery that both invokes and contrasts with the Exodus, indicating that a New Exodus is envisioned: "Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the LORD. For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (Is. 52:11-12)

The Servant is described as a lamb, evoking the sacrifice of the paschal lamb: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth." (Is. 53:7)

In the last verse of the Song, the Servant is described as "pouring out" his life for "many" to intercede for their sins: ". . . [H]e poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Is. 53:12)

The continuity of the New Exodus theme suggests that the "many" of Is. 53:12 and the "many" of Zech. 10:8 are the same, namely, the exiled tribes of Israel to be redeemed from and with the Gentiles. In this light, Jesus' words over the cup indicate that the "blood of the covenant" is poured out for all these exiles, bringing about the New Exodus.


1. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 15.

2. Ibid., 17-20.

3. Roch A. Kereszty, Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eucharistic Theologv from a Biblical, Historical, Systematic Perspective (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 27.

4. Ratzinger, Spirit, 48-49.

5. Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 413.

The Practice of the Eucharist in the Apostolic Church

Liturgy and Gospel

In liturgical worship, the Church re-presents the works of God, the greatest of which revolve around his formation of the covenants by which he restores mankind to communion with himself.1 These covenants form the structure of biblical history, and liturgical worship receives its form from God's eternal plan as enacted in that history. The person and work of the Messiah stand at the very heart of the liturgy as the summation of covenantal history (Eph. 1:9-10), with the Great Amen of the Church ascending to the Father through him (2 Cor. 1:20).

The apostles knew that liturgical celebration was central to their mission of extending the kingdom of God. When their preaching of the gospel was met by intense persecution, they boldly responded not with force of arms but with the more powerful force of joyful thanksgiving and worship (cf. Acts 4:23-31). They had been given "power from on high" (Lk. 24:49) to restore the kingdom among mankind, and sacramental celebration was the chief means of exercising this power. Only through such celebration could the apostles fulfill their mandate to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19).

The Eucharist, in particular, was the wellspring of their proclamation of the kingdom. At the Last Supper, Jesus had promised the apostles that they would "eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Lk. 22:30). This promise is fulfilled sacramentally in the Eucharist, by which the paschal sacrifice of the Messiah, who now reigns from heaven, is made present on earth. Leading the people of God into the presence of the King, the Eucharist is the Passover of the new covenant.

Day One of the Week

A vivid and mysterious echo of the Last Supper was celebrated "on the first day of the week" (Lk. 24:1) by Jesus with two disciples in the village of Emmaus (Lk. 24:13, 28, 30). Reading this passage in English, we might note that the day was Sunday. Indeed, the "first day of the week" will hereafter become a privileged time for the celebration of the Eucharist in commemoration of the Resurrection. However, something more is notable in the Greek. When referring to this day (cf. Acts 20:7), Luke employs an unusual Semitism, writing te de mia ton sabbaton (literally "on [day] one of the week") using the cardinal mia ("one") rather than the ordinal prote ("first"). In so doing, he follows the Septuagint's literal rendering of Gen. 1:5. This manner of expression calls to mind the creation account of Genesis 1 and points to the Eucharist as a new creation.2

Before "breaking the bread" with the disciples, Jesus explained to them how his paschal sacrifice has fulfilled "all the Scriptures."

"Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk. 24:26-27).

The Old Testament forms a dramatic narrative of which the mission of Christ is the climax. However, the disciples are only able to grasp this fulfillment "in the breaking of the bread" (Lk. 24:35). The Scriptures and communion, liturgy of the word and liturgy of the Eucharist, must go together to be understood, and both are to be spread "to all nations" (Lk. 24:47).

The Breaking of the Bread

Immediately following his account of Pentecost, Luke describes the apostolic Church in Jerusalem:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

Fellowship or communion (koinonia) can be defined as participation in the mystical body of Christ through the sacramental body of Christ.3 Hence, fellowship and "the breaking of bread" are inseparably linked (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17). Communion is brought about within the Church through Christ's Eucharistic presence. The Church rejoiced in his presence through "the prayers," which consisted of a synaxis, or liturgy centered on the communal reading of Scripture and recitation of psalms in the manner of a synagogue service.4

As time went on, the disciples continued to obey Jesus' command at the Last Supper (Lk. 22:19) by "breaking bread" as he had taught them.

"And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:46).

