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A New Manna Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 28 February 2011

For too many centuries, Christianity – and perhaps especially Catholicism – has been associated with anti-Semitism. This history is well-known, and I will not rehearse it here. But behind all the violence and persecution and bigotry was the blood libel: Jews rejected and killed Jesus Christ, and this crime attaches not only to those who called for the Lord’s crucifixion then but also to their descendants, right down to the present day. To be sure, the Church has always been at least uneasy about the libel and never formally endorsed anything of the kind. Still, it awaited the twentieth century for something closer to philo-Semitism to emerge, especially in the actions of John Paul II, which continues to have effects in the twenty-first and the work of many in the Church who have sought to recover the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith.

This work has been taken up by Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials and by a number of authors, among them: Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, in his extraordinary Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming; Taylor Marshall, an Anglican priest who crossed the Tiber, in his bestselling The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity; and now Brant Pitre, a cradle Catholic and professor of sacred scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, in his newest book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper. (There is even an extraordinary recording of Jewish and Catholic canting and chanting, The Sacred Bridge, that demonstrates the intimate musical evolution of the two faiths.) Each of the books mentioned is a truly extraordinary reading experience, but Dr. Pitre’s book, just published by Doubleday, deserves some attention here. 

It is extremely rare that a book so clearly based upon extensive scholarly research is as readable as is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. That scholarship encompasses not only careful study of the Bible, the Church fathers, and the Catechism, but also close readings of Jewish commentaries such as the various editions of the Mishnah Torah, Talmud, and other Hebraic sources, ancient and modern. Pitre’s work is a part of an ongoing and revolutionary revelation (not in a divine but in a scholarly and historical sense) concerning the necessity of understanding the universal in the particular. As Papa Ratzinger has written: “the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Chosen People . . .” Christ spoke to all people for all time, but the words he chose and their likely resonances in the minds of the first-century Jews who heard them are critical to our understanding of the One who truly is the Messiah.

I’m married to a Jew, and the highlight of every spring at our house is the Passover Seder my wife prepares and we celebrate with friends and family, Jews and Christians. The many parallels between the Seder service and the Catholic Mass are clearly evident to anybody who has attended both. And this is because the Last Supper was, for Jesus, His last Seder. What Professor Pitre demonstrates is the extent to which the whole of Jewish history and the whole of the salvation story play out in the Eucharist.

Passover is, of course, a remembrance of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. In the Mass, we celebrate Jesus as the Messiah, a new Moses, who leads us out of the captivity of sin towards our heavenly destiny. But during that Jewish exodus itself – not just on the eve of the journey, when the angel of death took the firstborns from every house not marked with the blood of the lamb – there was bread given by God to sustain the travelers: manna. Long story short, that heavenly bread is very much what Communion is for Catholics: the transubstantial body of Christ, who is God and is heaven. Manna (later the Bread of the Presence) was kept in the Ark of the Covenant during and after the exodus, and consumed in a ritual sacrifice of bread and wine (see Leviticus 24:5-7), as the consecrated Host is kept in Catholic tabernacles today, awaiting the Eucharist.

Among the most fascinating parts of this riveting story, certainly as Brant Pitre tells it, is the question of blood: How could a faithful, pious Jew such as Jesus of Nazareth speak as he often did, not just at the Last Supper, of the necessity of drinking his blood? After all, consuming blood is simply not kosher; drinking human blood is depraved and blasphemous. As Pitre notes, none of the earlier prophets had ever suggested such a thing. But Jesus, as we know, is more than a prophet. Pitre writes:

In a word, the Bread of the Presence was miraculous. After all, it would take just that – a miracle – for bread and wine to be transformed into the body and blood of the Messiah.
And Pitre quotes St. Cyril, fourth-century bishop of Jerusalem: Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, so “is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood?” Blood, wine, Passover, Eucharist, prophecy, fulfillment.

Quite obviously, I’m breezing through the arguments of this remarkable book. But as one familiar with living Jewish and Christian history, I cannot begin to describe how thrilling it is to read Brant Pitre’s account of the Last Supper and the fourth cup of Passover wine, the one the Lord said he would not drink until He came into His Kingdom.

It is simply unthinkable that the correspondences between Passover and the Mass, manna and the Eucharist, and the prophets and the Messiah are not in themselves, in both Scripture and in tradition, proof positive that what we Catholics believe is absolutely true. Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuto LeOlam Va’ed! (Blessed be His Glorious Name Whose Kingdom is Forever and Ever!)

 
Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was published last year in a revised edition. 
 
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Comments (16)Add Comment
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written by Megan, February 28, 2011
That's not what blood libel means.
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written by Brad Miner, February 28, 2011
Megan: I take your point. But the term "blood libel" has taken on a "broad metaphorical meaning" in culture - as Alan Dershowitz and others pointed out during the controversy over Sarah Palin's recent use of the term.
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written by Grump, February 28, 2011
From The Gospel of Matthew:

"When Pilate saw that he could not prevail, but rather that a tumult was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person. See ye to it." Then answered all the people and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children!" (KJV)

Inasmuch as the crowd consisted largely if not completely of Jews, then it appears that the "blood curse," which started in the 4th Century, has continued until this day.

