29 March 2018

Eucharistic Hebrews

I have never studied Hebrews deeply; by which I mean that I never had the opportunity of teaching it as a text for A-level ... that's the best way I know of really getting into a text; examining it daily with ones students for an entire year. But I was aware that sharp critical eyes have wondered why a Letter about the Sacrifice of Christ nowhere mentions the Eucharist. But, some time ago the text of Hebrews 13:10 hit me in the eye. "We have a place of Sacrifice [thusiasterion*] from which those who serve [latreuousin] the Tabernacle have no right to eat". Which clearly implies that 'we' do eat of a Thusiasterion which we do 'have'. [S Ignatius used thusiasterion in a Eucharistic sense.]

There is an always-thought-provoking Methodist scholar called Margaret Barker who sees Hebrews as an exposition of the Eucharist as the New Temple; she points to 12:22-24 as a summary of its theology as the synaxis of the Christians with the whole Company of Heaven.

CUT to the sands of Egypt. Where great mounds of ancient rubbish have yielded scraps of papyrus which have been preserved by the dryness of the desert. Thousands of these, excavated more than a century ago, are in the cellars of the Ashmolean Museum here among the Dreaming Spires. And they give us a fresh insight into everyday life in the Greco-Roman world. They include a large number of invitations to the deipnon of a God at his Temple, making it clear that the feast following the sacrifice was, in ancient religion, an integral part of the sacrifice itself. This is why Temples very commonly had, as part of their complex, kitchens and dining rooms. And it is also the reason why S Paul is so concerned (see I Corinthians ... which I have taught) about his converts' dining and eating habits. The religious and the social mingled so closely that it could be very easy to find oneself inadvertently committing idolatry by what one ate, and where.

It is clear to me that Hebrews 13:10 refers in passing to just this connection. The Lord's Table is one with the Altar on High where the Lord eternally pleads his Sacrifice. We eat from this Altar of Sacrifice at the Eucharist. But the non-believing Jews still (as the Author of Hebrews writes his Letter) frequent the sacrifices which the Lord abolished in the combined events of the Cleansing of the Temple, the Last Supper, and Calvary. And they, he points out, logically have no right to eat of his Thusiasterion, which is to say, of "our" Eucharist.


  1. I think this very well explains whether the Eucharist is a Sacrifice or a meal. The meal is an integral part of the sacrifical action, but Holy Mass, and the Eucharist respectively are no meals. And, in fact, only the "meal", i. e. the consuming of the sacred species by the priest, constitutes the end of the sacrificial action. The Communion of the people is not necessary, and more like a pleasant "appendix".

    1. The Eucharistic gifts exist firstly to be offered to the Triune God as a food sacrifice. That takes place all throughout the liturgy up to the consecration. One way of thinking of it is that we offer the ritual meal to God for his consumption. Christ signals his acceptance of our sacrifice by “eating” the gifts — making them himself without needing to subject them to corruption by dissolution — thereby becoming our offering. The priest(s) and the priestly people then consume the sacrifice in turn, just as the Levites and the Hebrews at the Aaronic temple.

  2. re: "the sacrifices which the Lord abolished in the combined events of the Cleansing of the Temple, the Last Supper, and Calvary."

    Father, during Mass on first Passion Sunday a question came to mind. There is, I think, and obvious connection between the rending of the veil in the temple and the end of the temple itself, which had been replaced by its antitype. Is there a parallel connection between the rending of the high priest's garments during our Lord's trial and the replacement of the Aaronic priesthood with its antitype, the New Testament priesthood?

  3. Fr (and honorary cardinal) Albert Vanhoye, SJ, agrees with your exegesis on 13:10. His books on Hebrews are amazing and he emphasizes the priesthood of Christ. eg "Old Testament Priests and the New Priest," "A Different Priest," and his commentaries on Hebrews.

  4. Oh, KaeseEs, that's interesting.

  5. Father, concerning Dr. Barker's work, how does a Catholic take her claims that certain OT texts were tampered with by "Deuteronomists" and that she says that the first Christians gave an important place to 1 Enoch and Jubilees (when we find neither of these in the early canons of Sacred Scripture)?

  6. The primary concern of Hebrews is to address the priesthood of Christ rather than the Eucharist per se. However, in identifying Christ as restoring the priesthood of Melchizedek and thus causing the Levitical priesthood and its sacrifices to become redundant, obsolete or superceded, it takes for granted that the reader will have some knowledge of what the sacrifice of Melchizedek entailed. Namely the sacrifice offered by Melchizedek (whom the Targums, St Ephraim and St Jerome all identified as Shem, the firstborn son of Noah) was the Todah sacrifice. The rabbinic tradition held that in the Messianic age the only sacrifice remaining would be the bread and wine of the Todah. Todah translates into English as "thanksgiving" and into Greek as "eukaristo."

    So although Hebrews is primarily about the restoration of the pre-Levitical priesthood in Christ - the ancient priesthood of the first-born sons - it is also and inevitably about the sacrifice offered by that priesthood i.e. Christ Himself who has entered once and for all into the heavenly sanctuary to intercede on our behalf, a.k.a.the Body and Blood of Christ a.k.a. the Eucharist.

  7. Hieronymus ad Augustinum: ep. 112:

    Usque hodie per totas Orientis synagogas inter Judaeos haeresis est, quae dicitur Minaeorum, et a Pharisaeis nunc usque damnatur: quos vulgo Nazaraeos nuncupant, qui credunt in Christum Filium Dei, natum de virgine Maria, et eum dicunt esse, qui sub Pontio Pilato passus est, et resurrexit, in quem et nos credimus: sed dum volunt et Judaei esse et Christiani, nec Judaei sunt, nec Christiani. [] Sin autem haec nobis incumbit necessitas, ut Judaeos cum legitimis suis suscipiamus, et licebit eis observare in Ecclesiis Christi, quod exercuerunt in synagogis satanae: dicam quod sentio, non illi Christiani fient, sed nos Judaeos facient.