The Jewish roots of the Eucharist.

Very excited to introduce my mum – Julie Brook who has been reading the amazing book ‘Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist’ by Brandt Pitre, and has written this great article for Faith in our Families…

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By Julie Brook

Did you know that the Jews had Sacred Bread which the priests elevated in the Temple before the people every Sabbath saying, ‘Behold God’s love for you’? Or that at every Passover the sacrificial lambs were fixed on a kind of crucifix? Or that the Jews were expecting a new Exodus? Or that a cup of wine was missing at the Last Supper?

Did you think that the Jews were expecting a political figure? What they were really waiting for was the restoration of Israel in a new Exodus. The first Exodus ensured the freedom of the Jews to worship God. By sacrificing on Mount Sinai Moses and the people sealed their Covenant relationship with God concluding the ritual with a great feast. Soon afterwards the Jews broke the Covenant by worshipping the Golden Calf but a thousand years later the prophet Jeremiah foretold a new, everlasting Covenant.

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After the Exodus the Jews built a Tabernacle as the central point of God’s presence in their midst. It was a small, moveable building, the dwelling place of God on earth. The later Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was permanent and far more splendid but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 537BC. King Cyrus of Persia permitted it to be rebuilt but it never regained its splendor.

The prophets now forecast a new Covenant, a new Temple that God would build in the age of salvation at the time of a new Exodus. It would bring both Jews and Gentiles into a new Promised Land which they would possess forever. The new Moses would be a Messiah, a king, prophet and miracle-worker who would rain down bread from heaven. Redemption would take place on a Passover night and a new Covenant would end in a heavenly banquet.

This new Exodus would need a new Passover. The procedure for the first Passover was as follows: first, sacrificing an unblemished male lamb (a priestly action), spreading the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (averting the angel of death), and to complete the sacrifice, eating the lamb and finally keeping the Passover as a Remembrance.

Fifteen centuries later, at the time of Jesus, the lamb had to be sacrificed in the Temple and eaten in Jerusalem. The Jews would drive a thin smooth stave of wood through the shoulders of the lamb in order to hang it and skin it. Another spit would transfix it right through from the lower parts right up to the head. Jesus would have gone up to Jerusalem every year and seen lambs bled and crucified – thus prefiguring his own death.

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The last supper

There are similarities between the Last Supper and the traditional Passover which took place in Jerusalem after sunset on Passover night; wine was drunk, the meaning of the bread was explained and a final hymn was sung. The father of the family led the ceremony and explained the meaning of the lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs (which fulfilled God’s original command to keep the Passover as a day of ‘Remembrance’).

Jesus, however, acted as host and leader of the Apostles, not as their father. He focused on the New Covenant rather than on the events of the first Exodus. Without mentioning the body and blood of the Passover lamb he spoke of his own body and blood while handling the traditional food – bread and wine – stating ‘This is my Body’ and ‘ This is my Blood’, and commanding the Apostles to  ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Thus, Jesus deliberately changed the format.

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Manna in the desert

The manna in the desert was a miraculous bread from heaven. It appeared in the same quantity, about one litre, never lasted for more than one day, was provided for forty years and stopped the day after the Israelites reached the Promised Land. Some of the manna was preserved in the Temple as being holy, from God. The Jews came to believe that this bread existed in heaven before the world began, and it would return to earth again one day at the new Exodus with the Messiah.

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Bread of the Presence

The holy bread in the Temple – the Bread of the Presence – was in the form of twelve cakes for the twelve tribes of Israel; with the wine offering it was the sign of God’s Presence, his Holy Face, an everlasting Covenant, offered by the High Priest and eaten by priests in Jerusalem. At the Last Supper there were twelve apostles, there was the Bread and Wine of Jesus’ presence, offered by Jesus himself in a new Covenant and eaten by the Apostles (now priests).

The Last Supper was not just a new Passover, or new Manna; it was also the institution of the new Bread and Wine of the Presence i.e. Jesus. Like the priests in the Temple before him, Jesus was saying, ‘Behold God’s love for you’. A mandatory part of the Jewish Passover was the four cups of wine. The first cup was blessed before the food was brought in. The second was drunk after the father’s telling of the Exodus story. After the meal started the third cup was blessed and drunk, and the concluding rites were the singing of the Psalms and the drinking of the fourth cup. It was forbidden to drink any wine between the third and fourth cup.