They faithfully attended to the Eucharist "day by day," just as the Israelites who ate "bread from heaven" in the wilderness gathered "a day's portion every day" (Ex. 16:4). Luke reports that the disciples broke bread kat' oikon, which is best translated "as a household." This phrase recalls the instructions for the Passover feast.

"Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb" (Ex. 12:3-4).

According to these instructions, the Israelites were to take "a lamb according to their fathers' houses [kat' oikous], a lamb for a household [kat' oikian]" (Ex. 12:3, LXX).5 The notion of a "household" in the context of the Passover feast was not strictly limited to a single family. Rather, Scripture made provision for multiple families to share a lamb if the size of the families made such convenient (Ex. 12:4), and first-century Judaism interpreted this provision broadly in terms of a habhurah or "company united for the celebration of the Passover."6 For example, where Ex. 12:46 states that the Passover feast should be eaten "in one house," several of the Aramaic Targums read "in one habhurah." Therefore, breaking bread kat' oikon refers not so much to the location of the Eucharistic celebration as to its celebration in a company that was formed into a spiritual family through communion.7

The Eucharist at Troas

During his third missionary journey, while returning to Jerusalem, Paul spent a week in Troas (Acts 20:6-12). In his description of this sojourn, Luke gives us the only narrative account in Acts of a particular celebration of the Eucharist. The disciples in Troas gather "on the first day of the week" to break bread (Acts 20:7). Luke again refers literally to day "one" of the week, echoing his earlier account of Jesus' breaking bread at Emmaus. The gathering was planned for the purpose of a Eucharistic celebration, suggesting that such liturgies had already become customary on Sundays. During the first part of the liturgy, Paul gave a sermon and spoke for an unusually long time (Acts 20:7), knowing that he would never again visit Troas. When the time for the consecration came, it was Paul himself who "broke the bread" (Acts 20:11). Although many who were gathered no doubt received the bread, Luke points out that it was Paul who broke it, suggesting the role of the individual ministerial priesthood. After the Eucharistic celebration, Paul "conversed" [homilesas] with the congregation. The Greek homilia is a company gathered for fellowship,8 reminiscent of the Passover habhura. Luke's language frames the Eucharistic congregation as a company united in communion through the New Passover.

The Wilderness Generation

In his own writings, Paul, even more than Luke, develops an understanding of the Eucharist as the Messianic fulfillment of the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7). In 1 Corinthians 10, he presents a subtle typology in which both Baptism and the Eucharist are seen as the disciple's participation in the New Exodus, bringing the disciple not into the land of Canaan but into the body of Christ. This typology centers on the generation of Israelites who were led out of Egypt in the Exodus and thereafter wandered for forty years in the wilderness. Paul explains that the experiences of these Israelites occurred as "types" (typikos) for the instruction of the disciples living at the end of the Mosaic covenant (1 Cor. 10:6, 11).9 Such typology is not merely a literary device or metaphor, but rather reflects a pattern that God has imprinted on history as part of his salvific economy. Paul refers to the Israelites of the wilderness generation as the "fathers" of his Gentile converts (1 Cor. 10:1) not because of their ancestry, but because the latter have been incorporated into the restored Israel through Baptism. According to Paul's typology, the cloud of glory (cf. Ex. 13:21) corresponds to the Holy Spirit, and the passage through the Red Sea to the water of Baptism (1 Cor. 10:2). Likewise, the manna in the wilderness corresponds to the Eucharistic body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:3), and the water from the rock to his Eucharistic blood (1 Cor. 10:4).

Water from the rock was miraculously given to the Israelites on two occasions, the second toward the end of the forty years, as they were preparing to enter Canaan (Num. 20:2-13). On this occasion, God told Moses and Aaron only to speak to the rock in order to elicit the miraculous water. Moses, however, did not obey. He apparently could not believe that the water would come forth simply through the speaking of words but instead desired something that could be seen. By his act of unbelief, Moses failed to treat God as holy before the people of Israel (Num. 20:12). The holiness of God is honored through faithful obedience, trusting in his word even when one does not yet see its fulfillment, and acting accordingly. Because Moses preferred an act that could be seen, he contradicted God's plan by striking the rock with his rod, as he had done many years before (Ex. 17:36). God's plan had been for the rock to be struck only once, bringing forth the miraculous drink.10 Thereafter, the rock, which Paul identifies with Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), would bring forth the miraculous drink when spoken to by God's appointed priest.

