There are many passages in the Bible which refer, directly or indirectly, to the Eucharist. Such passages are found in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Indeed, there is a fundamental unity between both Testaments: both have Jesus Christ at their centre, and, therefore, both have Eucharist at their centre.
The Breaking of the Bread: Biblical Reflections on the Eucharist explores the Eucharist theme in both testaments. The purpose of this book is to be an aid in deepening our Eucharistic faith and nourishing our Eucharistic devotion. It is not intended primarily as a theological study, but rather as a book for meditation and prayer. Humbly, this book aims to be a work of biblical theology on its knees.
Cardinal Cahal Daly
What might an involved Catholic remember about 2004? For Cardinal Cahal B. Daly its that 2004 was the Year of the Eucharist and the trigger for him to write about this mystery at the centre of our lives: the Breaking of Bread.
The Cardinal aims to bring alive the rich biblical settings for the Eucharist. In this he succeeds, evocatively showing with numerous examples how the Eucharist is the gathering place for Old and New Testament understanding of and witness to Jesus. Throughout he connects the old with the new, explaining how the significance of the Old Testament is not fully understood without the New Testament and, similarly, how we may only grasp the full meaning of the New Testament in light of the Old. The book is in two parts - Eucharist veiled (OT) and Eucharist unveiled (NT), with Notes and General and Scriptural indices. He writes helpfully, making sense of Jesus words in the Eucharist , words clearly understood by the disciples but which revolted others and can be a stumbling block for enquirers into the faith even today.
All the familiar scripture stories are used to make Eucharistic connections but more revealing still are some not-so-well-known biblical incidents. Instead of chapters, the Cardinal has given clear themed headings and suggests that this is not a cover to cover read but may be picked up and used by individuals or groups for meditative or contemplative prayer or to be dipped into with a bible at the ready.
It will give lay catechists and others what they strive for, namely, to have a deeperrooted understanding of the foreshadowing of Jesus and Eucharist in the Hebrew Scriptures. Cardinal Daly offers us a profound experience of the Eucharist, leading to a Christian life transformed by love. (Pope John Paul II).
- Reality Magazine 2008
This book has been a long time in gestation. During a visit to Paris in 1970, I chanced to pick up a book by the distinguished French scripture scholar, Father Andr?® Feuillet, with the title Retraite Eucharistique (Eucharistic Retreat). It was the outline text of a retreat which he had preached to a congregation of Sisters called Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. The book was not published commercially but privately, so I count myself fortunate in having obtained a copy in a second-hand bookshop. Personally, I feel that I derived great spiritual benefit to my prayer and to my Eucharistic devotion from prayerful reading of this book. I was very struck by the richness of its biblical resources and by the way in which the Eucharist is shown to be at the heart of the Churchs mystery , to be truly the mystery of faith , and to be a focus for both the Old and the New Testament witness to Jesus. More than once in the gospels, Jesus explains to his disciples the passages from the Old Testament, which were about himself , and these passages relate also to the Eucharist.
From the time of my reading of Feuillets book, I felt conscious of the fact that, so far as I knew, no book on the Eucharist in English provided such a rich biblical background to the mystery of the Eucharist, and that this represented a loss to English-speaking readers, anxious to deepen their eucharistic faith and devotion. The present book is by no means a translation of Feuillets book or an attempt to re-write it. It is an attempt, rather, to do for English-language readers something along the lines of what Feuillet did for French readers in his admirable little book.
The proclamation by Pope John Paul II of the year from October 2004 to October 2005 as the Year of the Eucharist evoked in me, as it did in many, the desire to practice and to promote what the Pope called a more lively and fervent celebration of the Eucharist, leading to a Christian life transformed by love. The Pope expressed the wish that each member of the faithful should assimilate through personal and communal meditation the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes which it inspires, the resolutions to which it gives rise. He asked: Can we not see here a spiritual charge which could emerge from the Year of the Eucharist?
My own exploration of the scriptures relating to the Eucharist gave me a glimpse of how the Bible can deepen our prayer and revitalise our participation in the Mass and can renew our worship of the reserved Eucharist in the Tabernacle and in the Monstrance. This book is concerned primarily with the Mass; but obviously its reflections relate also to the reserved Eucharist.
