When we think of Old Testament sacrifices, we often think of bloody animal sacrifices. However, animals weren’t the only things sacrificed in the Temple. There were also “un-bloody sacrifices.” One of these sacrifices was the offering of bread.
According to the book of Leviticus, there was to be a perpetual offering of bread by the Jewish people. To fulfill this command, Jewish families throughout the year would bake bread and offer a portion of it in the Temple as a sacrifice to God. Some portions of those offerings were eaten by the priests, while other portions were preserved and placed in the tabernacle of the Temple. This offering was known as the “Bread of Presence.” The Bread of Presence was a sign of God’s continual presence among His people. As long as the Bread of Presence remained in the tabernacle, the Menorah was to remain burning brightly alongside it.
Three times a year, for the Jewish feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, all adult Jewish men were required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple to have a formal viewing of the Bread of Presence. At each of these feasts, one of the Levitical priests would remove the Bread of Presence from the tabernacle and elevate it so that all present in the Temple could see it.
As the bread of presence was elevated for all to see, the priest would then proclaim in a loud voice, “Behold, God’s love for you!” Dr. Brant Pitre, in his book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, says, “This holy bread was a living, visible sign of God’s love for his people, the way his earthly people could catch a fleeting glimpse of the ultimate desire of their hearts: to see the face of God and live, and to know that he loved them.”
For Catholics, this should sound very familiar. We also keep a kind of bread offering in our tabernacle, with a perpetual lamp burning as long as that offering remains within it. At every Mass, the presiding priest holds up that offering for all present to see. Except, for us, it is no longer bread, but the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself as a bloody sacrifice on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We celebrate the memorial of Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the Cross in an un-bloody manner by offering bread and wine, which are then mystically transformed into Jesus’ own Body and Blood. The bread and wine offered at Mass become the Real Presence of God in our midst, and that presence is also a reminder of God’s never-ending love for us.
In the original Exodus, God provided manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat as they made their pilgrimage through the desert and into the promised land. This manna was God’s way of feeding His people and leading them to the destination He was preparing for them. The perpetual bread offering was a sign of God’s covenant with His people.
The same is true with the Eucharist. Jesus came into the world to begin a new Exodus out of the slavery of sin and into the new life of Heaven. The nourishment that He provides for us on this pilgrimage is a new Heavenly manna, a new Bread of Presence. Yet, this manna is greater than the manna given to the Jews in the desert. It is the manna of His very own Body and Blood. The old manna was the food of the angels, while the new manna is the food of God’s own Real Presence.
Every time we come to Mass, Jesus Christ, through the presiding priest, makes God’s presence and love visible to us. Although He does not say it aloud for all to hear, the elevations of the consecrated bread and wine at every Mass communicate the same message, “Behold, God’s love for you!” The elevations at Mass are moments of Adoration where God is truly in our midst, demonstrating His continual desire to pour out His love as a perpetual offering for His beloved children.
Just like food and drink, all people need love. Love is essential to human existence. We are created in the image and likeness of love and love sustains us. We need to know that we are loved, especially by the God who created us. Every time we go to Mass, and every time we make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, we get to experience God’s love for us anew. In fact, this is the Easter message. This is the “Good News” the disciples were sent to proclaim to the world. God desires that all His people experience this profound love.
As we go forth today to celebrate the Easter Victory of Christ on the Cross, may God give us all the grace to trust in His love, may He preserve us from anything that might keep us from His love, and may he give us courage to share His love by drawing others to the new Bread of Presence that sustains us, nourishes us, and carries us to Heaven - our true and eternal home.
This is Fr. Will’s last weekend as Pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish. Please keep him in prayer as he begins his new assignment at San Francisco de Asis Parish in Flagstaff, AZ.BACK TO LIST