In developing his Eucharistic typology, Paul does not limit his exposition to the allegorical sense of Israelite history, but also explores its moral sense, delving into the ethical implications of that history for the baptized. Paul quotes from the account of the golden calf (Ex. 32:6; 1 Cor. 10:7), employing his Eucharistic typology to invoke the memory of the Israelites' idolatry and immorality as a warning to the disciples against analogous sins. The beginning of the quotation, "the people sat down to eat and drink," follows Paul's exposition of the Israelites' spiritual eating and drinking. The end of the quotation, "and rose up to dance," precedes his description of the sins into which the Israelites nevertheless fell (1 Cor. 10:8-10). Thus, the Israelites' spiritual eating and drinking, though types of the Eucharist, did not prevent them from falling into idolatry and immorality.11 Paul therefore warns the disciples against such sins, which destroy the unity of the body of Christ that is established in the Eucharist.

Paul describes the Eucharistic cup as the "cup of blessing," employing the phrase used for the third cup of the Passover supper. The Eucharist is a real "participation" (koinonia) in the body and blood of Christ, which bring about redemption through the New Passover (1 Cor. 10:16). Those who take part in the New Passover are the members of the restored Israel, the "one body" of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17).12 The establishment of such union within the body of Christ is the effect of the koinonia practiced in the breaking of the bread. Thus, the one people of God is brought into being by the Eucharist itself.13 The disciple is united to Christ the Head and, through him, to the other disciples.14

Paul explains the nature of participation in the Eucharist in terms of Israelite sacrificial practice: "Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?" (1 Cor 10:18). With most Levitical sacrifices, the sacrifice was completed only when the participants ate the sacrificial victim. In other words, sacrifice was completed by communion. This was also true of the Passover sacrifice, whose victim was the lamb (Ex. 12:8). In 1 Cor 5:7-8, Paul had described Christ as the paschal victim. In 1 Cor 10:18, his logic presupposes that this is true in more than a metaphorical sense. Rather, he presupposes the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

As a participation in the body and blood of Christ, the New Passover is a true sacrifice, as Paul indicates by setting it in antithetical parallelism with pagan sacrifices.15 Yet, the sacrifice of Christ is one in which an uncreated Person offers himself and which thus surpasses all other sacrifices. The Eucharistic cult must therefore overthrow the cult of every other deity, not only in exterior worship but even more in one's interior disposition. Worship given to any created reality, however great, is idolatry and ultimately demonic in inspiration (1 Cor. 10:21).

The Eucharist as Tradition

Paul relates that he "received" and "delivered" the doctrine of the Eucharist as Sacred Tradition (1 Cor. 11:23).16 Christ not only instituted the Eucharist, but instructed his disciples to celebrate it "in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11:24) so as to renew the covenant he had established.

The Eucharist is not merely a subjective remembering of Christ's death and Resurrection but a sacred anamnesis of those events (1 Cor. 11:26), a covenantal renewal that makes really present his body and blood. Therefore, to partake of communion unworthily is to make oneself guilty of sacrilege (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

Paul warns of judgment precisely because of Christ's coming or parousia in the Eucharist. Although in this passage he highlights the judgment of sin, the Eucharistic parousia is something for which we ought always to long. In the words of the Book of Revelation, the Eucharist is Christ's coming in the "hidden manna" (Rev 2:17), and we pray for his glory, now hidden, to be revealed. The exclamation Maranatha ("Come, Lord!") appears both at the end of the Book of Revelation (Rev 22:20) and at the end of the earliest recorded Eucharistic Prayer from the Didache.

This exclamation, drawn from the earliest days of the apostolic Church, expresses the simultaneous belief in Christ's presence and hope for his glorious coming.17


1. Portions of this lecture were drawn from Stephen Pimentel, "The Eucharist in the Apostolic Church," in Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass, ed. Scott Hahn and Regis J. Flaherty (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2004), 97-108 by permission of the publisher.

2. Eugene LaVerdiere, The Breaking of the Bread: The Development of the Eucharist According to Acts (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1998), 94-95.

3. Stephen Pimentel, Witnesses of the Messiah: On the Acts of the Apostles 1-15 (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2002), 50.

4. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, 4th printing (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2005), 3-4.