This book takes whatever value it has from the Bible: hence the copious scriptural quotations throughout. As Father Feuillet advised in his book, this one should be read with the Bible in hand. My book is not a work of scriptural scholarship , I am not a scripture scholar. Nor is it an erudite theological study; it is something between a book of biblical theology and a prayer book. Karl Rahner once wrote that what the Church needs nowadays is theology on its knees. This book is a humble attempt at such a theology. It is not intended to be read in one sitting, from cover to cover. Rather, each section, or even each part of a section, is meant to be a springboard for slow, meditative or contemplative prayer, whether by individuals or by groups. Pope John Paul II declared that the most holy Eucharist contains the Churchs entire spiritual wealth. May this book in some way help to a greater appreciation of that vast spiritual wealth. May it help the Church, which we are, to cast away our fears for the future and to be filled instead, as Pope John Paul II put it, with confident hope as we contemplate the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Churchs entire life. For in each Eucharist we celebrate Christ is saying to us, as he so often said in his earthly life: Do not be afraid. I am with you. I am with you today and all days, till the end of time.
St Paul returns several times to what is for him personally the great tragedy and the strange paradox: that so many who had listened to Christs message and witnessed his miracles failed to see in him the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham, and later to David and reiterated by the prophets, even though these promises are the central thread running through the whole of Israels own sacred scriptures. Paul compares this lack of faith to the veil which Moses placed over his face when he turned towards the people, but removed when he turned towards the Lord. In contrast, Paul declared, the veil was never removed from the faces of some. When they listened to the scriptures, and even when Moses is read, the veil is over their minds (2 Cor 3:15). The consequence is that they see without seeing and hear but do not understand. The veil which prevents understanding will be removed only when they accept the grace which God is offering them through the Holy Spirit, namely when they accept Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. This veil, says St Paul, will not be removed until they turn to the Lord in faith. Christ, for St Paul, is the true meaning of the Old Testament scriptures; he is the fulfilment of its promises and the realisation of its hopes. But Christ is veiled in the Old Testament, and only faith in Jesus Christ can remove the veil and enable those who hear and read the Hebrew scriptures to see the Christ who is present there but hidden, veiled.
I hope to show in Part I of this book that the same is true of the Eucharist. There are anticipations, foreshadowings, promises of the Eucharist in what Christians know as the Old Testament, but only Christ, revealed in the New Testament, can enable us to recognise them. Only Christ can remove the veil which conceals their full meaning. This is why I entitle Part I: The Old Testament: Eucharist Veiled.
Jesus Christ is the Key
The religious language and the theological vocabulary of the Jews of the time of Our Lord were drawn entirely from what Christians know as the Old Testament. Devout Jews were closely familiar with Old Testament texts and habitually subjected Our Lords teaching to questioning or to criticism by reference to the Old Testament scriptures. Our Lord frequently gave justification for his own teaching by quoting from texts in the Law or Torah, the Prophets or the Psalms - these being three titles under which the Jews grouped together the books of the Old Testament. After his resurrection, Jesus Christ explains to two disciples on the road to Emmaus passages from each category of the Hebrew scriptures, which, written long before his coming, were really about Jesus himself. In Lukes gospel we read of the Risen Lord, who, after walking, unrecognised, with these two disciples along the road to Emmaus, gently reproaches them as `foolish men, so slow to believe the full message of the prophets. He asks them: `Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory? Then `starting with Moses and going through all the prophets he explains to them all the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Lk 24:25-27). This was the experience which prepared them for the meal which he shared with them and in which the disciples `eyes were opened and they recognised him ... at the breaking of bread (Lk 24:31, 35). I shall return to the Emmaus story on p. 146 where I explore further its eucharistic allusions.
