May is the month most parishes celebrate First Communion with their second graders. This year was my second year in a row helping to prepare one of my children. Going through the preparation as an adult has been amazing. It was a time to dust off the teaching of the real presence and see if the arguments are just as compelling to a forty year old as they are to an eight year old.
I picked up a book entitled Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre. At almost every page I would think, “Amazing. Why was I never taught this?” In particular, Pitre discusses The Bread of the Presence or the Showbread. What? I had never heard of any bread before. Okay, Manna. I knew about the Manna and how a jar of it was at one time in the Ark of the Covenant but something call the Bread of the Presence was new.
In Exodus 24, God invites Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel up Mount Sinai where they “saw God, and then they ate and drank together.” After the meal, the next chapter gives God’s instructions to Moses on making the golden table that will hold the Bread of the Presence inside the meeting tent. It is one of three things God shows Moses. Upon reading it, one amazing thing you notice is that not only was there bread on this table but also wine.
The Jewish text reads Lehem ha panim. Panim is the Hebrew word for face. The bread placed on the table was to be the Bread of the Face. To be before this bread was to be before the face of God or in his presence. Amazing.
Where was this in my CCD? Here God sets up a table with the Bread of the Face (Presence) and wine in a memorial of the heavenly banquet he had just shared with a select few. Hold on to your hats though, it doesn’t end there. Turn to Leviticus 24. Here we get to see the instructions for how the bread is to be made for the table and we are told it is a sign of an everlasting covenant.
Pitre points out three critical things revealed here:
The first, is that the bread is a sign of the everlasting covenant between God and Israel (there are twelve cakes).
The second, is that this was a perpetual offering to be always before the Lord in the Tabernacle and the menorah was to be lit. (Sounds like the sanctuary lamp we burn when the Host is present in the Tabernacle).
Third, that the Bread of the Face (Presence) was also a sacrifice. It was to be offered up every Sabbath by Aaron. The new bread was placed on the table and the old bread was then eaten by the priests in the Holy Place.
Wait for it though, there is one more amazing thing I learned. Each Passover, Pentecost and Feast of Tabernacles, according to the Babylonian Talmud, the priests would remove the golden table of the Bread of the Presence so the Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem could see it. The priests would elevate the bread and say, “Behold God’s love for you!” Why would they do this? They were upholding God’s commandment in Exodus 34.
“Three times a year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel.” The phrase before the Lord is ra’ah panim, literally “to see the face”. The commandment translated literally is, “Three times a year shall all your men see the face of the Lord, the LORD God of Israel.” AMAZING.
There existed, before Christ perfected it in the Eucharist at the Last Supper, a holy bread that was both sacrifice and gift. A bread whose recipe was given by God, to be place before him always on a table designed on its heavenly counterpart. Jewish tradition holds that this was no ordinary bread, that God was made present in it. That Christ should come and have his own heavenly banquet with the twelve apostles and perfect this foreshadow of the Eucharist should not be a surprise to anyone.
Everyone should read this book. Now as the Priest raises the host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” I reply inside, “Behold, God’s love for me.” At the conclusion of two years I can say that the arguments for the real presences are even more compelling for a forty year old. I just wish I had known them earlier.
Sheree can be found writing at A Mother’s Epistle.
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