The Golden Table Of Bread

The Golden Table Of Bread

Inside the tent, in the holy place, there were three items of furniture. On the northern side was the table of bread, on the southern side the lamp-stand, and on the western end the altar if incense.

 

THE LOAVES OF BREAD

“The loaves of bread spoken of here formed the most important sacrificial offering prescribed by the Mosaic Law. They were prepared from the finest flour, passed through seven sieves, two-tenths of an ephod (about four-fifths of a peck) in each, and without leaven (Leviticus 24:5; Josephus, "Antiq.", III, 6:6; 10:7). According to Jewish tradition they were prepared in a special room by the priests who were appointed every week. In 1 Chronicles 9:32, we read that some of the sons of Caath (Kohathites) were in charge of preparing and baking the loaves. The Bible gives us no data as to the form or shape of the individual loaves, but, according to the Mishna (Men., xi, 4; Yad, Tamid, v. 9), they were ten fingers in length, five in breadth, and with rims or upturned edges of seven fingers in length. Twelve of these loaves were arranged in two piles, of six loaves each, and while still hot placed on the "table of proposition" (Numbers 4:7) or "most clean table" (Leviticus 24:6) made of settim-wood and overlaid with gold. The dimensions of the table were two cubits (three feet) long, one cubit broad and one and a half cubit high (Exodus 25:23. Cf. 1 Kings 7:48; 1 Chronicles 28:16; 2 Chronicles 4:19; 13:11). The table with the loaves of bread was then placed in the tabernacle or temple before the Ark of the Covenant, there to remain "always" in the presence of the Lord (Exodus 25:30; Numbers 4:7). According to the Talmud, the loaves were not allowed to touch one another, and, to prevent contact, hollow golden tubes, twenty-eight in number, were placed between them, which thus permitted the air to circulate freely between the loaves. Together with the loaves of proposition, between the two piles or, according to others, above them, were two vessels of gold filled with frankincense and, according to the Septuagint, salt also (Leviticus 24:7; Siphra, 263, 1). The twelve loaves were to be renewed every Sabbath; fresh, hot loaves taking the place of the stale loaves, which belonged "to Aaron and his sons, that they may eat them in the holy place" (Leviticus 24:8, 9. Cf. 1 Chronicles 23:29; Matthew 12:4, etc.). According to the Talmud four priests removed the old loaves together with the incense every Sabbath, and four other priests brought in fresh loaves with new incense. The old loaves were divided among the incoming and outgoing priests, and were to be consumed by them within the sacred precincts of the sanctuary. The old incense was burnt. The expense of preparing the loaves was borne by the temple treasury (1 Chronicles 9:26 and 32). Symbolically, the twelve loaves represented the higher life of the twelve tribes of Israel. Bread was the ordinary symbol of life, and the hallowed bread signified a superior life because it was ever in the presence of Yahweh and destined for those specially consecrated to His service”- https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09317b.htm

 

The 12 loaves, on the golden table, represented the twelve tribes of Israel. This represents Jesus as the Bread of life by which we are to live. (Matthew 4:4) There were twelve separate loaves in the old covenant, because Israel could not become on body. Each tribe retained its own distinctiveness. But in the new covenant, we have only one loaf of bread representing Christ's body at the Lord's table, because we are all one body, even though we are from many different tribes and backgrounds.

 

Only the priests were allowed to eat this bread under the old covenant, and they ate it on behalf of Israels tribes, But today, we can all partake of the bread ourselves, because each of us can have a direct contact with Christ our heavenly Head.

 

(Much of what is given below comes from the book, Fulfilled: Uncovering the Biblical Foundations of Catholicism)

 

THE BREAD OF LIFE

Remembering that the fulfillment of an anti-type must in all ways be better than its promise in the type, it is impossible that Jesus could have been speaking figuratively in John 6 when he said, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives forever.” The term “Presence Bread” as Old Testament type, foreshadows Jesus’ actual, supernatural presence in the New Testament fulfillment of the Eucharist.

