Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre
In Jerusalem, while Pontius Pilate served as Roman procurator, a learned rabbi gathered his disciples to celebrate the Passover. The rabbi kept the feast, according to the dictates of the Torah and the sacred traditions that held sway at the time.
Except that he didn’t follow all of the customs. He altered the ceremony somewhat, and he said new and different things.
Why? What did he have in mind?
Well, a learned young scholar of Scripture and antiquity provides a thorough answer. “Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper” sounds a little breathless to me, as a subtitle. So this treasure sat on my to-read stack for three years. Finally had a chance to plow through it while sitting on the beach.
Who knew? Who knew how excellent–how essential–what a invigorating tour-de-force this little book is?!
Pitre tackles his points like St. Thomas Aquinas tackles his. Methodical. One might even say: Plodding. But plodders can and do give us the truth in magnificent fashion. Upon finishing Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, you find yourself with a shiny new jewel of knowledge in your hand.
Our Catholic religion involves the perpetual celebration of the Passover. Our religion centers on the celebration of the Passover. We know this. But nowhere near as well as we should.
Celebrating the Passover means: I myself, we ourselves, have the one, true God to thank for liberating us from slavery, preserving us from death, establishing a covenant with us, giving us ceremonies by which we can worship Him uprightly.
Celebrating the Passover means keeping a night vigil for the Messiah, who will lead us from here to an un-fallen world, a divine kingdom. (And he will feed us with heavenly manna as we make our way.)
Perhaps you’ve attended a Seder or two. But: celebrating the Passover two millennia ago–when Jesus of Nazareth ministered as a rabbi in the Holy Land–meant some things that got lost when the Romans destroyed the Temple, a generation after the earthly pilgrimage of Christ.
It meant: consecrating a blood sacrifice and consuming it as a meal. It also meant seeing the love of God–in the form of the holy show bread, which the temple priests brought out of the tabernacle to show to the pilgrims. It meant believing in the heavenly liturgy that Moses had seen on Mount Sinai, which showed him how the religious ceremonies of the People of God ought to go. And celebrating the Passover in the early 1st century meant looking forward to the day when the Holy of Holies in the Temple would hold the missing Ark of the Covenant again.
Dr. Pitre’s book shimmers with ancient historical details you’ve never heard about–and which will take your breath away. Like the fact that the temple priests drained the blood of the sacrificed lambs by skewering their bodies on two spits. In the form of a cross.
Or that Jews of the time believed that God had manna ready in heaven, which would rain down when the Messiah came. Or: the chalice of the Garden of Gethsemane–“Father, may it pass. But your will be done”–it was the fourth cup called for by the Passover ritual.
This book winds up being an endzone dance for the doctrines about the Mass propounded by the fathers of the Council of Trent. Pitre gets funny in the last chapter when he reports how he did years of research, only to find everything he wanted to say in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Are you looking for good spiritual reading? A careful Scripture study that builds gradually towards sublime insights–insights which make familiar Catholic things new and wonderful again? I wasn’t exactly looking for that–but I found it anyway.
Bravo, Dr. Pitre!