Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

One of my favorite topics to study is how ancient Judaism relates to Christianity.  As a Latter-day Saint, I was attracted to the writings of various LDS apologists and scholars attempting to connect ancient Israelite beliefs and practices with current LDS beliefs and practices, in areas such as a plurality of gods, God the Father married to Heavenly Mother, priesthood, and temple worship.  While some arguments seemed more tenable than others (for example, I never was convinced by the arguments about the Old Testament peoples believing in multiple gods.  While they may have fallen into false beliefs in worshipping more than one deity, the Old Testament records are clear on God always chastising them and calling them back to worshipping the one God), the area that I specifically was interested in was how the ancient Israelite temple practices compare to the LDS temple practices.  I think I’ll devote a separate post to that topic specifically later on, but for now, I’d just say that after awhile, the LDS apologetics on that topic seemed less convincing.  Indeed, when I read the works of non-LDS temple scholar Margaret Barker (praised by many LDS apologists and scholars), I actually became more convinced of the ancient Israelite temple origins and connections of the Catholic and Orthodox liturgical rites and church architecture.  For more on that from Barker, I highly suggest reading her Temple Themes in Christian Worship.  Her website also has various papers she’s written on related matters.   Catholic and Orthodox readers may be interested in: Our Great High Priest: The Church as the New Temple, Temple and Liturgy, The Holy Anointing Oil, Belonging in the Temple, and Temple Roots of the Liturgy, if you don’t read all of the articles (there are a lot!).  It is clear to me, and many others, that Catholic and Orthodox churches, cathedrals, basilicas, etc not only carry on architecture and practices related to the Jewish synagogue, but also architecture and rites associated with the temple.  Eastern Catholics and Orthodox even refer to their churches as “temples”.

One practice that relates to the temple quite explicitly is the Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine.  Catholics and Orthodox believe that their church buildings are sacred ground.  Each church is regarded as a literal House of God, where His presence literally dwells.  This is typified in the Eucharist, which is reserved in a tabernacle.  Catholics and Orthodox believe that during the liturgical rites of the church, we join with the Heavenly angels, as well as the deceased saints, in worshipping God.  They worship God in the Heavenly liturgy (as we see in Revelation.  For more on that, please see Dr. Scott Hahn’s popular book The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth).  In the church, Heaven and Earth join together, and we are in the presence of God, clearly tying to the Old Testament temples.

One book that is relevant to this topic, and which I highly recommend, is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, by Dr. Brant Pitre (Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, PhD in New Testament and Ancient Judaism from University of Notre Dame).  Quite often, Evangelical Protestants, as well as Mormons, who do not share the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist with the most ancient Christian churches (i.e. Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc), attempt to demonstrate that it is not only contra-Biblical, but is not found anciently, and goes against the Jewish context that Christianity developed in.  Dr. Pitre not only demonstrates that this is false (and countless Catholic/Orthodox apologists and scholars have demonstrated not only its ancient origins, but how it comports with the Biblical record as well, for centuries), but connects the Eucharist to three ancient Jewish practices:

  1. The Passover
  2. The Manna
  3. The Bread of the Presence in the Temple

I highly recommend this book to all Catholics, Orthodox, and LDS readers interested in understanding how the belief in the Real Presence not only is Biblical, but is tied quite significantly to ancient Jewish beliefs and practices, including temple practices, and that it was not invented centuries after Christ, after corruption by Greek philosophy, as some LDS and Evangelical apologists would have us believe.  Here is some information about the book:

In recent years, Christians everywhere are rediscovering the Jewish roots of their faith. Every year at Easter time, many believers now celebrate Passover meals (known as Seders) seeking to understand exactly what happened at Jesus’ final Passover, the night before he was crucified.
  
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist shines fresh light on the Last Supper by looking at it through Jewish eyes. Using his in-depth knowledge of the Bible and ancient Judaism, Dr. Brant Pitre answers questions such as: What was the Passover like at the time of Jesus? What were the Jewish hopes for the Messiah? What was Jesus’ purpose in instituting the Eucharist during the feast of Passover? And, most important of all, what did Jesus mean when he said, “This is my body… This is my blood”?

To answer these questions, Pitre explores ancient Jewish beliefs about the Passover of the Messiah, the miraculous Manna from heaven, and the mysterious Bread of the Presence. As he shows, these three keys—the Passover, the Manna, and the Bread of the Presence—have the power to unlock the original meaning of the Eucharistic words of Jesus. Along the way, Pitre also explains how Jesus united the Last Supper to his death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.           

Inspiring and informative, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is a groundbreaking work that is sure to illuminate one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith: the mystery of Jesus’ presence in “the breaking of the bread.”

You can also view a lecture Dr. Pitre gave on the same subject.

Discovering the temple nature of Catholic and Orthodox sacraments, liturgies, devotions, beliefs, etc helped me realize that an apostasy of the Church didn’t happen, at least as related to understanding the Eucharist/Communion/the Sacrament.  The most ancient Christian churches did not invent this belief, and instead find continuity with the Judaism it fulfilled.  Further, Catholics and Orthodox continue offering to God bread and wine, just like Melchizedek did (having the same priesthood that he did), but they also have a sacrificial priesthood, just like we read about in the Old Testament, and just like the priesthood that functioned in the ancient temples (which LDS do not have).  Today, they re-present (not re-do) the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father, in the Sacrifice of the Mass and Divine Liturgy.

Latter-day Saints considering Catholicism or Orthodoxy don’t have to be worried about losing the temple.  The temple is found in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, was never lost, and you can join in many of the same practices found anciently, together with the angels and saints worshipping God in the Heavenly temple, in the presence of God on the sacred ground of the church.  The Eucharist is manna from Heaven, and God is waiting to feed you with Himself through His holy mysteries.

A later post will explore the concept of a temple further.