Later on in the same chapter St Luke reports the Risen Lord as saying to all the Apostles: `I said when I was still with you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, has to be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. (Lk 24:44-47) Our Lord is here teaching his disciples, who were his first Church, that the full meaning of the Old Testament is found only in himself, the Christ, the Son of God. Faith in him and in his teaching is, therefore, for Christians, the key to the interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures. To know Christ fully we must know the Old Testament as well as the New; and to understand the full meaning of the Old Testament we must know Christ. Christ is the key to the full meaning of the Old Testament. As St Jerome puts it, ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
This is the message of a section of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, namely the section on the Breaking of the Seven Seals. It opens with a passage recalling the great theophany of Isaiah and the song of the angels round the Throne of God:
Holy, Holy, Holy
is the Lord God, the Almighty. (Ez 1,10; Rev 4:1-8)
In this scene of the Book of Revelation, we see in the hand of the enthroned Lord a scroll with writing on back and front; but it is sealed with seven seals and cannot be read or understood because nobody is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals of it. Then the seer catches sight of `a lamb that seemed to have been sacrificed; and, as he watched, the Lamb `came forward to take the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the Throne. Then, in an atmosphere of sustained suspense, the Lamb breaks each of the seven seals, one after the other, and, at the end of a long wait, at last he breaks the seventh seal. Then, `there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour.
In that dramatic scene, the true meaning of the Hebrew scriptures is at last revealed - in the Lamb who was sacrificed; and though him true worship is now given to God, through him the new covenant is ratified, and `the one who sits on the throne will spread his tent over his people, `and they will never hunger or thirst again; the Lamb will be their shepherd and will lead them to spring of living water. Many refused to believe in Jesus, though he was the key to the meaning of their own scriptures. As Jesus himself said, `they looked without seeing and listened without hearing or understanding (Mt 13:14). In contrast, St Augustine writes that the Church, believing in Christ, `has heard the promises and sees their fulfilment; she has heard in the prophecies and sees in the gospel.
All this is the scriptural basis for the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its dogmatic constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum:
God, the inspirer and author of bothh testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. For, though Christ established the new covenant in. his blood, still, the books of the Old Testament, with all their parts, caught up with the proclamation of the Gospel, acquire andd show forth their full meaning in the New Testament.
If I may be allowed to speak personally for a moment, I have vivid memories of visiting the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in both of which there are many photographs of Jewish synagogues desecrated by the Nazis, with the sacred scrolls of the Hebrew scriptures lying torn or charred amid the rubble. Humankind must never be allowed to forget the unparalleled awfulness of the Shoah, or Holocaust; it reveals in a unique way the human capacity for evil. Because of all that links our faith with the faith of the Jews, we Christians should, more than any, remember the Holocaust. At a Jewish-Christian conference in Auschwitz in 1997, I found myself addressing an audience composed principally of Jews and I told them of the deep personal hurt and pain which I felt at the sight of the desecrated scrolls; `These, I said, `are my scriptures too.
The Church has treated the Old Testament scriptures as part of its own scriptural canon all through history, and made them familiar to the faithful long before books were printed or the masses of people were literate. An early Church heresy, named after Marcion, its chief exponent, wanted to exclude the Old Testament from the canon of Christian sacred scripture. Tertullian, at first a brilliant defender of Catholic faith, wrote a powerful refutation of this false doctrine; sadly, he later espoused the puritanical doctrine of Montanism and left the Catholic fold.
The early and medieval Church used architecture, sculpture and stained glass as media for teaching the faith. A familiar thematic in these various media was the juxtaposition of Old Testament scenes with the New Testament scenes, which were their fulfilment. The stained-glass windows of medieval cathedrals - of which Chartres is one of the most famous - have many examples of this juxtaposition. These windows suggest an intimate familiarity on the part of the faithful of the late first and early second millennium with both the Old Testament and the New Testament and the relationships between both. The same is true of the sculptured scenes in many of our Irish High Crosses of the early medieval period. Our own knowledge of the Bible today can be tested by our ability to identify the scenes on the medieval stained-glass windows or the high crosses! In my own youth, a book called Bible Stories, containing selections of Old Testament texts with their New Testament correlatives, was used as a catechetical text, and served to familiarise people with both Testaments. Fortunately today, as a result of the Second Vatican Council, both school and adult catechetical programmes, as well as prayer groups and, above all, the revised liturgy, have given many people a much greater familiarity with the Bible, though there is much remaining to be done in this regard.
