Jesus Is Truly Present at Every Mass

Drinking Wine With Jesus at Mass

The Gospel of Matthew begins and ends by telling us that God is with his people in the person of Jesus Christ. In the first chapter, Matthew quotes a prophecy from the book of Isaiah that gives Jesus the name “Emmanuel,” and then he explains that this name means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Then, in the very last line of the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples:

“I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

By beginning and ending his Gospel with this same idea, Matthew was using a literary device that scholars call an inclusio. Ancient writers would often begin and end sections or even entire books with the same idea or word to tell their readers what the intervening material was all about, so when the Gospel of Matthew does this, it is signaling to us that the story it tells isn’t just about past events. Rather, it is also about the Lord who will remain with his disciples forever to give them the strength they need to follow his teachings and get to heaven.

Now, this naturally raises some questions for us: How exactly is Jesus still with us? Is it just some sort of vague spiritual presence, or is it something more concrete? Matthew’s Gospel does not explicitly answer those questions, but it doesn’t just leave us in the dark either. Throughout the Gospel, we find clues to the various ways Jesus is still with us, and in this article I want to look at the most important way: in the Mass.

 

Wine at The Last Supper

To see that, let’s begin with a seemingly straightforward phrase that Jesus uttered at the Last Supper. Right after he consecrated the wine and called it his blood, he said:

“I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)

At first glance, this saying seems simple enough. Jesus often compared the fullness of God’s kingdom (which will come when Jesus returns at the end of human history) to a banquet (for example, Matthew 8:11-12, 22:1-14), so he was simply saying that he wasn’t going to drink wine again until he would drink it with his disciples in that future kingdom.

Wine at the Crucifixion

However, that seemingly simple interpretation runs into a big problem. If we look ahead to Jesus’ crucifixion, we can see that he did in fact drink wine again before his second coming:

“And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink.” (Matthew 27:48)

The Greek word translated here as “vinegar” literally refers to a kind of sour wine, so Jesus was actually offered wine right before his death. The text doesn’t explicitly say whether or not he drank it, but a few clues tell us that he did. For one, if you say that someone gave another person something to drink but do not explicitly say whether the person drank it or not, the natural implication is that they did.

Moreover, this is actually the second time Jesus was offered wine in this chapter of the Gospel (the other being in Matthew 27:34). The first time, Matthew tells us that he “would not drink it,” so if Jesus did not drink it this time either, we would expect Matthew to say so again. And thirdly, we see this same incident in the Gospel of John, which tells us that Jesus did in fact drink the wine given to him (John 19:29-30). This is our smoking gun. Matthew implied it, but John just comes right out and says it: Jesus drank wine as he hung on the cross.

“With You”

This causes a problem for us. Jesus said he was not going to drink wine again until the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness, so how can we explain this apparent contradiction? I would suggest that Jesus’ seemingly straightforward saying at the Last Supper is actually a bit more complicated than it appears. To see why, we need to take a closer look at it to see what clues it gives us to its real meaning:

“I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

The key here is the little phrase “with you.” Curiously, this phrase is absent from Mark’s and Luke’s versions of the saying (Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18). In those Gospels, Jesus simply says that he won’t drink wine again until the kingdom of God comes, but he does not say that he will drink it again with his disciples.

That is significant because, as we saw earlier, an important theme in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is still with us today, and one of the key verses that clues us in to this theme uses the exact same phrase, “with you” (Matthew 28:20), to do so. It’s no coincidence that Matthew’s version of the saying is the only one that contains this important phrase. 

By putting it into his version of the saying, Matthew was purposely hinting that Jesus’ words had to do with more than just the end of human history. They also had to do with Jesus’ presence with us during human history. They were about how Jesus is still with the Church, which is the seed and the beginning of the kingdom of God here on earth (Matthew 13:31-33). 

The Mass

At this point, you may be wondering how this solves the problem; Jesus’ drinking wine on the cross doesn’t seem to have anything to do with his continued presence with the Church. To bridge this gap, we need to take one final step, and that involves calling to mind the nature of the Mass. The Mass is not just a nice prayer service that we have once a week. No, it is a sacrifice. More specifically, it is the same sacrifice that Jesus offered to the Father on the cross 2,000 years ago. When we celebrate Mass, God makes Jesus’ sacrifice present to us, and we participate in it and offer it up to the Father with Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1362-1372).

Now, if Jesus’ sacrifice is made present to us, his drinking wine on the cross must also be made present to us as well, so when we drink the wine of the Eucharist, we are drinking wine with him. Granted, most parishes do not offer the wine at most Masses, but the priest always drinks it. Consequently, even if every individual attendant doesn’t drink with Jesus, it is still true that Jesus is drinking wine with his disciples.

Once we understand that, we can see that according to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is truly present at every Mass, fulfilling his promise to be with his Church and guiding us on the path to holiness. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, he is there to give us the same graces he offered to the people we read about in the first Gospel. He forgives our sins, heals us (mainly spiritually, but physical healing can sometimes occur as well), hears our prayers, and gives us everything we need to complete our journey to our heavenly homeland.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

By

JP Nunez has been a theology nerd since high school. He has master's degrees in both theology and philosophy (with a concentration in bioethics) from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and he spent three years in Catholic University of America's doctoral program in biblical studies before realizing that academia isn't where he wants to be. During his time in Steubenville, he worked for two years as an intern at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, where his responsibilities included answering theological questions and helping to format and edit their Journey Through Scripture Bible studies. He blogs at JP Nunez: Understanding the Faith Through Scripture.

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