 

Throughout their history, God prepared the Israelites' for the promise of the New Covenant in Jesus’ Body and Blood through the particular significance of bread and wine offerings, by foreshadowing the Eucharist in the symbolism of the Tabernacle Presence Bread. Even for the Israelites', the word “shewbread” meant Bread of the Face or Presence. Who else is the Face of God but Christ? To this day, matzo bread carries great symbolism: it is flat with lines and holes in it. Just as the Bible says, the Messiah was pierced and wounded, and by his stripes, we are healed (see Psalm 22:16).

 

Add to that the first priest’s offering, Melchizedek’s bread and wine; the Passover lamb with bread and wine; the morning and evening sacrifices on the altar with incense, bread, and wine; the covenant inauguration sacrifice and meal with bread and wine; the daily manna in the wilderness, a pot of which was preserved forever in the Ark of the Covenant with the priesthood and the Law; the twelve loaves of the Bread of the Face in the Tabernacle with bread and wine; all of these witness poetically to us for generations of God’s promise of spiritual nourishment to come in Christ through bread and wine. For this reason, theologians tell us that typology is the spirit of prophecy.

 

Now, promise is swallowed up in event. The blueprint is filled full to overflowing. The Old Testament economy of shadows has given way to the New Testament sacramental economy. The Eucharist has come. The New Covenant is present in his Eucharistic person. Alleluia!

 

IT IS THE LORD!

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained himself to the grieving disciples through the prophetic typology, but they did not discern him in his word, even though their “hearts burned” with the truth of it all pouring from his sacred lips. Instead, when they asked him to abide with them, he answered their request by “staying” with them in the Eucharist. Not until the “breaking of bread” did they recognize his presence with them (see Luke 24:13-35). Did he disappear as soon as they recognized him because they no longer needed his personal, physical body? Could his earthly body, in fact, have been an impediment to his fuller presence in the Eucharist, upon which we are to eat unto eternal life?

 

In the years leading up to my full communion with the Church, I remember praying a prayer similar to that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I prayed, “Lord, I just want to be closer to you. Is there not some way we can be closer?” I truly longed to the point of almost desperation for a closer closeness. I thought it was impossible. And then he led me to his Church, where he gave himself to me in the Eucharist. What an incredible miracle, one I do not take for granted. It is the Lord, indeed.

 

IT IS THE SPIRIT

Recall also his words, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” (John 6:63). Did he mean there is no profit in his own flesh, the broken and spilled out flesh and blood of the New Covenant? Was he saying he merely spoke in symbols?

 

How could that be his meaning after he made it plain that eating (masticating in Greek) and drinking his Body and Blood is to eat and drink unto eternal life? Or did he mean we cannot understand his teaching in a human sense, as though he spoke of cutting of the flesh of the Word into pieces and distributing the bloody bits to all who would believe? This is what some disciples thought, and given the prohibition in the Law against eating blood (see Leviticus 17:11), they took offense at him. But the levitical prohibition was given in order that it should point to the promise to come; animal blood cannot convey eternal life, but the divine flesh and blood of the Lamb, separated on the Cross but offered to us, can and does.

 

Please understand that the “spirituality” of a teaching does not make it symbolic. To be spiritual does not necessitate a “symbolic” meaning. “Spiritual” never means “symbolic” in Scripture; it always means “super- or hyper-natural.” In fact, perceiving how literally Jesus was speaking, many true disciples ceased to follow him, but it was spoken as a statement of absolute fact: Eternal life is only in Christ; when one eats his eternal flesh and drinks his eternal blood, one has eternal life.

 

Despite this assurance, “some did not believe,” and Jesus claimed that they, in fact, could not believe what the Catholic Church teaches, that Jesus is present in the Eucharistic Bread of the Presence, feeding us with himself in scandalous humility, unless the Holy Spirit illumined them.

 

It is this section of the Bible in which the Church Fathers put forth that Judas turned definitively away from Christ and toward betrayal (see John 6:66).

 

Trying to explain his words, “You must eat my flesh,” as a figure of speech is also woefully inadequate. Among the Jews (to whom Jesus was speaking), whenever the phrase “to eat someone’s flesh” was used figuratively, it meant to hate that person or to take revenge against him. Similarly, to “drink someone’s blood” meant to torture him. Neither of the figurative meanings would have made sense as Jesus’ meaning.

