Rev José Mario O Mandía
Does the Old Testament speak about the Eucharist? Yes, it does.
Let us first remember what Saint Augustine said: “In vetere Testamento novum latet, in novo vetus patet” – the New Testament is hidden (latet) in the Old Testament, whereas the Old Testament becomes evident (patet) in the New (Augustine of Hippo, Quaestiones in Heptateucum, II, 73).
The Eucharist is the Lord Jesus’ most important gift to us because it is the gift of his very Self. So, following Saint Augustine’s reasoning, we should be able to find the Eucharist hidden somewhere in the Old Testament.
We know that in the Old Testament, the New is hidden by means of figures (or types) and prophecies.
What are figures? Figures or types are real persons, events, or things in the Old Testament that symbolize persons, events or things in the New. Jesus himself gave examples of these figures.
For example, Jesus declared: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The bronze serpent (cf Numbers 21:9) is a figure or type of the crucified Savior.
FIGURES OF THE EUCHARIST
Let us take up a few of the figures of the Eucharist as Sacrifice, Sacramental Presence, and as Banquet.
SACRIFICE. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12 is a figure of the Sacrifice of the Messiah on the Cross. A “lamb without blemish” (Ex 12:5) is used, signifying the Messiah who is “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The blood of the lamb painted on the doorposts of the houses spared them from death – the Lord “passed over” them (Exodus 12:13,23). Similarly, the blood of Christ saves us from eternal damnation (Hebrews 9:12-15). Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary is re-enacted or re-presented in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where Jesus Christ is both Priest and Victim.
BANQUET. Moreover, the Passover Meal in the same chapter of Exodus is the figure of the Banquet – Sacramental Communion – in which all the baptized faithful in sanctifying grace are invited to partake (cf Hebrews 10:16).
The manna, which nourished the Israelites in the desert for 40 years (cf Exodus 16), is also a figure of Holy Communion. Likewise, the cake that the angel gave to the prophet Elijah and sustained him for the next 40 days (cf I Kings 19:6-8) also symbolizes the Eucharistic food.
PRESENCE. One of the Old Testament figures of Sacramental Presence is the “bread of the Presence” which God commanded should be “set on the table before me always” (Exodus 25:30). They were twelve loaves of bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel and which were kept inside the “Holy Place” (Exodus 26:33). After one week, these loaves would be replaced with new ones, and only the priests could eat them because they had been in God’s presence, hence the name “bread of Presence.” It was ordinary bread, and it is a figure of the Eucharist, which contains the Real Presence of Christ.
SACRIFICE. The prophet Malachi speaks of a pure sacrifice offered everywhere. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 1:11).
BANQUET. The Lord promises “bread from heaven”: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you’” (Exodus 16:4). And the Psalms add, “Man ate of the bread of the angels” (Psalm 78:25).
REAL PRESENCE. God also promises His presence: “And I will dwell among the people of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them forth out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God” (Exodus 29:45-46; cf Leviticus 26:12). In the Tabernacle, God truly, really, and substantially comes down in our midst and stays with us.
(Image: The Bread of the Presence was kept in the Holy Place inside the Tabernacle)