Monday, June 11, 2012

Melchisedech, Yom Kippur, Manna, and the Paschal Lamb: Figures of the Eucharist

Melchisedech, priest of the most high God
The Church recognizes many and various realities from the Old Testament as figures for Christ’s gift of himself in the Most Holy Eucharist. On the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the Ordinary Form, the Church read from the book of Exodus – how the people were cleansed and the covenant ratified through animal sacrifice at the foot of Mount Sinai.
In the Extraordinary Form, on the other hand, the Church put before us the figure of the Manna in the desert, through the reading of a passage from the Bread of Life Discourse.
There are so many images and figures for the Eucharist in the Old Testament – the Manna, the bread and wine offered by Melchisedech, the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Paschal Lamb, etc.! How are we to understand what each of these figures teaches us about the Blessed Sacrament? Further, we ask: Is there any one thing from Old Testament which is more completely or perfectly a figure for the Eucharist?

The ways in which something from the Old Testament may be a figure for the Eucharist
St. Thomas Aquinas asks this very question and makes the following distinction:
“We can consider three things in this sacrament: namely, that which is sacrament only, and this is the bread and wine; that which is both reality and sacrament, to wit, Christ's true body; and lastly that which is reality only, namely, the effect of this sacrament.” (ST III, q.73, a.6)
Therefore, there are three respects in which an Old Testament reality can be a foreshadowing of the Eucharist: 1) According to the bread and wine used as matter for the Sacrament; 2) According to the Real Presence of Christ contained in the Sacrament; and 3) According to the grace which is given through this Blessed Sacrament.
The Angelic Doctor continues:
“Consequently, in relation to what is sacrament only, the chief figure of this sacrament was the oblation of Melchisedech, who offered up bread and wine.
“In relation to Christ crucified, Who is contained in this sacrament, its figures were all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, especially the sacrifice of expiation, which was the most solemn of all.
“While with regard to its effect, the chief figure was the Manna, having in it the sweetness of every taste (Wisdom 16:20), just as the grace of this sacrament refreshes the soul in all respects.”
The oblation of Melchisedech
For he testifieth: Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. (Hebrews 7:17; cf. Psalm 109:4)
In Genesis 14, we read of the battle which Abram waged against the four kings – Amraphel the king of Sennaar, Arioch king of Pontus, Chodorlahomor of the Elamites, and Thadal king of nations. These kings had waged war on Sodom (before the Lord destroyed that town) and had taken Lot captive and had despoiled him of all his possessions.
Abram, when he heard of this, rose up and rode out against the four kings, and (overtaking them by night) defeated them. He rescued Lot and restored the inheritance of the city of Sodom.
Upon this great victory, we read of Melchisedech:
But Melchisedech the king of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God, Blessed him, and said: Blessed be Abram by the most high God, who created heaven and earth. And blessed be the most high God, by whose protection the enemies are in thy hands. (Genesis 14:18-20)
Abram then gave the tithe to the high priest Melchisedech, as a sign that even the Levitical priesthood (which would spring from his loins) was inferior to that of Christ the true High Priest of God.
This offering by Melchisedech is the primary instance in which bread and wine are offered in sacred worship in the Old Testament. (they also were used in the Todah sacrificial rite)
[Further, a tradition which is held both by St. Jerome and by St. Thomas Aquinas (among many other saints and Doctors) maintains that Melchisedech is none other than Sem, the son of Noe.]
Yom Kippur and the sacrifices of the Old Law
But Christ, being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
While all the sacrifices of the Old Law point to the perfect sacrifice which Christ would offer in his own blood upon the Cross, that expiatory sacrifice of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the chief figure of the Crucifixion of our Savior.
On this day, the only time in the year, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and, taking the blood of sacrifice, would sprinkle this blood in the direction of the Ark of the Covenant. Further, the blood would be sprinkled in several other places in the Temple. The priest, on this single day, invoked the Most Holy Name of the Lord – seeking mercy for himself and for the people.
This was the only day of the year in which anyone entered the Holy of Holies, which was the most sacred part of the ancient Temple. This Holy of Holies was a sign and figure for the eternal sanctuary of heaven, which Christ opened through the shedding of his own Most Precious Blood.
The Manna in the desert
I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die. (John 6:48-50)
Our Savior, in the Bread of Life Discourse, very clearly sets the Manna in the desert as a figure for the Eucharist. The very word, manna is derived from the Hebrew, meaning: “What is it?” Indeed, for roughly 1500 years, the Jews had been asking this question – a question which would only be answered in Christ, who would fulfill this mystical figure with the reality of the Holy Eucharist.
Thou didst feed thy people with the food of angels, and gavest them bread from heaven prepared without labour; having in it all that is delicious, and the sweetness of every taste. For they sustenance shewed thy sweetness to thy children, and serving every man’s will, it was turned to what every man liked. (Wisdom 16:19-21)
As the living Bread which gives eternal life, the Eucharist was primarily foreshadowed by the Manna which sustained the people in the desert.
In this respect also, since the Manna was the food for their journey to the Promised Land, we find in this bread from heaven the figure of the Eucharist as Viaticum for the dying.
The Paschal Lamb
For Christ our pasch is sacrificed. Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
The Angel of the Schools explains how the Passover Lamb is, in every respect, the chief figure for the Most Holy Eucharist:
“The Paschal Lamb foreshadowed this sacrament in these three ways.
“First of all, because it was eaten with unleavened loaves, according to Exodus 12:8: They shall eat flesh … and unleavened bread.
“As to the second because it was immolated by the entire multitude of the children of Israel on the fourteenth day of the moon; and this was a figure of the Passion of Christ, Who is called the Lamb on account of His innocence.
“As to the effect, because by the blood of the Paschal Lamb the children of Israel were preserved from the destroying Angel, and brought from the Egyptian captivity; and in this respect the Paschal Lamb is the chief figure of this sacrament, because it represents it in every respect.”