 

The apostles took, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood,” literally and preached this mysterious doctrine to the infant Church. Jesus would hardly have allowed himself to be misunderstood in the seriousness of the Last Supper, immediately before the Passion; figurative language would have been completely inappropriate. Jesus’ true, literal presence in the Eucharist was the universal belief of all Christians for a thousand years, until a heretic named Berengarius in the eleventh century taught the figurative interpretation. His teaching was condemned by three Church councils as heresy, and eventually he retracted his teaching and returned to communion.

 

Jesus could hardly have been more emphatic: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). Either Jesus lied, or he allowed a misunderstanding that amounts to idolatry in the earliest Church that has led us Catholics to worship a piece of bread for two thousand years. The idea of Jesus speaking in metaphors at the Last Supper is even more cruel when we remember he was addressing men who were mostly poor fishermen, uneducated in the niceties of rhetoric.

 

We know the apostles and early Church understood Jesus literally, in part because of the way they spoke of the Eucharist in Scripture. St. Paul says he hands on the Eucharistic teaching wholly, as it was given to him:

 

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1 Corinthians 11:26-29).

 

One could hardly be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord, or bring judgment (literally, damnation) upon himself, were his Body and Blood not truly present, or if the bread he ate were merely bread, even blessed bread, and if the wine was just wine, even prayed-over wine.

 

Just as the Old Testament Tabernacle was Presence and sacrifice, the New Testament tabernacle, Christ’s body, is both presence and sacrifice. Brant Pitre tells of the Jewish custom in which the priests lifted the Table of Presence Bread in procession throughout the congregation, proclaiming, “Behold God’s love for you!” How much more, now, the real presence of God’s love in Christ, our living Presence Bread? How can we not fall down in worship as he reigns in the monstrance?

 

All accounts of the Last Supper say that on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and wine into his sacred hands and “gave thanks.” Ann Voskamp says if Jesus can give thanks in being betrayed, so can we. And so, from the Greek word eucharistia, which means “a giving of thanks,” we get the name of our sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

 

Because he offers his own Body and Blood, the Eucharist is both sacrifice and sacrament. As the New Testament sacrifice, the Holy Eucharist is the Mass, or the New Covenant. In the Mass, God works through the priest, who prays Christ’s own words directly over the bread and wine, changing them into his own Body and Blood for us: “This is my body.” Notice all that is contained in this tiny sentence, by emphasizing each word in turn:

 

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

“This is my body, given up for you.”

 

Jesus is there in the fullness of person, in a supernatural way that suspends the laws of space and time. His Body and Blood have no weight or height or breadth or thickness, because he is present in a supernatural way. He does not multiply himself into many different Jesuses or divide himself into as many pieces as there are hosts. There is one Jesus, whole and undivided. To deny that is to be a heretic, according to the early Church.

 

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John, equated prayer and the Eucharist, just as the Church does today: “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us ... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

 

The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the center and the source from which even the other forms receive “nourishment”: the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their center in the Eucharist, fulfill the words of Jesus in the priest’s day and in all his life: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).59

 

In the Eucharist, we are all gathered into one through him, in him, and with him, as the word “communion” illustrates: with union. Some of the earliest prayers of the Mass, recorded in the Didache, illustrate this understanding: “As this broken bread was scattered over the hills [as grain], and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together.”

 

As long as the “appearances” of bread and wine remain, Jesus is present with us. Once the “appearances” of bread and wine are digested, Jesus is no longer sacramentally present, but his grace remains.

 

At Jesus’ word and direction, the Mass continues the one sacrifice of Christ through time and makes it present at each celebration as Jesus commanded: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). You can see, then, that with these words, Jesus made his apostles priests. Jesus’ words are the Mass; they are the New Covenant—the sacred action by which Jesus makes himself and his passion present under the appearances of bread and wine.

 

IT IS THE MASS

From the Last Supper accounts, where Jesus “took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19), the early Christians called the Mass “Giving of Thanks,” “Breaking of Bread,” and part of the “Agape (or Love) Feast.” Acts 2:42 tells us: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The breaking of bread and the prayers is the early Mass.