The continuity, and indeed the fundamental unity in Christ, of both Testaments means that familiarity with both is essential to a full catechesis in Christian and Catholic faith. The Catholic Church has provided for this in its Lectionary, revised after the Second Vatican Council, where the Sunday readings almost always include a reading from the Old Testament with its corresponding reading from the New Testament, the Old Testament reading in each case being selected because of its relation to the gospel of the day.
With the above by way of introduction, we can now turn to the Old Testament scenes that formed the backto Christs own teaching on the Eucharist.
I begin with the reference, found in our Eucharistic Prayer I (or the `Roman Canon) to three sacrifices of the Old Law:
[Father] look with love on these offerings and accept them, as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel,
the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest, Melchisedek.
The Sacrifice of Abel
Abels is the first sacrifice mentioned in the Book of Genesis." Cain and Abel are the two sons of Adam and his wife Eve. They develop a bitter rivalry, all the more reprehensible because they are brothers. Cain, the elder, is a tiller of the soil; Abel is a shepherd who keeps flocks. They each offer a sacrifice to the Lord, Abel offering the first-born of his flock with some of its fat, Cain offering produce of the soil. The Lord is pleased with Abel and his offering, but is not pleased with the offering of Cain. Cain is very angry and downcast at this and his spite grows to such a point that eventually he murders Abel. The Lord then banishes Cain and he becomes a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth. The `brand of Cain, originally intended by God for Cains protection, passed into ordinary language as a mark of infamy.
After the story of Cain and Abel, the Book of Genesis passes to the story of the Flood and the choice by God of Noah, the `good man who `walked with God (Gen 6:9). The first covenant between God and mankind is made with Noah: it is a covenant `between God and the earth, between God and every living creature of every kind ... every living thing that is on the face of the earth (Gen 9:7-17). The sign of this covenant is the rainbow, the `bow in the clouds.
The survivors of the Flood, Noah and his family, offer sacrifice to God:
Noah built an altar for the Lord and choosing from all the clean animals and all the clean birds he offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Gen 8:20-21)
In these, the Bibles first recorded sacrifices, we see distinctive features of the later Temple sacrifices. What is offered is something connected with life - either a living animal or some fruit of the soil which provides nourishment for human and animal life. Already at the very dawn of human history, human beings recognise that they owe their lives to God, their Creator, and they desire to offer their own life back to God. The worshippers own life is symbolised by an animal that can be eaten or by something edible that nourishes life; hence the choice of animals from their flocks or of fruits or food that sustain life. In Hebrew sacrifice, from the beginning, there is present a longing to somehow share life with God; and in some forms of sacrifice this is acted out, as though in mime, by a meal shared with God at the end of the sacrifice; where the food is the animals flesh cooked and eaten by the worshippers, with part set aside to be consumed by fire and thus symbolically `eaten by God.
The story of Abels sacrifice shows that God looks to the interior dispositions of the offerer as well as to the intrinsic worthiness of the offering. Cain, on the contrary, is ill-disposed and `sin is lurking at the door of his conscience, and is not resisted; hence, his offering is rejected. The whole account is obviously reflective of a simple and primitive culture; nevertheless, these qualities continue to apply to subsequent sacrifices, as described throughout the Old Testament. We shall see that these ate: Lutes still have a place in the Christian understanding of Christs sacrifice on the Cross, which is renewed sacramentally in the Eucharist.
The Sacrifice of Abraham
Sacrifice of Abraham (recorded in Genesis 22:1-19) lends itself more obviously to Christian linkage with the Eucharist. The of the Genesis account lie deep in the pre-Judaic culture of Canaan. There are echoes of the human sacrifice practised in some of the Canaanite cults, particularly that of the god Molech or Moloch. Being asked by the Lord to offer his son Isaac in sacrifice, therefore, though it seems barbaric to us, was not unthinkable for Abraham. His awe before God was so great and his obedience so complete that without question he prepared the materials for the sacrifice of Isaac and started off for `the place God had pointed out to him. Abraham collected wood for the fire and placed it on the boy Isaacs back, while he carried the fire for the burnt offering and the knife for the immolation. The boy Isaac was already familiar with animal sacrifices and kept asking his father: `Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Arrived at the place appointed for the sacrifice, Abraham built the altar of sacrifice and then arranged the wood for burning the holocaust on top of the altar. Next, he lifted the boy Isaac, stretched his body out and bound him tightly over the wood on top of the altar. Abraham raised the knife to kill his son. But God intervened; he wished only to put Abrahams obedience and faith to the test. Abraham passed the test without fault or hesitation. After the angel of God had witnessed this supreme proof of Abrahams awe before God, even to the point of not sparing his son, his only son, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the bushes, and he offered the ram as his sacrifice in replacement of his son.
