Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist
Dr. Brant Pitre, New York, Doubleday, 2011
In early 2011, I listened to a CD from Lighthouse Catholic Media (www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org) titled Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre, a professor of sacred scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Intrigued by the CD I visited Dr. Pitre’s website and discovered that he had recently published a book with the same title. I purchased the book from CatholicProductions.com, read it twice, and developed a 21-page outline which I use to teach about the Jewish roots of the Eucharist.
The premise of the book is to look at the Eucharist through the eyes of Jesus and the first Jewish Christians in light of their Jewish history, liturgy, and faith. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church; General Audiences 15 March 2006-14 February 2007:
"[I]t must be said that the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Chosen People: … "
Too often today, I find that many Christians look at Jesus and the founding of the early Church through 21stCentury Christian eyes and forget the context in which Jesus lived and the Church was born. Dr. Pitre’s book is a corrective to that mistake.
Dr. Pitre begins the book by explaining why we need to look at Jesus, the apostles, and the early Church through a 1st Century Jewish context. Then he asks two startling questions: First, in light of the prohibition against drinking blood or eating the flesh of any creature with its blood still in it (Gen. 9:3-4; Lev. 17:10-12; Deut. 12:16), why did Jesus command his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-56)?The second is, why did Jesus, the apostles, Paul, and the first Jewish Christians so readily believe that drinking Jesus’ blood was actually necessary for Christians?” The rest of the book answers those and several other important questions.
In Chapter 2, Dr. Pitre discusses the issues of what kind of messiah were the Jewish people waiting for and what was their hope for a new exodus to a new Jerusalem? In Chapter 3, he explains why a new Passover is required for this new exodus by briefly looking at the original Passover and Exodus, and the fact that for the Passover to be complete and effective, you had to “eat the lamb.” In Chapter 4, he shows how Jesus saw himself as the new manna, the “new bread of life come down from heaven” (John 6:51). Dr. Pitre devotes Chapter 5 to explaining how today’s Eucharist is a continuation of the Bread of the Presence (Exodus 25:30), and that three times a year, all the men were able to see the face of the Lord, the God of Israel (Exodus 34:23; 23:17). In Chapter 6, Dr. Pitre looks at the similarities and differences of the Passover liturgy and Jesus’ Last Supper in the context of a Passover meal. This includes showing how Jesus did not finish the Passover meal in the Upper Room, but on the Cross. Chapter 7 deals with what the Gospel writers and Paul have to say about the Eucharist and its necessity for our exodus and salvation. Finally, in Chapter 8, Dr. Pitre shows us how Jesus can veil himself or appear in any form he desires by looking at the Road to Emmaus story in Luke 24:13:35.
Jesus and the Jesus Roots of the Eucharist is well documented with references from sacred scripture, Jewish writings and commentaries, and from thoughtful Christian scripture scholars, both Protestant and Catholic.
Many of those with whom I have shared and studied this book have found it provides a new and profound appreciation for our Jewish heritage and the Eucharist.