5. Eugenio Zolli, The Nazarene, trans. Cyril Vollert (New Hope, KY.: Urbi et Orbi/Remnant of Israel, 1999), 202.

6. David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1956), 332. As an example, Daube notes (in footnote 3) that, where Ex. 12:46 states that the Passover feast should be eaten "in one house," several of the Targums read "in one habhurah."

7. Zolli, 203.

8. LaVerdiere, 212.

9. Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1989), 91.

10. Michael Duggan, The Consuming Fire: A Christian Introduction to the Old Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 129-103.

11. Hays, 92.

12. N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 87.

13. Roch A. Kereszty, Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eucharistic Theology from a Biblical, Historical, Systematic Perspective (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 65-66.

14. Matthias Joseph Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, trans. Cyril Vollert, S.J. (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1946), 502, 533.

15. Kereszty, Wedding, 65-66.

16. Ibid., 22.

17. Ibid., 80.

The Eucharistic Tabernacle in the Book of Hebrews

The Bread of Life and the Ascension

The Bread of Life discourse in John 6 is with good reason often discussed in relation to the Eucharist; the presence of Jesus' risen body in the Eucharist is indeed central to the discourse.1 Yet, there is a small portion of the discourse that is discussed less frequently. After his repeated affirmation that "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life" (Jn. 6:54), because "this is the bread which came down from heaven" (Jn. 6:58), Jesus encounters doubt and disbelief among his disciples. He responds by referring to his future Ascension into heaven.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" (Jn. 6:60-62)
This reference to the Ascension may appear cryptic if examined in isolation. It is sometimes misunderstood as a mere appeal to authority, as though the Ascension would prove Jesus' divinity and thereby underwrite his claim in another (admittedly unrelated) area.

On the contrary, far from being a mere appeal to authority, there is a deep theological connection between the Ascension and the Eucharist, a connection that is explored in detail in Hebrews 8-9.

The Heavenly Tabernacle

Toward the end of chapter 7, the Book of Hebrews begins to delve into the liturgical dimension of the transition from the Mosaic to the new covenant. A fundamental aspect of the new covenant is that, from the time of the Ascension onward, Christ's sacrifice is offered perpetually before the Father in heaven (Heb. 7:23-24). This offering enables the disciples always to "draw near" to his paschal sacrifice through the Eucharist (Heb. 7:25). To "draw near" is liturgical language from the Old Testament meaning to approach the altar of sacrifice. Jesus is the perfect high priest precisely because he is now exalted before the Father (Heb. 7:26).

Like the apostles, the author of Hebrews employs the Messianic formula derived from Psalm 110:1 that describes Christ as "seated at the right hand" of the Father (Heb. 8:1). Following the psalm (Ps. 110:4), he conjoins this royal imagery with a priestly role: the "throne of the Majesty" is in the "true tabernacle" in heaven wherein Christ serves as high priest (Heb. 8:2). The sacrifice that Christ now offers in perpetuity is his own body, no longer bloody but glorified (Heb. 8:3). The disciples participate in this unbloody sacrifice in the Eucharist. The Levitical priests served in an earthly copy of the heavenly tabernacle, built according to the "pattern" seen by Moses on Sinai (Heb. 8:4-5). In contrast, Christ does not now offer his sacrifice on earth, whether in the Jerusalem temple or on Calvary, but in heaven.

The author speaks of a "first" and "second" covenant, referring to the Mosaic and new covenants, respectively (Heb. 8:7). This terminology is quite unusual, as the Mosaic covenant is not the first covenant in the Old Testament in an absolute sense. There were the Adamic, Noahide, and Abrahamic covenants before it. The author uses "first" and "second" in the relative sense of "prior" and "subsequent," adopting this terminology to set up the typology of the "first" and "second" tents (Heb. 9:1-3).

The "first" tent, or Holy Place, is a type of the "present age" characterized by the Mosaic covenant, which was still being visibly administered, but would soon be brought to a close by the destruction of the temple. The "second" tent, or Holy of Holies, is a type of the new covenant. The Aaronite high priest entered the Holy of Holies only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The author states that the exclusion of the people from the Holy of Holies symbolizes the inefficacy of the Mosaic sacrifices (Heb. 9:7-9). Moreover, the many sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant were bound to the earthly tabernacle and could not be offered in the heavenly one. The one sacrifice of the new covenant is therefore efficacious in a way that the many sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant could not be.

