Imagine that you are on pilgrimage to Jerusalem during one of the high feast days during the first century. As you approach the outside of the temple, you notice a commotion. The priests are lifting up the holy bread (known also as “showbread”) on a golden table for everyone to see, saying, “Behold God’s love for you.”
The showbread of the Temple has a very interesting history in itself that may date back to Melchizedek (see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, 127). Melchizedek is that mysterious priest, king of Salem (“salem” means peace—you and I know this priest-king’s town as Jerusalem). Melchizedek feeds God’s pilgrim people in the persons of Abraham and his companions with a sacrificial offering of bread and wine. That priestly sacrificial offering of bread and wine was repeated in the Temple liturgy on a weekly basis. The priests would bake bread with incense mixed into it, and then pass it through the Holy of Holies before leaving it on a table in the sanctuary next to the tabernacle for the next week. The old bread that was replaced would be consumed by the priests.
The showbread makes an earlier appearance in the life of David and his troops. They are hungry and in need of food. Escaping from the threats of King Saul, David and his soldiers are given the holy bread of the Tent of Meeting to eat. Typically, by this time, this bread was only eaten by the priests. This gesture suggests that David and his companions are also priests, and indeed they are. They are priests according to the order of Melchizedek (Pitre, 137). I draw attention to it now because it can provide an Old Testament example and anticipation of what is a far greater gift in the Eucharist.
Consider the other names for what often gets called “showbread” in our translations. It is also known as the “Bread of the Presence”; or again, it is called “Bread of the Face of God” (Pitre, 121). It was something from the Holy of Holies that all were allowed to see. It is alluded to in this line from the book of Exodus: “They beheld God, and ate and drank” (Exodus 24:11, Pitre, 121). The Bread of the Face of God was a memorial, a remembrance, of a heavenly banquet during which Moses and the elders had “seen” God.
What can we learn from these thoughts? When you and I are at Eucharistic Adoration, we are looking at the True “Bread” of the Presence, the Face of God. Adoration can remind us of those times in which we participated in the heavenly banquet, those times in which we “saw” or certainly experienced God’s love. We can think of those times he fed us in famine or rescued us from a threat. We can gaze at the true “Bread” of Presence and of the Face of God and remind ourselves of what the Old Testament priests said regarding its precursor: “Behold how God loves you!”
Look and See!
In fact, whenever we pray, it is good to begin by calling to mind the presence of God and how God looks at us. Try and imagine his gaze, his face. Spoiler alert: His gaze is always and only one of love. It is possible that his gaze of love will cause us pain if we are stuck in sin, or if we are conscious of any of our many betrayals. However, this feeling says more about us than about God. His gaze is one of love. His gaze can be one of purifying love if we allow it to be (cf. Luke 22:61). Perhaps his gaze prompts us to go to confession so that we can hear the voice that accompanies that look of love: “I absolve you from your sins.”
We can also see the gaze of love and be comforted. Looking at our Eucharistic Lord and imagining his gaze should console us. What we see explicitly is the gift of himself to us. The gift that reveals what love is. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:15). “I lay down my life…. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18). “Take, eat…this is my body which is given for you” (Matthew 26:27; Luke 22:19).
In the Eucharist, we experience the gaze of the love of Jesus Christ. But, we also experience the gaze of love of the Father. The Son was sent to reveal the Father. Jesus is what it looks like when God becomes man. When we see him, we see the Father (cf. John 14). He promises that anyone who comes to him, he will show the Father to him (Matthew 11). What we see in Jesus Christ’s passion and death is the work of the Father’s love. This work is what we see at Mass.
I set this up as the work of the Father that we see on Sunday or anytime we are at Mass or Adoration for a very important reason. Jesus’ response to the accusation that he was working on the sabbath was this: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17). His work reveals the work of the Father. In fact, the work of the Sabbath reveals the work of the Father. In this light, we can see the significance of the Lord’s words when his disciples are criticized for picking the heads of grain and eating them on a Sabbath. The Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus asks them if they have read about David’s entry into the house of God and eating the bread of the Presence. He draws attention to the work of the priests who work on the Sabbath while remaining guiltless. His disciples, the priests of a new covenant, work to show forth the work of the Father, just like Jesus does. He concludes, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:1-8). What or who is greater than the Temple? God himself, the One we see in the true Bread of the Face of God.
The apostles, by dealing with grain and eating it, reflect the eating of the Bread of the Presence by a more universal priesthood which shows forth the work of the Father by a sacrifice of bread and wine. Sound familiar? The Temple that is reflected in this Bread of Presence is the Body of Christ. It is the work of priests that reveals the work of the Father because it is the work of the Son. When we are at Adoration we can think of these gifts and the way that Christ is Lord of the sabbath, that he is the new way of being like God, the new way of God being with us. His body is the new temple and the new bread from heaven—an image of the Manna.
The Bread of the Presence was a sign that led the pilgrims deeper. It was a connection to the goings on in the sanctuary, a sign of the Temple. It was a sign of God’s work in saving his people. It was a sign of God’s love. It was meant to draw them deeper into the participation of the heavenly banquet. Eucharistic Adoration can be all of this for us. When we see the Eucharist, we can think of the Mass. When we see the Eucharist, we can be reminded of the presence, of the One greater than the Temple. When we see the Eucharist, we can recall God’s love for us. All of this is because the Eucharist is Christ, the “greater than the Temple,” the Lord of the Sabbath, the revelation of the work and love of the Father.