Luke 22: 14 – 20 mentions only two cups. The first of these was drunk by the Apostles and Jesus said, ‘…I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ The second cup mentioned came after supper, so it was the traditional third cup. This was the moment when Jesus said, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new Covenant in my blood.’ The psalm was sung and they all went out to Gethsemane. There is no mention here of the fourth cup, and yet the Passover was not complete without it.

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A soldier offers Jesus wine with myrrh.

Imagine the bewilderment of the apostles. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed three times about the cup he must drink. This must be the fourth cup. On the cross Jesus was offered wine and myrrh, a traditional act of mercy to dull the pain of crucifixion, but Jesus refused it. Later he cried out, ‘I thirst’, thus asking for a drink, and was offered vinegar (sour wine) which he accepted. He then said, ‘It is finished’. This was the fourth cup, taken at the very moment of death.

By vowing not to drink the last cup at the Last Supper, Jesus extended his last Passover meal to include his own death, so uniting the Last Supper to his death on the cross. No Passover meal was complete without the eating of the lamb; now Jesus’ disciples might understand his insistence (John 6:35 – 58) that in order to have life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This is the Body and Blood of the resurrected Jesus, holy indeed and the source of everlasting life.

O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brandt Pitre. Doubleday.  ISBN 978-0-385-53184-9

 

The MASS: How could I possibly have been so dumb?

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I had a life changing conversation last night with a seminarian friend of mine. It was about the Mass. It went like this… (I’m in red, he’s in blue.)

Hey! I have just started my first parents newsletter on the Mass. I’m talking about the Last Supper and how that was the first Mass. What would be the one line you would want to get across?

If the Mass was meant to recreate Maundy Thursday, the Christian Holy Day would have been Thursday. But it’s not – it’s the day of the Resurrection – because Thursday gives the model for what happened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Ok say more to me…! explain it as you would to a 10 year old. So Mass is not a re enactment of the last supper? *Stumped at the first hurdle, Clare realises she is way out of her depth and knows nothing*

OK here goes (this is exactly as I’d say it to a 10 year old): Some people think that what we do at Mass is a bit like having a meal – a special meal – but still a meal. In some ways this is right, BUT it is the most special meal you can imagine. It is special because the person you love most in the world (Jesus, of course) is actually giving you himself as food. That sounds a bit gruesome doesn’t it? Well, that’s what’s special about Mass – Jesus gave us the way to eat his body and drink his blood in a non-gruesome way the night before he was raised up on a cross. This was called the Last Supper – or you could call it the First Mass! You see, the important thing is that Jesus died and was raised up again 3 days later. That’s what we have at Mass, not just a memory of something that happened in the past, but we’re actually there – we are there with Mary beside the cross, but also there 3 days later when Jesus rose from the dead. So to go back in time to the night BEFORE he died doesn’t make sense – why would we want to go back in time then? The most important bit hadn’t happened yet! Instead, on that night Jesus gave us the way, not to time travel, but to make present in our today what He did for us once and for all.

So Mass is not Maundy Thursday?

…no Mass is not Maundy Thursday! Maundy Thursday gives the model for the making present of Good Friday and Easter Sunday – the Paschal Mystery itself!

My head understands it technically, but my heart wont let it in. I’d die I think, if I let it in.

No you won’t! Let it in! Your heart is where it makes sense – your head – well, not so much!

I have enough problems coming to terms with the fact that He did that for me AT ALL – let alone to be present while it is happening! Man, this year is going to be an emotional roller-coaster

Yep.

So in a line…. At Mass, we are present at the crucifixion, and resurrection. I regard myself as being an extremely enthusiastic Catholic. If I don’t understand this then I can tell you right now – other people don’t understand this either. 

Strictly speaking, at Mass, we witness the sacrifice made once on the cross, it is made present for us in the Eucharistic species and we can see Him lifted up, whose sacrifice alone could atone for the sins of humanity. So yes, it is the way for us to witness Calvary – but Calvary is only efficacious because of the Resurrection, so we witness the sacrifice in view of the Resurrection – the Lord’s “Hour” is not just the Cross, but also the Empty Tomb and the Ascension.

