The blood of Christ our source of salvation

By Mary Powers

The night before He died, Jesus gathered with His apostles in the upper room for the Passover meal. This Passover, however, was different. It was the transition from the old covenant to the new. On Holy Thursday night, Jesus gave the world the Eucharist—His body, blood, soul and divinity—and established the priesthood commanding his apostles to “do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19)

The blood of Christ, shed for mankind, opened the door of mercy—establishing the sacramental life of the Church and the forgiveness of sins, opening the gates of heaven and making us sharers in His eternal glory.

The stained-glass window of the Last Supper at St. Anne of the Sunset Church in San Francisco vividly depicts this moment in time and its echoes through the history of the Church.

The main scene is, at first glance, a typical depiction of the Last Supper with Jesus and the apostles in the upper room. Judas is in the corner with his 30 pieces of silver turning away from Jesus. On closer examination, this representation is unique, focusing on the blood that Jesus shed in His passion and the institution of the priesthood.

Most depictions of the Last Supper show Jesus at the center of the table surrounded by His apostles, similar to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting in Milan. The window at St. Anne’s shows Jesus standing at the head of the table, lifting the chalice in thanksgiving to His Father and offering it to His apostles (Mt 26: 27-28) as the high priest in the line of Melchizedek, modeling the priesthood to come. His apostles are shown kneeling in adoration.

Below the Last Supper scene lies images representing the Lamb of God who was slain for the forgiveness of sins and a mother pelican with her chicks—a Eucharistic symbol of a mother giving her lifeblood to save her children.

On either side of the Eucharistic symbols are images of priests carrying on Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of Me,” through the gift of the priesthood. A bishop giving a chalice to a newly ordained priest is on one side, and on the other side is the same priest offering the Blood of Christ on the altar during the consecration. The Last Supper image of the first Mass in the upper portion of the stained-glass window is carried down through apostolic succession below the main image.

Just as Jesus laid down His life for others, priests follow His example, becoming the sacrificial offering in persona Christi at the altar. Referencing a quote from Msgr. Ronald Knox in his book, The Priest is Not His Own, the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen writes of the connection between Christ as victim on the altar and the role of the priest both inside and outside the liturgy, “He still comes to me in the posture of a victim. And He wants to impress something of Himself on me; I am to be the wax, He the signet ring. Something then of the victim He wants to see in me.”1

Bordering the expansive window are images of a vine full of grapes—representing the offering of the “fruit of the vine” that will become the blood of Jesus in the consecration. It also refers to Jesus’ request in St. John’s Last Supper discourse. “Remain in Me as I remain in you…whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:4-5). And again, in John 6: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in Him.” (Jn 6:56-58). The vine remains fruitful because of our communion with our Lord in the Eucharist and through the priesthood—the continual offering of the sacrificial victim at the altar at every Mass.

As the Church celebrates the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood on Holy Thursday each year, the stunning window at St. Anne’s is fit for meditation, giving us a glimpse into the beauty of the new covenant and the gift of the sacramental life of the Church, carried on by her priests in apostolic tradition.

  1. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own (San Francisco: Ignatius Press , 2004), 269 ↩︎