Christ's sacrifice culminates in his entry into the tent "not made with hands," a scriptural designation for the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 9:11). He entered the heavenly tabernacle to offer his own glorified body and blood for an "eternal redemption" from sin and death to eternal life (Heb. 9:12). Christ's sacrifice began on earth, but it was not exclusively an earthly event. The Eucharist is a transaction between heaven and earth. In the Eucharist, Christ is sacramentally present under the appearance of bread and wine; in the heavenly tabernacle, he is present in his visible humanity, offering his glorified body before the Father. At the consummation of his self-offering on the Cross, Christ "gave up his Spirit" (Jn. 19:30). The blood of Christ, now made present in the Eucharist by the same "eternal Spirit," is perfectly efficacious for those who receive it (Heb. 9:14).2

Eucharistic Redemption

The language of "redemption," drawn from the covenantal history of Israel, is used throughout Hebrews 9:11-22 to explain the purpose of Christ's sacrifice. His death inaugurates the new covenant and redeems Israel from her exile and bondage stemming from "the transgressions committed under the first covenant" (Heb. 9:15).

Although not limited to the Mosaic covenant, the redemption effected by Christ's sacrifice is nonetheless integrally linked to that covenant. When used in the Old Testament in regard to Israel as a whole, the language of redemption usually pertains to deliverance or release from exile.3

Redemption terminology is used of both the Exodus, in which Israel was delivered from bondage in Egypt,4 and the New Exodus, in which Israel would be delivered from her continuing exile, especially in regard to the northern tribes.5 That exile resulted from "the trangressions" committed under the Mosaic covenant.

According to Isaiah 53, redemption from the exile would be brought about by a death:

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Is. 53:8)
The death is required to provide the sacrificial blood that represents the offering of life (Lev. 17:11)6 and is essential to covenantal institution (Heb. 9:16-18).

Such blood was required for the institution of the Mosaic covenant at Sinai, where Moses offered the blood of bulls and goats (Heb. 9:19). Hebrews 9:20 describes the Sinai ritual, referring to Moses saying, "This is the blood of the covenant." However, both the Hebrew and Septuagint texts of Exodus 24:8 actually read, "Behold, the blood of the covenant." The author of Hebrews has more closely followed the wording of Matthew and Mark from the Last Supper, rather than that of Exodus 24, underlining the implied connection with the Eucharist.7

Likewise, Jesus' words over the cup, declaring that his blood is poured out "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt. 26:28), are echoed in the author's affirmation of the sacrificial principle that the "shedding of blood" is necessary for the "forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22).8

The true tabernacle that Christ entered, of which the Jerusalem temple was only a sketch, is in heaven itself (Heb. 9:24). Because they take place in heaven, Christ's priestly ministry and sacrifice endure perpetually.9 His unbloody sacrifice cannot be repeated because it has not ended (Heb. 9:25). Rather, his sacrifice endures, singular and unique, with one priest ever offering one victim (Heb. 9:26). In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit enables the Church to participate in Christ's self-offering, making possible many acts of participation (koinonia) in the one sacrifice.

By such participation, Christ's body and blood are made really present and united with the disciple, who may thereby "enter the sanctuary" of heaven, following Christ "through the curtain" (Heb. 10:19-20)10 and into the presence of the Father (Heb. 12:22-24).

The sacrifice of Christ on Calvary was an historical event that objectively effected the redemption, and the Ascension did not remove it from history. Rather, the Ascension brought the sacrifice before the Father and made possible Christ's Exaltation, in which the Spirit extends the sacrifice throughout history. The Eucharist thus participates in the interchange of Trinitarian gifts: the Word uttered by the Father offers himself back to the Father through the Spirit. This interchange takes place first in eternity, then on Calvary, then in the heavenly temple, and finally in the Eucharist throughout time.

The Sin Offering

Christ is said "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26) and has "been offered once to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9:28). These statements echo Isaiah's description of the Servant as "making himself an offering for sin" (Is. 53:10) and as one who "bore the sins of many" (Is. 53:12).11 As we saw in lecture 2, Christ's words over the cup at the Last Supper also allude to Isaiah 53. Hebrews 9, more than the Last Supper narratives, refers clearly to the theme of the sin offering, or propitiation.

The sin offering was one of the major categories of Levitical sacrifice (Lev. 4). There were many subtypes of sin offerings, the greatest of which was that of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). Hebrews 10 describes the paschal sacrifice of Christ as the perfect and all-sufficient sin offering. In the Levitical sin offerings, an animal was killed. As a creature inferior to man, the animal could bear the sins of man in only a symbolic sense, so as to remind the participants of their sin. Such consciousness of sin is good, but it is inadequate to bring about forgiveness of sin (Heb. 10:1-4).

