In the Christian Gospels, the Last Supper (also called the Lord's Supper or Mystical Supper) was the last meal Jesus shared with his Twelve Apostles and disciples before his death. The Last Supper has been the subject of many paintings, perhaps the most famous by Leonardo da Vinci.
According to what Paul the Apostle recounted in , in the course of the Last Supper, and with specific reference to eating bread and drinking from a cup, Jesus told his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me". Other events and dialogue are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. Many Christians describe this as the "Institution of the Eucharist" (see Maundy Thursday).
Paul the Apostle was the first to write of the Last Supper. He wrote:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
Paul states he learned of this action of Jesus "from the Lord", without indicating whether he did so by direct revelation or through intermediaries. All three Synoptic Gospelsalso recount, in different words, the same event.
Saint Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is another possible site for the room in which the Last Supper was held, and contains a Christian stone inscription testifying to early reverence for that spot. Certainly the room they have is older than that of the coenaculum (crusader - twelfth century) and as the room is now underground the relative altitude is correct (the streets of first century Jerusalem were at least twelve feet (3.6 metres) lower than those of today, so any true building of that time would have even its upper storey currently under the earth). They also have a revered Icon of the Virgin Mary, reputedly painted from life by St Luke.
The Synoptic Gospels and Paul recount that Jesus took some bread, said a prayer (which Matthew and Mark refer to as a "blessing", Luke and Paul as a "giving thanks"), gave the pieces to his disciples, and told them: "This is my body." At the end of the meal, he took a cup (Luke mentions another cup at the start of the meal), probably of wine, offered a prayer (a "thanksgiving" in Matthew and Mark, no direct mention in Luke and Paul, who use the adverb "likewise"), gave it to his disciples, and spoke words associating it with his blood. Paul and Luke mention an instruction to "do this in memory of me". And the Eucharist, which "is recorded as celebrated by the early Christian community at Jerusalem and by St Paul on his visit to Troas ()", was held to have been instituted by Christ.
Jesus' action may be linked with , which refers to a blood sacrifice that, as recounted in , Moses offered in order to seal a covenant with God: scholars often interpret the description of Jesus' action as asking his disciples to consider themselves part of a sacrifice, where Jesus is the one due to physically undergo it (Brown et al. 626).
If we follow Corinthians cited above or the Synoptic Gospels, it appears that the cup of wine, which is said to be drunk "after having eaten", refers to either the third cup of the Passover Seder, which is held during grace after meals, or the fourth, on which the Hallel is recited.
According to the canonical Gospels, during the meal, Jesus revealed that one of his Apostles would betray him and that would be Judas Iscariot. Despite the assertions of each Apostle that it would not be he, Jesus is described as reiterating that it would be one of those who were present, and goes on to say that there shall be woe to the man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born ().
The account in chapters 14-17 of John includes an extended metaphor of Jesus as the true vine. God is described as the vine tender, and his disciples are said to be branches, which must "abide" in him if they are to "bear fruit". The disciples are warned that barren branches are pruned by the vinedresser. This image has been influential in Christian art and iconography. The disciples are reminded of the love of God for Jesus, and of Jesus for the disciples (especially the beloved disciple), and are then instructed to "love one another" in the same manner. It goes on to speak of the "greatest love" as being the willingness to "lay down" life for one's friends, and this passage has since been widely used to affirm the sacrifice of martyrs and soldiers in war, and is thus often seen on war memorials and graves.
The sermon goes on to talk of Jesus' sending "another paraclete" (Greek: ἄλλο Παράκλητον), a "Spirit of Truth" that will "testify about" Jesus (). "Paraclete" means "comforter", "counsellor", or "advocate", and is traditionally understood by Christian scholars as referring to the Holy Spirit. When the dogmatic definition of the Trinity became necessary in the 3rd century, the passage became central to the arguments about the role of the Holy Spirit. Arguments about the Filioque, which partly caused the East-West Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, centered around this verse. In some sectors of the early Jesus movement the paraclete was considered a more human figure, and, in the 2nd century, Montanus claimed that he himself was this paraclete that had been promised.
The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is remembered by Roman Catholics as one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, and by most Christians as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilled at the last supper when Jesus "took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' 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.'" (cf. and ). Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance to be a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us" (I Corinthians 5:7), and hold that partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is now the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.
These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in the Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church; at these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name "Eucharist" is from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means "thanksgiving".
Each major division of Christianity has formed often different theologies about the exact meaning and purpose of these remembrance ceremonies, but most of them are similar.
Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the "agape feast These "love feasts" were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. They were held on Sundays, which became known as the Lord's Day, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion. Jude, and the apostle Paul referred to these as "your love-feasts", by way of warning (about "who shows up" to these). Following the meal, as at the Last Supper, the apostle, bishop or priest prayed the words of institution over bread and wine which was shared by all the faithful present. In the later half of the first century, especially after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, passages from the writings of the apostles were read and preached upon before the blessing of the bread and wine took place.
Some supposed revivals of the "agape meal" are found in "fellowship", or "potluck" dinners held at some churches.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Last Supper is referred to as the Mystical Supper, because it is the Institution of the Sacred Mysteries (Sacrament) of the Body and Blood of Christ. The scene is often depicted above the Holy Doors in Orthodox churches, because it is here that the faithful stand to receive Holy Communion. The name indicates the Orthodox belief that the institution is more than a simple "memorial meal", but is the actual mystical union of the faithful with God.
Many Christians speak of the institution of the Eucharist as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, and believe this prophesy was fulfilled at the Last Supper, when Jesus said, "Take, eat; this [bread] is My Body; which is broken for you. Partake of the cup, drink; this [wine] is My Blood, which is shed for many; for the remission of sins". Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance as a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us" (). Partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is considered to be the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.
In another variation of the name of the Eucharistic service - not of the Last Supper itself - is "The Lord's Supper". This name is often used by the churches of minimalist traditions, such as those strongly influenced by Zwingli.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commonly refers to the service as "The Sacrament". In their services, LDS churches typically substitute water for the wine used by Jesus at the Last Supper.