CHNetwork Q&A Discussion Home Forums Doctrine and Theology (Except Mary) The Importance of the Traditional Elements of the Eucharist

1 reply, 1 voice Last updated by  David W. Emery 2 weeks, 1 day ago
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    David W. Emery
    @David W. Emery

    Bob Blochowiak posted the following question on the CHN Community. The necessary reply was so lengthy and involved that I told him the whole question really ought to be laid out here on the Forum. We agreed to do it, so here it is. The reply will follow.


    What are the importance of The Eucharistic elements? Is there an importance in what they may consist of? Reason for the question is my wife ,who is not Catholic ,makes light of the Eucharist telling me that anything can be used in a communion service in place of bread and wine. My wife listens to various preachers on TV with one in particular said that he uses a candy bar and water, and with out hesitation my wife grabbed hold of that and ran with it telling me that the elements can be anything.And there is another TV preacher that says there is no necessity for any elements let alone bread and wine. I refer my wife to the bread and wine Jesus used but that is quickly dismissed with anything goes so long as a preacher on TV said so. Does anybody have any pointers as to how handle this issue?


    David W. Emery
    @David W. Emery

    First off, Bob, I’m sure you’re aware that anything you say will be dismissed. Your wife does not care about truth, only in smearing anything Catholic. This is why she will use a television preacher’s mocking words as against anything you might find in the Bible.

    With that understood, yes, there are reasons for the careful following of the traditional recipes. Those reasons begin centuries before Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper.

    Moses was instructed in great detail how to construct the Ark of the Covenant, the Tent of Meeting, the Altar of Holocausts, and all the other appurtenances of the cult of the Lord in the desert. This can be found in the book of Exodus. Furthermore, every step of how to offer sacrifice is spelled out in Leviticus: what can be offered, when and for what purpose it can be offered, what qualities the offering must possess, how it must be offered, and even how to dispose of the waste parts — all this is laid out in detail.

    There are sacrifices to atone for various offenses; there are other sacrifices in thanksgiving for God’s kindness and mercy. Then there is the sacrifice of the Passover, which is special because the rite of Passover takes place at home, within the family. What concerns us here are the thanksgiving, or todah, sacrifices. Todah, translated into Greek, then again over to English, becomes “Eucharist.” That explains where we are coming from. For more details on the fulfillment of the Todah sacrifice in the New Covenant, you can consult works such as Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre. Now, let us look at Leviticus 7:11–15:

    And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with cakes of leavened bread. And of such he shall offer one cake from each offering, as an offering to the LORD; it shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it until the morning.

    The first thing you will notice is that the offering is of both an animal victim (“the sacrifice of peace offerings”) and a bread offering (“unleavened cakes… of fine flour”). The animal offering is specified elsewhere: the victim must be a male sheep or goat, one year old, without blemish, etc. — the usual conditions. The cakes or loaves must be unleavened, and while it is not specified in the present text, they must be of wheat and prepared according to a specific recipe. (The recipe for cereal sacrifice is preserved in the Mishnah, the traditional rabbinic interpretations of the Law.) A portion of the sacrifice is donated to the priest celebrating the sacrifice (the one who “throws” or sprinkles the victim’s blood on the altar). Also, all of the sacrifice, whether of the animal or the bread, must be consumed the actual day of the sacrifice; none may be left over.

    Now, Jesus explained in his Sermon on the Mount that the Old Law was not going to be abrogated. Instead, it would be fulfilled in the New. Here are his words in Matthew 5:17–19:

    Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    What does Jesus mean by “not an iota, not a dot”? If you go back to his language and culture, he was referring to the Hebrew or Aramaic letter Yod, which is the smallest letter when written in the script in use in Jesus’ day (similar to, but not identical to, the modern Hebrew script), and the adornment, or detail, of various letters known as a tittle. The tittle, like the modern serif, is a mark, a letter part, even smaller than a Yod. The upshot of his pronouncement is that absolutely nothing will be removed, that the divine revelation given up to the time of Jesus will continue in effect. Provisions will be transformed, just as Jesus’ body was glorified at his resurrection, but the Law will remain, just as Jesus was able to eat, and one could touch him until the day of his ascension.

    This is the setting we should expect at the Last Supper. The instructions for the Passover may be found in Exodus. But you will notice that the Eucharistic bread and cup are not part of the Passover rite. As the text says (Luke 22:17–20), “And he took a chalice, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the chalice after supper, saying, ‘This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” There are two cups mentioned here. The first is part of the Passover rite, but the second is “after supper.” The implication is that the institution of the Eucharist takes place, not within the Passover rite, but afterwards. It is, in fact, a Todah sacrifice which Jesus offers on his own behalf.

    Now, what elements did he offer? It had to be what was at hand: the elements of unleavened wheat bread (specified for the Passover) and a special type of pure grape wine (traditional for Jewish rites). The Christian tradition follows this closely, specifying for the Eucharist unleavened wheat bread and unadulterated grape wine. We Catholics do this in honor of the fact that these were the exact elements that Jesus transformed into his own body and blood that night for the benefit of his Apostles. Because the Apostles were observant Jews, they would continue to use these same elements and would pass on the rite as they received it. Why did they do this? Because it was all specified in the Law, and “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”


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