This test of Abrahams faith was a decisive moment in the history of Israel, the people of faith. It foreshadows the covenant between God and Israel which was to follow. In response to Abrahams faith the Lord spoke to him again, saying:
Because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for their obedience. (Gen 22:16-1.8)
In the sacrifice of Abraham, we note again the distinctive features of all true sacrifices under the Old Law. The sacrifice is a sign of the worshippers desire to give his own life to God in total obedience. The animals life is a symbol of the offerers life, and it is symbolically taken out of human ownership and given over to God by its killing. Some of the blood of the victim is dashed against the foot of the altar (representing God) as a sign of sharing human life with God. The sincerity of the worshippers self-giving to God is more important than the value of the victim offered. The fire which consumes a portion of the victim symbolises the offerers worship rising up towards God as smoke ascends towards heaven. The burning of incense often accompanies the offering of the sacrifice. The sacrifice is a sign of the worshippers desire to enter into relationship with God or to repair that relationship when it has been broken by sin; the symbolism is of the sharing of life between God and mankind, represented by the killing of the victim and the conversion of part of its flesh into a burnt offering, the smoke ascending to the heavens, as the incense rises to the throne of God. The sacrifice is concluded by the worshippers sitting down to a festive meal which has the remaining portions of the victim as its main course and which they feel they are sharing with God. Through all this ritual, human beings are seen somehow to share their lives with God and God is seen to share his life with them. We see these features reproduced in the sacrifice offered by Elijah at Carmel; there, we read:
The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust, and the people fell on their faces and cried: `The Lord is God, the Lord is God. (1 Kings 18:38-39)
There are many parallels between the sacrifice of Abraham and the Passion and Death of Jesus. God accepts the sacrifice of his Sons own life offered freely by Christ in his love for mankind. Like Abraham, God the Father `does not spare his Son, his only Son. The son carried `the wood for the sacrifice (in the case of Christ, the wooden Cross) on his back to the place of sacrifice (in Christs case, Calvary).
Christ is the Paschal Lamb, sacrificed at Passover time, at the hour when the lambs for the Passover sacrifice are offered, as the fourth gospel has it. On the way to the place of sacrifice, in response to Isaacs repeated question about the lamb for burnt offering, Abraham had replied: `God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering. (Gen 22:7-8) During subsequent centuries, the Israelites - and often also the pagans in their religious search - continued to look for the perfect form of sacrificial worship and to ask, at least implicitly, Isaacs question: `Where is the lamb for the sacrifice? John the Baptist, whom Jesus in St Johns gospel calls `a witness to speak for the light (Jn 1:7), was to be the one who would finally answer that question. Many centuries after Isaac, Jesus was walking one day along the river bank `on the far side of the Jordan when John the Baptist saw him, pointed to him and said to his disciples: `Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). Mankinds long search is ended. Isaacs j question, `Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? at last is answered - in Jesus Christ and in the Eucharist. The Church came to repeat John the Baptists words in every celebration of the Eucharist. This search for the perfect sacrifice, worthy of God and acceptable to him, is paralleled in the search for a `sacrifice in spirit and in truth, which we find in St Johns gospel, particularly in the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman by the well at Sychar. I shall speak of this on pp. 26-7. Since the passion and resurrection of Christ, it was natural that the Church should see in the Eucharist the `holy and perfect sacrifice, which resembles, but infinitely surpasses, the sacrifice of Abraham, the Churchs `father in faith (Eucharistic Prayer I).