OLD-TESTAMENT ANNOUNCEMENTS OF EUCHARIST
Fr. JACEK MOLKA
The holy mass is the perfect form of a prayer and the culmination point of liturgy. Its establishment is described in the New Testament; whereas it is announced by many texts of the Old Testament. Let’s have a look at some of them
Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’ in Greek (that is, in the language in which the Old Testament was written). This term was used in the early Christianity to define a divine service reminiscing the Last Supper, which Jesus from Nazareth ate with his disciples, as ‘proclamation of Lord’s death’ (see 1 Corinthians 11.26) and His glorious resurrection. During this paschal meal, Christ changed bread into his Body and wine into his Blood. In the Old Testament we find many fragments which we explain in the categories of announcement or conceptions of Eucharist. They include, among the others: description of the sacrifice of Melchizedek, a tale about the Passover lamb, about the manna and water gushing from the rock.
A sacrifice of Melchizedek
The history of this biblical character is on the pages of the Genesis Book – chapter 14.17. The name Melchizedek from the Hebrew language means ‘my king is justice’. He was the king of Salem (probably of future Jerusalem, that is literally ‘the city of God’s peace’) and a priest of ‘Supreme God’. It is him who- after the victory gained by Abraham ’over Kedorlaomer and kings, who were with him’ went out towards the patriarch, ‘took out bread and wine’ and blessed him. Whereas the latter one ‘gave him the tenth part of everything’.
According to the Catholic theology, Melchizedek is a type of the very Jesus Christ. For, the sacrifice of bread and wine is a figure and announcement of the sacrament of Eucharist, in which Jesus is in the forms of bread and wine. The typology Christ – Melchizedek, in the context of arch-priestly dignity, is exactly presented in the Letter to the Hebrews – chapter 7.1-27. This fragment refers to Psalm 110.4 which says that king David is ‘a priest like Melchizedek for ever’. This sentence should be understood in the messianic key, certainly referring to Christ.
It is worth knowing that the Fathers of the Church, both Eusebius from Caesarea (died about the year 340), representing the Eastern tradition, and Leon the Great (died in the year 461), being a representative of the western culture agree to the fact that the sacrifice of bread and wine deposited by Melchizedek radically cuts off from the Old Testament practices of sacrifice. It is an announcement of Eucharist established by Christ during the Last Supper.
The meat of lamb was a valuable food for the ancient Israelis. Lamb was also an animal of sacrifice, especially during the Passover feast which commemorated the exit of the Jews from a house of slavery, that is, from Egypt. In the New Testament lamb is associated with Jesus in the context of His sacrifice on the cross and finally His victory (see Apocalypse 5, 8.12) and Eucharist.
The tradition about the Passover lamb is inseparably connected with the Exodus Book, especially with the chapter 12, describing a night, during which the first sons of Egypt were killed. Whereas the blood of the killed lamb, being on the frame and sill of houses of the Israelis caused a situation that ‘Lord passed by’ and saved them from death. Only then the pharaoh allowed them to go away. The prophet Isaiah also refers to the Passover lamb. Mentioning about the suffering and death of the servant of Yahweh, he writes: ‘…he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb being led for slaughter…’ (53.7); whereas when John the Baptist, as St. John the Evangelist writes, saw Jesus coming to him, said: ‘Here is God’s Lamb who takes away the sins of the world’ (1.29).
So, the Easter Lamb is a conception (figure) of Eucharist. The body of Christ is our food on the way to eternity, and His blood protects us from eternal death.
In other words, the lamb eaten by the Israelis at the night of their exit from Egypt was a type of Christ eaten in the mystery of His Body and Blood.
According to the description included in the Exodus Book - chapter 16 (see Numbers’ Book 11.6-9), manna was food falling from Heaven, given to the Israeli from God during their hiking across a desert to the Promised Land. In the New Testament, in 1 Letter to the Corinthians 10.3 manna is called ‘spiritual food’. Jesus Christ, addressing the crowd after the miraculous multiplying of bread, says: ‘I am the bread of life. Your Fathers used to eat manna on the desert and died. It is bread which is coming down from Heaven: who eats it, will not die. I am live bread, which has come down from heaven. If somebody eats this bread, will live for ever. The bread, which I will give, is my body for the life of the world.
‘Scientific studies see a natural phenomenon in manna: insects called cochineals suck out juice from branches of tamarisks, in order to gain an important material for their larvae; they excrete the excessive amount of juice in the form of drops which clot into whitish balls and fall onto the ground. Bedouins on the area of the Sinai mountain pick up this manna even today and use it instead of honey because of its sweet taste; picking up must take place in the early morning because the balls melt in the heat (see the Exodus Book 16.19)’ – ‘New Biblical Lexicon’, publishing house ‘Jedność’, Kielce 2011, p 436. Let’s remember that from the biblical point of view everything is a miracle, even what is natural, because everything comes from God. It is also worth quoting here the Wisdom Book, where manna was called ‘angel’s bread’, ‘bread from Heaven’, ‘gift feeding everybody’ and ‘food of immortality’.
Water from the rock
Water in Bible was considered as a special gift from God. Its presence was a sign of His special blessing. The source water was defined even as ‘live’ water. So, for this reason God’s action – as one which give power – is often compared to live water (see Oz 6.3, Is. 55.10, Jr. 2.13, Ps. 36.9, J 4.10); whereas the rock in the Old Testament was, among the others, an image of the very God. A man praying at God, finds a shelter (see Ps.18, 3.47, 28.1).
The earlier quoted First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians speaks not only about manna as ‘spiritual food’ (‘so everybody were eating this spiritual food’ – 10.3), but also a drink – ‘and they were drinking the same spiritual drink. And they were drinking from the rock near them and this rock – it was Christ’ (10.4).
The Apostle of Nations in this New Testament fragment refers to events described in the Exodus Book and Numbers’ Book which concern miraculous gushed water from the rock, satisfying the thirst of people hiking across the desert under the leadership of Moses. A legend is also used, which is passed on by Jewish teachers (rabbis). According to the legend this life-giving rock was supposed to accompany the Israelis during their wandering across the desert. St. Paul identified it with Christ; whereas the text of 1 Letter to the Corinthians 10. 1-13 says clearly about two earlier-Christian rites, that is the holy baptism and Eucharist which will later become fundamental ecclesiastical sacraments.
Maybe it is worth quoting again Fathers of the Church. St. Ambrose (died in the years 397) emphasizes that the gift of Christ’s blood surpasses the gift of water in the desert, because water used to satisfy thirst only for some time, whereas the blood of the Redeemer washes off sins for ever and satisfies any desires.