The taking of the Blessed Cup at a Catholic Mass is just as important to the full meaning of the sacrament as the reception of the Sacred Host. The Body must be eaten and the Blood must be drunk, at least by the celebrating priest, for the full significance and, more importantly, the full grace of the sacrament to be achieved. The bread and the wine used at Mass date back, of course, to the Passover Meal that Jesus and his disciples celebrated on Holy Thursday, the night before Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Within the celebration of a Jewish Passover Meal, four cups of wine are tasted at four different parts of the ritual.
Although Jewish scholars still discuss the exact significance of the four tastings, one popular explanation derives from a passage in the Book of Exodus (6:5-8): “Now that I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians have reduced to slavery, I am mindful of my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites: I am the LORD. I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will redeem you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God; and you will know that I, the LORD, am your God who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians and I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your own possession—I, the LORD!”
In this promise to the still enslaved Israelites, God pledges to release the Jewish people from servitude in four steps: 1) I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians; 2) I will deliver you from their slavery; 3) I will redeem you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment; 4) I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The first two of these promises — freedom and deliverance — are celebrated with a sip of wine during the meal. The last two promises — redemption and fulfillment — are celebrated with a taste of wine after the meal.
Christians celebrating the Eucharist might well ask which of these four cups did Jesus embrace and declare, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” SS. Matthew and Mark in their Last Supper accounts state simply: “Then he took a cup…” St. Luke and St. Paul however are a bit more precise. St. Luke writes: “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…” St. Paul agrees: “In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” So SS. Luke and Paul place the consecratory words “after supper” indicating either the redemption cup or the fulfillment cup.
Now Jesus himself might be the one to tip the scale in favor of the redemption cup, the third cup, which promised: “I will redeem you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Indeed Jesus would shortly redeem mankind by his own outstretched arms while enduring the agony of the Cross. And Jesus would certainly bring mighty acts of judgment on this world by demonstrating clearly on Calvary that only the horrendous death of God’s beloved Son could amply display the wickedness of mankind’s sins.
There are also indications that the fourth cup of the Passover meal — the fulfillment cup — might not have been consumed at Jesus’ Last Supper meal. SS. Matthew, Mark and Luke all testify to the words of Jesus: “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (Mk.14:25).” Salvation through Christ is still a work in progress. The final cup of fulfillment has not been drunk yet. Jesus’ ministry will be completed only on the last day when mankind’s destiny is fulfilled by entry into the Kingdom of heaven.
So the Blood of Christ, received sacramentally at every Catholic Mass, might well focus on God the Father’s third great gift to the Jews: redemption. Believers are still daily being redeemed by the work of Christ through his Church. The beliefs of the Creed, the guidance of the Commandments, the support of the sacraments continue Christ’s work of redemption. Meanwhile believers all look forward to that final cup of fulfillment in the happiness of the heavenly Promised Land.
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