You know the greatest fear I would have if I was a priest? That saying Mass would become anything other than mind-blowing.

To be honest – it has to be less than mind-blowing otherwise a priest wouldn’t be able to celebrate it. But that’s how wonderful He is to us – He makes himself small for us, touchable…edible.

It’s too much! seriously! I’m going to bed…

I’m shell shocked. I never knew this. I NEVER KNEW. At Mass, I am present at the actual crucifixion and the actual resurrection! How come I don’t know this? Am I stupid? No. Did anyone ever teach me? No. NO ONE EVER TAUGHT ME. I was however wrongly taught that the Mass was just a re enactment of the last supper. I can’t remember who is was – it must have been at school. Who ever taught me was wrong. Who taught them?

I cried myself to sleep last night and then woke up at 4am filled with the same emotions. How many times in my life have I been present at the actual crucifixion and the actual resurrection without even realising it? As a Catholic with contemplative tendencies this kills me. How has this spiritual information been withheld from me for 35 years? I’m so angry.

But I’m also terrified. How am I supposed to go to Mass now? It’s the crucifixion: I will be standing at the foot of the Cross alongside His grieving Mother Mary. It’s the resurrection: I will be running to discover the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene – but instead of Jesus saying “Do not touch Me…”  -(John 20: 17) He is telling me “Take and eat; this is my body.” – (Matthew 26:26).

Ressurection

The secret jealousy I have felt towards Mary Magdalene all my life is now the cause of my utter humiliation. I have been at the actual crucifixion and resurrection with her pretty much EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for years and years without realising it. *Deep breath*

How is it possible to take this all in? I feel an overwhelming desire to go to confession.

“Don’t be afraid to love your husband.”

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A few weeks ago the Lord was calling me to do the Stations of the Cross. So I did. At each Station He told me, as if helplessly and hopelessly in love, “I did this for you…”. Once I had completed all the stations He kept drawing me back to the Crucifixion. He just wouldn’t let me go from this picture of Him, arms stretched out hanging on the cross.

More recently I was at a wonderful concert held inside our church. At one point in her life, the lady singing had been given 3 months to live due to cancer. Eight years later she is still here singing! It was truly inspiring.

I noticed that the sanctuary light was still on. They had decided to leave the Eucharist inside the Tabernacle. I felt slightly uneasy about this but as we were both here listening to this incredibly talented soprano, I decided to make conversation. As soon as I did I felt His presence very strongly within the tabernacle, and then (as sometimes happens) I felt His presence come out of the tabernacle and stand right next to me. My heart started burning and I was thinking “Ok – it’s not a great time right now! There are lots of people around at the moment and I don’t want to do anything um, weird!”

Just then I was completely and utterly overcome with the most awful dread and terror. It was so consuming and overwhelming that I was afraid I might scream or something. It was the fear that used to overcome me everyday when my husband was first diagnosed earlier this year with CFS. The fear I feel when I think that he may never recover. The daily fear we are facing now of having 3 kids and no income. Then this fear moved from within me to outside of me – right in front of me – so I was looking at it from the outside.

Then I became aware of the presence of my husband. He was at home looking after the children – but it was as if he was right in front of me. Then Jesus told me “Don’t be afraid to love your husband.” It’s true. Since his diagnosis I have been afraid to love him. Straight after that Jesus ‘took’ all the fear away. It just evaporated. Completely gone, in a second. I asked Him “Did you just heal me?” because that’s what it felt like.

The concert carried on for a while and then Jesus brought my attention back to the Crucifixion station just to the right of me that I had been looking at a few weeks before. He said to me “When your husband stretches out his arms to embrace you, it’s not just him you are embracing – it’s Me.” 

This has given me plenty to think about. My  prayer for 2014 was ‘teach me to suffer’ and I can truly say that I have learned more about this than I ever thought possible. The most fascinating part of all this is the relationship between love and suffering. Love takes the fear out of suffering. It puts the joy into suffering. Love puts the victory into suffering. It conquers suffering. I am no longer afraid to love my husband.

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