The heart of anti-semitism is the rejection of Christ. Which is why, as an agnostic, I find expressions of brotherhood between Christians and Jews to be both hypocritical and contrary to the admonition: "Do not be yoke with unbelievers."

Yet, here is the Catholic League's Donohue chumming it up with a rabbi every now and then, acting as if there is no great divide.

I suppose the lesson we are to draw that it's better to be half-right than completely right, if one takes the Christian view. Or, more simply, by extension, better any religion than no religion.

Christianity avers that there is "neither Greek, nor Jew..." and that all are supposed to be "one in Christ Jesus," yet people still want to cling to their identities, which is why there can never been true brotherhood of man as long as they cannot share the fatherhood of God.

Thus, the stumbling blocks remain to those of us who try to square what was written down centuries ago to the chasms that grown wider with every passing year.
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written by Dave, February 28, 2011
Mr. Miner, I haven't done scholarly reading in this arena for a long time, having read Jeremias' Eucharistic Words of Jesus and Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy as my two guideposts, many years ago. Both were very good as to the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, as I recall. It's heartening to see good Catholic historical-theological treatises.
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written by Billy Bean, February 28, 2011
If Christians treat Jews with kindness, love them as their fellow human beings and recognize their place of honor in God's drama of redemption, we are compromisers and hypocrits who don't really believe in the absolutes we preach. If we regard them as enemies and persecute them, treating them as an alien species who are somehow more guilty than anyone else for the crucifixion of Christ, we are nazi neanderthals and reactionary racists. What exactly would make you happy, Grumpy?
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written by Grump, February 28, 2011
Well, Bill. According to Scripture, they cried, "Give us Barabbas!" So, you tell me, who should Christians embrace? Christ or Barabbas? You can't have it both ways.
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written by Louise, February 28, 2011
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." If He forgave them, should not we do the same?
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 01, 2011
Grump...you're mistaken. Paul's admonishment "Do not be yoked to unbelievers" does not refer to Jews, it refers to pagans, made plain by his rhetorical question "What agreement has the temple of God with idols?" Catholicism doesn't hold that Jews are pagans.
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written by Grump, March 01, 2011
'They know not what they do.' A good excuse to remember next thing we screw up. Thank you, Jesus.
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written by Louise, March 01, 2011
'They know not what they do.' A good excuse to remember next thing we screw up. Thank you, Jesus.

The difference being, Mr. Grump, that Jesus actually DID know whether they knew or whether they didn't know what they were doing. They thought they knew what they were doing. He knew that they didn't, so He forgave them.

On the other hand, on the Day of Judgement, Mr. Grump can say, "I didn't know what I was doing" and Jesus will look Mr. Grump in the eye and His eyes He will say, "Oh, yes you did."
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written by Billy Bean, March 01, 2011
Grump: I AM Barrabas, and so are you, and so is everyone else, whether Gentile or Jew. God was reconciling us all to to Himself what Christ endured, and Christ forgave each and every one of us. He commands us to likewise forgive our fellow human beings. Nobody is saying this is easy, but why would you insist on trying to crucify the Body of Christ on the horns of a false dilemma (love EITHER Barabbas OR Christ), when the whole point of the gospel is that we CAN and indeed MUST "have it both ways"?
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written by Billy Bean, March 01, 2011
Should have said, "God was reconciling us all to Himself IN what Christ endured,,," Sorry.
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written by Grump, March 01, 2011
Louise...How do you know that I know or don't know what I am doing? You can't know what is in my heart any more than I can know what is in yours. Judge not lest ye be judged. I'm taking Pascal's Wager after all and if I'm wrong I've lost nothing. If I'm right, maybe Jesus will forgive me.
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written by Louise, March 02, 2011
"How do you know that I know or don't know"

"A good excuse to remember next thing we screw up. Thank you, Jesus."

That was the implication of your statement. Otherwise, why would you be thanking Jesus for giving you an excuse? There was no judgement intended, only a logical conclusion. If erroneous, I apologize.

Jesus will always forgive you and me if our contrition is sincere and maybe, even, if only the desire for sincerity is all we can manage.

I wish you God's speed on your journey.
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written by Grump, March 02, 2011
Thanks, Louise...Hope to see you in the Elysian Fields...But I only want to go to heaven if dogs are allowed. BTW, Scripture seems silent on this. Any passages that enlighten? What does the Church teach about the "souls" of animals? If Francis of Assisi had his way, the entire ark and their progeny would be welcomed, no?
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written by Louise, March 02, 2011
Dear Mr. Grump, It is certainly difficult to imagine life without animals, isn't it. I don't know the answer to your question. We have a small flock of Shetland sheep that have brought us more joy and fun and reasons for getting up the the morning than almost anything else in the world in our retirement years. We have not replaced dog or cats in the last couple of years because we don't want' to leave our children with the burden or responsibility of caring for them and they would most likely outlive us. Surely there is hardly anything that is as heartbreakingly tender as a dog's eyes. They tell us that heaven will be complete and utter joy. What that consists of, "eye has not seen nor ear heard", so we will just have to trust.

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