Jesus empowered women to preside at the Eucharist
At the Last Supper Jesus instituted the Eucharist. He wanted to remain present in his community for all time to come. With them he would continue to give thanks to the Father through the sacramental signs of bread and wine.
Jesus said: “Do this in commemoration of me!” This has rightly been understood as empowering his disciples to perform the Eucharist in his name. The Council of Trent affirmed this in the most solemn fashion: “Through the words ‘Do this in commemoration of me!’, Christ established the apostles as priests, and ordained that they and other priests should offer his body and blood. This is what the Church has always taught” (1562 AD; Denz. no 1740, 1752).
In the Middle Ages everyone took for granted that only men were present at the Last Supper. This is what Leonardo da Vinci depicted in his famous painting (see above). In the words of Durandus a Saint-Pourçain (1270 – 1334 AD): “Christ ordained only men in the supper when he bestowed the power of consecrating.”
But was this true? Were there no women?
The Last Supper was a Paschal meal.
We know this from the Gospel. Jesus had it prepared as a Passover with his disciples. “I have longed to eat this Passover with you” (Luke 22,7-16).
Now, we know from the Gospels that women always took part in Jesus’ community meals. It was one way for him to express the new reality of God’s Kingdom.
Moreover, the whole family, including women, had to take part in the Paschal meal (Exodus 12,1-14). The Gospels mention the arrival of Jesus and the Twelve ‘in the evening’ (Mark 14,17), but other disciples who had done the preparation were already there. They included the women.
So we can be sure Jesus’ mother and the women disciples were present at the Last Supper (see painting by Bodan Piasecki).
It is to all disciples that Jesus said:
“This is my body.
Eat of it all of you.
Do this as a memorial of me!
This is my blood.
Drink of it all of you!
Whenever you do this, it shall be a memorial of me!”
(Matthew 26,26-28; 1 Corinthians 11,23-25)
Jesus words “Do this in commemoration of me!” were addressed to all the disciples, men and women. Thus Jesus empowered all of them to receive Holy Orders and preside at the Eucharist.