Yet, even a man, if chosen at random, could not bear the sins of other men. Only the Davidic Messiah, as covenantal head of Israel, could bear the sin of Israel (cf. Heb. 7:21). Likewise, only the last Adam, as covenantal head of mankind, could bear the sin of all mankind (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49). Christ fulfills both of these roles in his Passion, death, and Resurrection, bringing definitive forgiveness of sin, and the Eucharist is an anamnesis of this paschal mystery.

As we saw at the beginning of lecture 1, the author of Hebrews employs Psalm 40:6-8 to describe the "reduction" of the many sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant to the one sacrifice of the new covenant.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'" (Heb. 10:5-7)
Psalm 40 is a todah psalm that contrasts the imperfect Levitical sin offerings with the perfect sacrifice of one's own self. Hebrews identifies this sacrifice of self with Christ's offering of his own body,12 implying that Christ's self-offering is also the perfect todah sacrifice.13

The element of destruction enters into sacrifice due to sin, and is therefore intrinsic to the sin offering. Yet, the essence of sacrifice lies not in the destruction of a creature but in the union of man with God, and through man all of creation (Heb. 10:8).14 Christ's sacrifice brings about a transition from the Mosaic covenant and so establishes the new covenant (Heb. 10:9). Far from abolishing the Old Testament, this transition fulfills the promises given in the Old Testament from Abraham down through the prophets.

The union of man with God can only take place through the total gift of the God-man. Thus, the many sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant find their unity and perfection in the one sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:10-14). This is true not only of the many individual sacrifices but also of the distinct types of sacrifice.

Christ's one sacrifice is the perfect sin offering or propitiation, as well as the perfect peace offering, the perfect covenantal institution, and the perfect todah. Therefore, the only true sacrifice that man can offer is a participation in the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through whom he passes from death to life with God. Such participation is the meaning of the Eucharist.

The Eternal Covenant

The Book of Hebrews concludes with an exhortation to continue participation in the Eucharist based on the perfection of Christ's sacrifice. The disciples of Christ are not bereft of his heavenly gift, for they "have an altar" on which the Eucharist is offered. In contrast, "those who serve the tent," the Levitical priests, "have no right to eat" at the altar of Christ, for such communion is reserved for his disciples (Heb. 13:10).15 Continuing the typology of the Day of Atonement, the author notes that the high priest and people could not eat of that sacrifice, but had to burn it outside the camp (Lev. 16:27), which corresponds here to the earthly Jerusalem (Heb. 13:11). The sacrifice of Christ is the perfect antitype of the Day of Atonement and therefore atones for all the sins of the People of God (Heb. 13:12). The disciples should respond by continually offering a Eucharistic "sacrifice of praise," or todah sacrifice (Heb. 13:15). Thus:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20-21)
The economy of the new covenant thus extends from the Passion and Resurrection to the sacraments. God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and now gives his grace due to "the blood of the eternal covenant," from which flows those sacraments (Heb. 13:20-21). Christ thereby acts as high priest for the members of his body not only in the past, but also in the present, and until he comes in glory.


1. Roch A. Kereszty, Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eucharistic Theology from a Biblical, Historical, Systematic Perspective (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 171.

2. Kereszty, Wedding, 17.

3. Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 406. Pitre demonstrates the pervasiveness of redemption as a covenantal theme in the Old Testament, emphasizing that the theme extends far beyond Isaiah 53.

4. Ibid., 407-408. See, e.g. Ex. 6:6-8; Mic. 6:4; Ps. 78:42-55; Is. 51:10-11.

5. Ibid., 409-411. See, e.g. Is. 43:1-19; Is. 52:7-12; Jer. 31:712; Mic. 4:1-10.

6. Kereszty, Wedding, 10.

7. Ibid., 71-72.

8. Ibid., 72.

9. Ibid., 74.

10. Ibid., 73.

11. Ibid. 28.

12. Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, trans. Adrian J. Walker (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 269.

13. Ibid., The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 57.

14. Ibid., The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 28.

15. Kereszty, Wedding, 75.

© Urbi et Orbi Communications

This item 8368 digitally provided courtesy of