Lenten Reading: Jesus and Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

It’s that time of the year again. As Ash Wednesday approaches (it’s later than usual this year, and am I the only one who feels likes she’s missing it and needs it to begin?) I’ll be suggesting books that may enhance the Lenten journey.

Foremost in my recommendations will be this book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. It is foremost because the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and it is so poorly understood by so many — even among Catholics — that I can think of no more important read, this year than Dr. Brant Pitre’s exposition of 1st Century Judaism and how it provides much-needed (and enlightening and darned exciting) context to the core belief of our faith, which is that Jesus Christ is truly Present in the Bread – Flesh, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

I had an opportunity to interview Pitre in anticipation of the book’s release. I asked him five questions, and in retrospect, I wish I had asked him a sixth, about the all-important fourth cup of the Passover, and Christ’s last words on the cross, but I think you’ll find the interview interesting, even so.

. . .my personal favorite is the chapter on the Bread of the Presence. This mysterious bread, which was kept in the Tabernacle of Moses and later in the Jerusalem Temple, is consistently overlooked by Christians, because it’s tucked away in the dreaded book of Leviticus! Yet it is easily one of the most transparent foreshadowings of the Eucharist in the Bible. I will never forget the day when I was reading the Jewish Talmud and discovered that the priests in the Temple used to take out the Bread of the Presence at the festivals, elevate it in the sight of the pilgrims, and proclaim: “Behold, God’s love for you”! Could you ask for a clearer parallel with the elevation of the Eucharist in the Mass, what Pope Benedict has called the “Sacrament of Charity”?

Yeah, that gave me a thrill of recognition, too! In fact it reminds me both of the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament at mass, and of this picture of John Paul II, holding aloft the monstrance for adoration and for the blessing of the people, during Benediction:

Longtime readers may recall that back in 2009 Rick at Brutally Honest and I got into a minor tussle about recieving Communion while one is not a Catholic. Since then, Rick has written now and then on his blog about the slow, sometimes painful journey he and his wife are making to become fully received into the church and he has been, yes, brutally honest about it. He has written a review of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist that is very affecting:

I’ve been away from the Catholic faith for 40 years, in essence wandering in the wilderness as the Jews who were led out of Egypt. My trek toward belief in the Real Presence has been slow and methodical, perhaps even too cerebral; my struggles have been, well . . . real and present. Pitre’s book has helped fill the intellectual gaps and in that sense is an enormous assist. [. . .] I have longed and do long for the presence of God. I am comforted, consoled, strengthened, encouraged, chastened, made aware of my sinfulness, healed and forgiven by His nearness. I have lately been able to experience these things and more during Holy Communion, during Adoration and recently, during a moving and most holy Eucharistic Healing service offered by The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

I’ve entered into these things with imperfect faith, with flawed belief, with too many doubts and yet each time, I’ve been granted release. Each time I have left a Eucharistic encounter believing more strongly than before that something mystical and something holy and something real had been before me and experienced by me. My faith has been strengthened.

In Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Brant Pitre has provided a firm foundation on which I can literally build my faith, and wrap my brain around the Scriptural basis for Christ’s Presence in the breaking of the bread. This is, frankly, an answer to my prayer and my desiring.

As I said, it’s affecting.

Julie Davis at Happy Catholic, meanwhile, is even “happier” since reading Pitre’s book, and her review is very smart:

There is a thrill of discovery at seeing the pieces fall into place, and that makes the book a surprising page-turner; the reader eagerly wonders where the next revelation will take them. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist makes it crystal clear why ancient Jews and early Christians alike understood Jesus’ outrageous claims about the Eucharist, that he is truly present in it now and forever.

This book made me look at the Eucharist and Jesus’ promises with new eyes and new appreciation for the truth hidden in plain sight in the Catholic Church. It answers the question that Brant Pitre encountered so long ago as a college student, “How can you Catholics teach that bread and wine actually become Jesus’ body and blood? Do you really believe that?”

It occurs to me that the word “thrill” keeps popping up. Yes, it is an absolute thrill to watch Pitre connect all the dots. And a little humbling when he reveals that, in much more casual ways, this is almost all in the brilliant Catechism that nobody reads enough (myself included).

Finally, if you are interested, here is a little gift, a dono; do yourself a favor and read chapter one of the book; you’ll want to read more.

Monstrance with Blessed Sacrament Stolen from Parish in Spain

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://twitter.com/viennaprelude Dan Kennedy

    You convinced me. I went right to Amazon and downloaded it on my Kindle. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Wilsonia

    There’s nothing new under the sun. Fr. MEAGHER wrote a book on this subject 90 years ago.

  • Mandy P.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’m doing the CHNI program for reading the Bible and the Catechism in a year and I think this will be a good addition to my studies for Lent.

  • Katie

    Yes, I’m ready for Lent, too! Well, not ready-as-in-prepared, not quite yet. But in my heart, yeah, I’m ready. Let’s go.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I just went and bought it. Looks like a fascinating read.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    On three occasions since I was an altar boy serving high mass and having stole from “IT” and UP to now, I’ve said to myself with all the respect I could master UP that everything Jesus said was literally true or He’s The Biggest Liar who ever walked this earth and I guess without telling anyone, I probably would have been concidered the craziest worst mental fundamentalist on this earth. :)

    “IT” did cause me four so called nervous brake downs but I still believe that God took “IT” easy on me, His Little ONE, and I’ll simply try closing by saying that we His Little ONEs should simply stick to praying and know without understanding that He was truly talking to real so called godly alien lost spirits and souls who find “IT” too hard for many reasons to accept that they could never make “IT” into God’s Family Book of Life without getting into big trouble and although I believe that this generation of His Little ONES are not in the times where Jesus said in so many words that there will come a time when woman who want to carry a child will be cursed while doing so and I can’t help but think that with about 41% of Abortions taking place nowadays, well I’m just not quiet sure how close we are to that time if you know what I mean? :(

    I’ll close by saying for what “IT” is worth, that we should try not to worry about “IT” and simply do what we can while enjoying His Body and Blood in The Eucharist and simply keep praying for one an other and let God’s and His Angels worry about everything else. Amen!

    God Bless Peace

  • faw

    When speaking about the Holy Eucharist, it is very important we use the correct terminology. You mention the Holy Eucharist as “the core belief of our faith, which is that Jesus Christ is truly Present in the Bread – Flesh, Blood, Soul and Divinity.” It surely is so. But it is important to note for Catholics, Jesus Christ is not present IN the bread–that is the Lutheran doctrine of consubtantiation. The doctrine of Transubtantiation explains the Catholic belief–once the consecration takes place, bread is no longer present in any way–but only the appearance of bread. It truly is a “Real Presence.”

    It is a great sorrow Protestants do not have any sort of Eucharistic Real Presence as they lack a priesthood to offer sacrifice.

  • Kathie

    I believe this Sunday is Septuagesima, the traditional beginning of “pre-Lent.”

  • Marcia

    Thank you so much for this. I want to get a copy right away to read for Lent. Once many years ago, a friend at Bible study gave a talk on the Passover, and I was blown away by the connection of the Jewish feast to our Eucharist. Yes, He is truely present-not just a symbol!