Psalm 81:17 – I would have fed them also with the finest wheat-flour; * and with honey out of the stony rock would I have satisfied thee.

I have suggested to you previously that Christ and the Church are the themes of many of the psalms.  If this is true, then we should not be surprised to find that the psalms also speak of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, which is the place where we draw closest to our Lord on earth and where the Church is most truly herself. 

We see the Eucharist under many symbols and types in the psalms.  First, when the psalms speak of the Old Testament sacrificial system, Christians will think of the sacrifice of the Cross and of its Eucharistic re-presentation, which the Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed:  ‘Types and shadows have their ending, for the new rite is here.’  Where once a single altar in Jerusalem was bathed in the effusion of ten thousand animals’ blood, now ten thousand altars hold the single unbloody sacrifice of the Mass.   In the Old Testament there are ten thousand victims and a single altar; now there is a single Victim and ten thousand altars.  But assuming this transforma­tion, we may see in the sacrifices of the psalms the shadow of Christ’s sacrifice.  Even when the psalms criticize the sacrificial system, we see already in the Old Testament the reason why the old system had to give way to the purer sacrifice of Christ

Secondly, we see the Eucharist in the bread and in the cup and in the wheat that appear periodically in the psalms.  In fact, I think it safe to say that almost always in Scripture bread and wine and meals in general have Eucharistic significance.  Consider, for instance, this:

I would have fed them also with the finest wheat-flour; and with honey from the stony rock would I have satisfied thee.  (Ps. 81:17)

So ends Psalm 81, and so begins the introit for Corpus Christi.  What is this finest wheat-flour, this sweetness, this honey from the rock?  We have already seen that the Rock is Christ  The honey from the Rock, the finest wheat-flour, must be our Eucharistic Lord.  Or again consider:

I will receive the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord.  (Ps. 116:12)

If you use The People’s Anglican Missal you will know that the celebrant silently says these words from Psalm 116 before he receives the chalice in his personal communion.  What is the ‘Cup of salvation’ if not the chalice?  How could an Anglican Catholic read this psalm and not think of the Precious Blood that we receive in our holy communion?  Or yet again, when Psalm 78 speaks of manna and angels’ food, we cannot help but remember that our Lord in the latter part of Saint John 6 himself connected manna and his own Body.  That dominical commentary on manna inevitably gives Eucharistic significance to these psalm verses:

He rained down manna also upon them for to eat, and gave them food from heaven.  So man did eat angels’ food; for he sent them meat enough.  (vv. 25-6)

Thirdly, we see the Eucharist in all of the many psalms that refer to the people or the priest drawing near to Jerusalem or to the temple and to the worship of God.  Best known of this category must be Psalm 43, which is said both as an Opening Sentence before Morning Prayer in the Prayer Book and also in the Preparation at the Foot of the Altar in the missal:

O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling; and that I may go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness; * and upon the harp will I give thanks unto thee, O God, my God.  (vv. 3-4)

The reference to the altar of God here inevitably suggests to Christians the Christian altar.  Yet many other psalms without such an obvious Eucharistic reference nevertheless can be interpreted as having some Eucharistic significance.  The penitential psalms, for instance, suggest for us the spiritual preparation we should make before communion:

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.  (Ps. 130:1)

This is the voice of the Christian preparing for confession and communion.  If such passages are not only Eucharistic, at least they are partly so.  Again:

My soul fleeth unto the Lord before the morning watch; I say, before the morning watch.  (Ps. 130:6)

What could better express the thoughts of our heart when we draw near to holy communion early in the morning?

But finally, we do not need to find this or that passage, this or that psalm, to justify a Eucharistic interpretation of the psalms.  The Greek word, eucharist, means ‘thanksgiving’, and the psalter in its entirely is eucharistic, because they are thanksgiving hymns.  The business of eternity is the adoration of the glorious Trinity and our elevation into his own glorious life.  The Eucharist is the earthly shadow of heaven’s adoration, and the psalms, like the daily Office and all prayer outside of Mass, ultimately find their meaning and fulfilment in the Mass.  In the end the psalms and all prayer and praise flow into the Eucharist and its comprehen­sive adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  The Eucharist is heaven’s worship on earth, and our holy communion is the beginning of our transformation into God’s true and very sons.  We think sometimes that in the Mass God comes down to us.  But, as Eric Mascall says, it would be more accurate to say that in the Mass God lifts us up into himself.  Our saying of the psalms is part of this elevation. 

Christ is writ on every page of the Psalter; by saying the psalms we seek to speak with Christ’s voice, to put on his mind, and to conform ourselves to him.  Think on Christ as you say the psalms and be fed on the finest wheat-flour and with honey out of the stony Rock.

5 thoughts on “The Psalms.  7.  The Eucharist in the Psalms

  1. Thank you for your informative and thought provoking posts. The centrality of Christ and the shadows and foretaste of the Eucharist are much of the comfort the Psalms bring us. I think this can sometimes get lost in the historical critical method of reading the Psalms. I think unintentionally for the most part but it should not cause us to lose sight of Christ and the Sacraments.

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  2. “In the Old Testament there are ten thousand victims and a single altar; now there is a single Victim and ten thousand altars. ” Brilliant.

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      1. I have to laugh … years ago my parish priest talked about ‘cheap grace’ and I thought it was ‘his’. Some research dispelled the ‘ownership’ (you probably know it was Bonhoeffer) but to me, Fr. Poole was still brilliant because he knew term. I extend to you the same brilliance, lol – because you knew the quote.

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