Thankfully much of the silly season when it comes to Catholic scripture scholars is over and the new breed of Catholic scripture scholars are not likely to get their views displayed on the History or Discovery Channel.
This comes to mind after reading Brant Pitre’s new book released today Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper. When it comes to the Eucharist, the better understanding that we have of the Eucharist in the Jewish context the better understanding we have of the Eucharist itself. It was a fulfillment of the Old Testament and gave in that what came before became fully realized. The God-given manna which nourished the Israelites physically when brought to the fullness nourishes us spiritually as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
Brant Pitre has focused on the Old Testament along with several non-scriptural sources of Jewish writing to fully give us an understanding of the Eucharist from its Jewish roots. He starts by looking at the Last Supper and how Jesus’ words must have gone beyond surprising from a Jewish point of view. We so often hear the words of institution at Mass and have accepted them that it is so easy to forget what they meant to the Jews of that time when it came to eating his body and blood. Even if you saw the blood as pure symbolism it would still be upsetting to Jewish ears and the commandment not to eat the blood of the sacrifice.
He goes on to discuss what was the idea the people had of the coming Messiah. We have often heard that they expected a political Messiah and like so many common facts it isn’t exactly true. Some expected a more political Messiah, but the majority expected a new Moses with all that entails. A new Exodus, Passover, and a Manna that was something more and given perpetually. He spends chapters discussing the Exodus and a new Passover along with the Manna. There is much information passed on here and all of it worthwhile. While I have read many of the ideas presented before in other books, I found the chapter the on Bread of the Presence most interesting in that I haven’t seen much on this topic before other than just passing information. There is a much deeper connection with the Bread of the Presence and the Eucharist that I had suspected and the Eucharist is much more than just a fulfillment of the Manna.
Much of this information comes together on the Last Supper as the new Passover and a discussion of the Four Cups. The connecting of the drinking of the Four Cups of wine in a Passover meal and Jesus’ institution of the new Passover and his sacrifice is not new information and as the author admits is is speculative. This idea as popularized by Scott Hahn and supported by earlier Protestant scripture scholars has the ring to it of truth along with the beauty of it pointing to the truth. Brant Pitre makes a thorough explanation for it here as the presentation he agrees with and certainly one that I also believe to be correct. As I said this chapter really brings the book together in the understanding of the Eucharist via Jewish eyes.
He goes on to explain how the information in the book is nothing new and then gives information from the Catechism and the Church Fathers in how they also saw this. He also relates a story about how he thought he had found something new in the Our Father in a Eucharistic tone that later he found exactly the same idea expressed in the Catechism. Well he is in good company since Dr. Scott Hahn has also expressed finding the same thing himself in that what he thought was original was already known by the Church. Often though a theological understanding once known gets lost or at least not focused on and so good books bringing these truths to our eyes are well worthwhile. Brant Pitre has certainly done a good and thorough job here of a scholarly presentation written for every Catholic.