Posted by on Feb 19, 2011 in blog

Check out the latest publication from Dr. Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist!

I picked up my copy on Friday, and I have to that say some theological works open up Scripture in a way that allows the reader to ever so slightly experience their hearts burning within them like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Dr. Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is one of those works. In his latest book, Pitre takes the reader back in time to the first century A.D., in order to understand Jesus in his original context, specifically, to explore the question: what did Jesus mean when he commanded his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-54)?

There has never been a more appropriate time for a work of this significance on the Eucharist. As Thomas Nash writes in his book Worthy is the Lamb, “Many practicing Catholics do not really understand the biblical story of the Mass, a lack of understanding that is even more pronounced among those U.S. Catholics–more than 50 percent–who sadly do not even participate regularly in Sunday liturgy [Thomas Nash, Worthy is the Lamb (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 12.]” Whether you are a cradle, cafeteria, devout, or former Catholic this book will offer you new (though truly ancient) insights into the Holy Eucharist.

If you are not Catholic and have ever questioned the origins of the Church’s beliefs regarding the Eucharist, this survey of Old Testament and ancient Jewish writings will provide you with the historical context of Jesus’ words and deeds which are the foundation for the Catholic belief in the Real Presence (i.e., not symbolic presence nor merely spiritual presence) of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Beginning with a personal story about his own search for biblical evidence for the Catholic belief in the Real Presence, Pitre journeys with the reader through his findings. With a style that is clear, concise, and cogent, Pitre makes a subject seemingly reserved for the elite and erudite scholar, like ancient Jewish eschatology, accessible to the everyday believer and non-believer. While each chapter is thick with Old Testament, Jewish, and Rabbinic sources, as well as Gospel references, the writings of Paul, early Church Fathers, and modern scholars, he walks the reader along step by step to each conclusion, making connections to modern liturgical practice along the way.

The uncomplicated approach makes this book an excellent resource for not only the lay faithful, but also for those involved in lay ecclesial ministry: catechists, youth ministers, RCIA leaders, parents, Eucharistic ministers, worship leaders, etc. This type of work provides a level of confidence for volunteer and professional ministers alike to be able to answer questions of their fellow Christians and non-Christians about the Eucharist with both biblical and ancient sources.

Using the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament) and ancient Jewish tradition Pitre explores the Eucharist through the lens of ancient Jewish Messianic expectations. Through this study he unpacks the concepts of the New Passover, the Manna of the Messiah, the mysterious Bread of the Presence, and the Four Cups of the Passover meal. Pitre also lets the reader in on a little secret: a great deal of his findings are not particularly new, but rather have been echoed for centuries after Christ’s death through the writings of St. Paul, ancient Christians, early Church Fathers, and even now formally codified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). Before concluding Pitre addresses one final question: even if Jesus believed that he gave his actual body and blood to the disciples at the Last Supper, how did he think he would give it to anyone else? This concluding chapter addresses the role of the Eucharist in the days following the Resurrection through our own experience of it today.

This exciting exploration of Scripture offers an invigorating theological exercise for the reader, giving flesh to St. Anselm’s definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Pitre’s greatest strength is the his use of numerous primary sources. While some scholars summarize primary sources such as Scripture and first century writings for the reader Jesus and Jewish Roots of the Eucharist provides excerpted text from the actual documents. This method not only helps the reader to draw their own conclusions, it also makes Pitre’s arguments more convincing. While it is easy to dismiss a scholar’s opinion, it is much more difficult to dispute text of the primary source itself.

In addition to his use of primary sources, Pitre is unafraid to point out opposing views. He anticipates questions that the reader could have and masterfully, but respectfully, dismisses opposition through logical, historical, and scriptural evidence. Also, because of the nature and depth of subject matter covered in this work, the end of the book includes notes for the reader with a multitude of scholarly sources that she can peruse for more information on each particular topic.

The greatest weakness of this book is its brevity. My hope is that Pitre will soon follow this work with an even more extensive scholarly study of the Eucharistic words and deeds of Jesus. This work whets the appetite of the reader not only for the study of Scripture and ancient Jewish and Christian writings, but for the Bread of Life itself! The reader can clearly see that this work has only scratched the surface of the centrality of the Eucharist to Christ’s ministry, demonstrating that the Eucharist is so much more than a last meal among friends, but rather the gift of Jesus to his people “even to the end of time.”

In Him,


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