We are not just meant to look at the Son and see the Father; we are meant to grow in our identity as sons and daughters. When at Adoration, we can ask the Lord to show us the Father. We can ask him to make us more like a sons and daughters.
St. Thérèse Lisieux compared the appearances of the Eucharist to a curtain, to a veil. On the other “side,” so to speak, of this veil is not the bride, but the groom. A fellow priest calls looking at the Eucharist “beholding the groom beholding the bride.” In the Eucharist, we see the Groom’s regard for his Bride. The Groom is Jesus. We can image the movements behind the curtain and the invitation to the wedding feast of the lamb. We are brought into this spousal relation with Christ so that his Father becomes our Father. We share his name in a covenantal relationship. We can look at the Eucharist like we would look at a spouse. We can look through him and see the relationship we have with his Father.
Here Comes the Son
Since we are thinking about the Son, we might also think in terms of the sun. I would tell children S-O-N not S-U-N, but there are similarities. The monstrance often resembles the sun with rays bursting from the center. Have you ever gone outside and turned your face toward the sun and soaked in its rays? I close my eyes and thrust out my chin and try to absorb the sun’s warmth, light, and life-giving qualities. This metaphor would dim eventually because you can spend too much time in the sun, but taking in moderate amounts of sun can teach us something about any time we spend in front of Christ. We are changed. We are warmed, even baked, by the sun. Taking in the sun can be a Eucharistic image. Sitting before the Lord in the Eucharist, we are similarly changed, but spiritually speaking. We can receive greater hues of color and greater depths of warmth. Life abounds. We are like Moses on the mountain whose face was radiant or like Christ at the Transfiguration.
At the Transfiguration, Peter perceived that he was in the presence of God or that God was truly dwelling with him in Christ Jesus. God had pitched his tent in his Incarnation and Peter wanted to construct tents to dwell there with him, in the midst of the cloud, with heavenly witnesses. What Peter wanted, time to stay on the mountain top, is what we have in any time of Adoration. We have time to dwell with our transfigured Lord—transfigured now, not in a way that reveals his divinity and glorified humanity, but in a way that hides it. But the definitive dwelling of God with his people, the way that he does stay with us and so answers the disciples of Emmaus’ prayer (cf. Luke 24), awaits us in Adoration.
We have spoken of presence, and the Son and the Father. We can use an image of a mother and child to help us if we find from time to time that during Adoration our minds wander. We may sit in silence in Adoration without much actually happening. This silence for us may seem empty, or boring, or absent. However, “God’s silence is never ambiguous” (Acklin and Hicks, Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love, Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2019, 73). His silence isn’t awkward, or a silent treatment. He isn’t mad at us. Remember, his gaze is always one of love. His silence is like the silent gaze of a mother upon her sleepy newborn. Acklin and Hicks offer this image as one describing God’s silence in our prayer (cf. Acklin and Hicks, 64-65; 72), but it is also helpful in thinking about our wandering minds. I think it can be easy for us to get down on ourselves for not paying attention in Adoration to the love and person truly present in the Eucharist. However, this might be because we don’t really understand his love. I think his love, reflected here in the relationship between mother and child, is more abiding. Imagine the mother gazing at her sleeping baby. The baby stirs, opens its eyes, and makes eye contact with her mother. Eye meets eye. The mother is understandably thrilled. Her heart leaps: “My baby looked at me!”
I imagine those times where the Lord brings our attention back to him or we are able to focus, if ever so briefly on him in the Eucharist. It is like the baby opening his eyes and catching the eyes of his mother. I imagine a similar metaphorical excitement on the Lord’s part. He looked at me. Remember, the Lord loves. He loves passionately. Why wouldn’t he get excited when the one he loves takes notice of him?
Meeting gaze with gaze or eye to eye does conjure up the notion of Adoration. The word adoration literally suggests a kind of face to face or even more vividly mouth to mouth (coming from the Latin ad ore—“to the mouth”). We have connotations of a kind of intimacy, but also, in this strange way of tasting. Adoration should lead us to consuming the Word in the flesh. Adoration does lead us to consume the true bread from heaven that is given for the life of the world (cf. John 6). St. Augustine will bring it home for us. Commenting on how the earth is God’s footstool (Psalm 98:5), the Bishop of Hippo speaks about the appropriateness of adoring the flesh of Jesus. He says, “I turn to Christ…and then I discover how God’s footstool may be adored…. He took earth from earth, because flesh comes from the earth, and he received his flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here below in that flesh, and even gave us that flesh to eat for our salvation. But since no one eats it without first worshipping it…, not only do we commit no sin in worshipping it; we should sin if did not” (Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms 73-98, tr. Maria Boulding, New York 2002).
When we look at the Eucharist, we see the Flesh of the One whose mother carried him in her womb and bore him into the world. Analogously, when we adore the Eucharist, we should bear in mind that we are meant to receive him fruitfully and “give birth” to him in our daily life. Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, pray for us.
Father Justin Kizewski, MS, MA, PhL, STD, ordained in 2008, is a priest from the Diocese of La Crosse. He is Coordinator of Intellectual Formation at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee and adjunct professor of theology at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. Previously he was a pastor of two parishes in Chippewa Falls, WI. His graduate studies were done in health care bioethics, philosophy, and theology. He has previously taught for Christendom College, Saint Paul Seminary, and the Gregorian University.