The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as Corpus Christi, celebrates the belief that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. We know that Christ is also present to us in Scripture and in the assembly of the faithful.
Before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, there was a gold table in the northern part of the sanctuary on which twelve loaves of bread, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were arranged in two rows.
In Ex. 25:30 the command is given: “On the table you shall always keep showbread set before me.” In most Bible translations, this bread is known as “showbread.” But this translation is inaccurate, to say the least. A better translation would be “bread of presence.” In Hebrew, the word for “presence” also means “faces.” Thus, the medieval Jewish commentator known by the acronym Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki 1040-1105), remarks on this verse: “literally, the bread of faces, because it has faces looking in both directions-toward the sides of the Sanctuary from one direction to the other.”
The instructions for the display and use of these loaves are given in Lev. 24:5-9:
You shall take bran flour and bake it into twelve cakes, using two tenths of an ephah of flour for each cake. These you shall place in two piles, six in each pile, on the pure gold table before the Lord. With each pile put some pure frankincense, which shall serve as an oblation to the Lord, a token of the bread offering. Regularly on each sabbath day the bread shall be set out before the Lord on behalf of the Israelites by an everlasting covenant. It shall belong to Aaron and his sons, who must eat it in a sacred place, since it is most sacred, his as a perpetual due from the oblations to the Lord.
Here again the translation is inaccurate. The word “oblation” is better translated “memorial offering,” or, literally, “reminder.” Rashi comments: “a reminder for the bread: Because nothing of the bread was offered to the Most High on the altar. Rather, the frankincense was burned when they removed it on every Sabbath. Thus, the frankincense was a “reminder” for the bread, by which it is ‘remembered’ above.” The showbread is a reminder to the worshipper of God’s covenant; the incense calls God’s attention to the devotion of the worshipper. The act of worship is an encounter, a meeting. The One worshipped and the one who worships must both be present to one another.
In rabbinic literature, the table with the showbread served as a symbol of the acknowledgment of all the people that they owed to God all that they needed for their sustenance. The showbread is symbolic of the prosperity with which God blesses his people. It also represents the Torah as spiritual nourishment, which is just as essential for life. It is a Jewish custom to leave bread on the table to symbolize that God provides us with more than just our physical needs.
Our table can also be an altar. While we nourish our bodies, let us also nourish our souls, by remembering that Jesus is indeed the Bread of Life.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.