 

Because the first Christians were Jews, they did not realize at first how completely their break with Judaism would be in Christ. They continued to attend and take part in the synagogue prayers and liturgy until they were excommunicated and persecuted, and finally the Temple was destroyed by God’s providence in ad 70. “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46), they met privately for the “Breaking of Bread” until they were expelled from the synagogues by their fellow Jews who felt they were hijacking the Jewish faith. At that time, the “Breaking of Bread” service began with a prayer service modeled on the synagogue that included two readings (one from the Law and one from the Prophets), followed by a sermon or homily, with prayers interspersed between. Already you can plainly see the Liturgy of the Word, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist—the Mass.

 

This order of worship, this Liturgy, was established as early as ad 150, as we see from the writings of St. Justin Martyr, who says plainly: “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these ... as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”

 

After the “Breaking of Bread” ceremony was separated from the Agape Feast and the readings and prayers were added in the style of the synagogue model, the word “Mass,” meaning “going forth” in Latin, was used to designate the Eucharistic Liturgy upon which the New Covenant and the Christian Faith was founded. Not as a mere preparatory ceremony that made Communion possible, the Church’s understanding of the Mass was threefold: a memorial, a holy banquet, and a sacrifice.

 

A MEMORIAL

The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, that is, of the work of salvation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ … It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

 

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, emphasis added). Remembering that a memorial in Jewish understanding is a re-participation, or re-presentation, Jesus is not simply asking me to recall his cross and resurrection with quaint poignancy, but to receive him in the Mass in an unbloody, sacramental, but truly real way. As a participation in Jesus’ Body and Blood, the merits and graces of his sacrifice are applied directly to my needy soul and enable me to “go forth” to also be broken and spilled out for others in love of him. The last sentence of the Mass is, “Go forth the Mass has ended.”

 

A COVENANT MEAL

Like the covenant meal shared by the Israelites' at the foot of Mount Sinai upon the ratification of the Old Testament, our Mass is a sacred covenant banquet. Originally, the first Christians followed Jesus’ example at the Last Supper and celebrated the Eucharist as part of an actual banquet.

 

Gathering in a member’s home since there were no churches yet, each member brought food and wine according to his means, and it was shared by all as an act of love (agape, meaning “sacrificial love”) for one another. At the conclusion of the meal, the bishop celebrated the Eucharist after the example of Christ. But almost right away, the agape fellowship meal was separated from the sacred Eucharistic celebration in order to preserve its solemnity, due to abuses. St. Paul left such an account for us in First Corinthians, where he scolded the wealthier Christians for consuming their own food and drink without regard to the poorer and even drinking to excess at the agape meal (see 1 Corinthians 11:20-22). The Mass is a participation in Jesus’ life-giving presence, and it is a divine banquet in his own flesh and blood that feeds the soul unto the unity of eternal life. But perhaps most importantly, the Mass is a sacrifice.

 

A SACRIFICE

Although now we typically associate the word “sacrifice” with something painful and distasteful that we must leave off or do, the original meaning of sacrifice was tied directly to the priest, who offered a group sacrifice to God for group worship. The Eucharist is a true sacrifice in the strictest sense of the word: It is the offering of a worship-gift to God on behalf of a group, of which its complete destruction indicates that it is a gift to him by a person with the right to represent the group. But Jesus’ sacrifice is an eternal sacrifice, so each Mass is not a re-crucifixion in which Jesus dies as victim over and over, but a continuation or prolongation in time of the original sacrifice of Jesus as both Priest and Victim.

 

There is no time and space in God; there is no yesterday or next millennium for him. In the mind of God, Jesus is both eternally sacrificed and resurrected, at the same time: “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). At Mass, you and I are drawn into the single “moment” that is God. Time and distance are swallowed up into eternity in a mystical sense, so that you and I are present at the Cross with all the saints and angels as Jesus sacrifices his Body and Blood for us.

 

“Do this in remembrance of me.” We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present.

 

In teaching that the Eucharist is the greatest of all sacraments, perhaps it seems we state the obvious. Baptism is, of course, the most necessary sacrament, since it is the gateway to the other sacraments (see John 3:3). Yet, despite all the wonderful things that baptism and the other five sacraments accomplish in the soul, they are still mere instruments of God for the giving of grace, whereas in the Eucharist, we have not only the instrument for giving of grace—we have the actual Giver of grace himself, Jesus Christ, our Lord, the true and final Presence Bread.- (From the book, Fulfilled: Uncovering the Biblical Foundations of Catholicism)

 

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