O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption. Who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another excellent article.

Josemaria Paulo Jeromino Martin Carvalho-Von Verster said...

How can the Respective Figures of the Good Shepherd and The Paschal Lamb compliment Each Other?

Clinton R. said...

It never ceases to amaze me how much God loves us that He gifts us with His Precious Body and Blood. I thank Him daily for calling me to His Holy Catholic Church. Thank you, Father, for these posts that truly enrich our understanding of Jesus' fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Marco da Vinha said...

Father, have you read "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist"? The book, written by a Catholic, also highlights the relation between the Bread of the Presence and the Eucharist.

Marko Ivančičević said...

could you please explain how st. Jerome and st. Thomas reason that Sem is Melchisedech?
According to Genesis 11,10-31 Sem is ancestor of Abraham.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I assume you are thinking of the passage from Hebrews 7, that Melchisedech is "without father or mother" and "without geneology" ... St. Thomas (and also St. Jerome) say that this does not mean that Melchisedech literally had no father or mother, but that he is introduced in Scripture suddenly and without any mention of ancestry, as a means of indicating that he is here presented as a figure for the Christ.
But, in fact, he is Sem (son of Noe).

Here is what St. Thomas says in his commentary on this passage:


"Then when he says, without father or mother or genealogy, he presents a likeness in regard to the things not mentioned about him, because in Scripture no mention is made of his father or mother or genealogy. Hence, some of the ancients made this matter of their error, saying that since God alone is without beginning and without end, Melchizedek was the Son of God. But this has been condemned as heretical. Hence, it should be noted that the Old Testament, whenever mention is made of some important person, his father is named along with the time of his birth and death, as in the case of Isaac and many others. But here Melchizedek is suddenly introduced with no mention at all made of his birth or anything pertaining to it. This was not done without reason. For inasmuch as it is said, without father, the birth of Christ from the Virgin is signified, for it occurred without a father: ‘That which is born in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt. 1:20). Now that which is proper to God should not be attributed to a creature; but it is proper to God the Father to be the Father of Christ. Therefore, in the birth of the one who prefigured Him, no mention should be made of a carnal father. Also in regard to His eternal birth he says, without mother, lest anyone suppose that birth to be material, as the mother gives the matter to her begotten; but it is spiritual, as brightness from the sun: ‘Who being the brightness of his glory and figure of his substance’ (Heb. 1:3). Also, when generation proceeds from a father and a mother, it is not all from the father, but the matter is ministered by the mother. Therefore, to exclude all imperfection from Christ and to designate that all he has from the Father, no mention is made of a mother; hence, the verse: ‘He is God without a mother; He is flesh without a father.’ ‘From the womb before the day star I begot you,’ i.e., I alone (Ps. 109:3). Without genealogy: now there are two reasons why his genealogy is not given in the Scripture: one is because the generation of Christ is ineffable: ‘Who shall declare his generation’ (Is. 53:8); the other is because Christ, Who is introduced as a priest, does not pertain to the Levitical priesthood, nor to a genealogy of the Old Law."


Hope that helps! +

Marko Ivančičević said...

Thank you Father. I appreciate your effort but that was not what i was thinking of.

Passage that i quoted shows that Sem is an ancestor of Abraham, and st. Thomas states that Melchisedech is really Sem(Shem), so it would follow that Melchisedech is Abraham's ancestor.

Now i don't think there is any contradiction or untruth but i want to know why the Angel of Schools concludes that Melchisedech is none other than Sem/Shem. My question is: Why Sem? On what basis? Is there any scriptural reference(i'm not saying there isn't any. i simply don't know if there is...)? Why not any other Biblical carachter?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, ok, now I understand.
Indeed, Abraham is a descendant of Sem ... but Sem lived a very long time!

Marko Ivančičević said...

Ok. I understand that. That(i.e. the long living) has something to do with dropping of average life expectancy after the fall of man. I am not questioning whether Sem and Abraham could ever meet in person.

My question is here:
Why do st. Jerome and st. Thomas connect Melchisedech with Sem and not with any other Biblical carachter?
Why don't they think of Melchisedech as being Noe instead of Sem? Why is Sem believed to be Melchisedech?

I must note that i trust that tradition but i want to know on what basis is this tradition of Sem being Melchisedech founded,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is because of Sem's prominence ... he was the first of whom it was written: "The LORD, the God of Sem" ... never before him had God been identified as "The God of...".
And Melchisedech is the "Priest of God the Most High".

Further, the line of blessings passes from Noe to Sem ... and then from Melchisedech to Abraham ... hence, it is likely that Sem is Melchisedech.

And there are many other reasons, which you can read about in these two places:

Marko Ivančičević said...

Thank you. That's the answer i've been looking for.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Glad I could help! Sorry it took me so long to understand the question! :-)

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