By Chaitanya dasa (Br.Aelred)
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, as in all other religious traditions, the preparation, offering and consumption of food have a central role. Central is the understanding that God has blessed the earth so that it will be able to produce, and that man may be blessed in the eating.
Let us look at a variety of Biblical references to holy food.
There is a vital passage at the end of Chapter 1 of Genesis— the first reference to food in the Bible, and the first reference to the food which has been given to Adam and Eve, our first parents:
God said, “See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food…”
One Catholic priest said to me recently, “Your commitment to a vegetarian diet is justified by reference to Scripture.” He was, of course, referring to the above verse. It is very interesting (and disturbing) that Christians consistently overlook (ignore?) this passage, and choose to follow the less desirable diet given following the Great Flood— the diet that allowed meat-eating. Whenever I raise this matter there is an awkward silence…then a flow of excuses!
In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, chapter 22, there is a lengthy passage on the subject of holy food:
Yahweh spoke to Moses; he said: “Speak to Aaron and his sons: let them be consecrated through the holy offerings of the sons of Israel…
“Any one of your descendants, in any generation, who in a state of uncleanness approaches the holy offerings consecrated to Yahweh by the sons of Israel, shall be outlawed from my presence…
“…At sunset he will be clean and may then eat holy things, for these are his foods…
“They (lay people) must not profane the holy offerings which the sons of Israel have set aside for Yahweh. To eat these would lay on them a fault demanding a sacrifice of reparation; for it is I, Yahweh, who have sanctified these offerings.”
We obviously have a greater interest in the New Testament, especially as it has to do with “the best son of God,” Jesus. Bhagavad-gita commentator, Swami Prabhupada referred to Jesus in these words. In the New Testament we have two themes of central importance:
1. The sharing of food by believers or devotees. In Acts 2: 42-47 we read the following –
These (the early Christian community) remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.
They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes:
Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God...
Later in the letter, St. Paul deals at length (chapter 11) with the whole subject of eating food. He is scathing in his criticism of the behavior of some, specifically because the eating of food is presented in the context of The Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. I will quote the whole passage since, outside the Gospels themselves, it is the most important teaching on the subject of holy food.
Now that I am on the subject of instructions, I cannot say that you have done well in holding meetings that do you more harm than good. In the first places, I hear that when you all come together as a community, there are separate factions among you, and I half believe it–since there must no doubt be separate groups among you, to distinguish those who are to be trusted. The point is, when you hold meetings, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you are eating, since when the time comes to eat, everyone is in such a hurry to start his own supper that one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk. Surely you have homes for eating and drinking in? Surely you have enough respect for the community of God not to make poor people embarrassed? What am I to say to you? Congratulate you? I cannot congratulate you on this.
For this is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, there, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death, and so anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily toward the body and blood of the Lord.
Everyone is to recollect himself before eating this bread and drinking this cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. In fact that is why many of you are weak and ill and some of you have died. If only we recollected ourselves, we should not be punished like that. But when the Lord does punish us like that, it is to correct us and stop us from being condemned with the world.
So to sum up, my dear brothers, when you meet for the Meal, wait for one another. Anyone who is hungry should eat at home, and then your meeting will not bring your condemnation. The other matters I shall adjust when I come.
In conclusion, I would say that prasadam holds a central place in the Christian tradition, although with an added dimension. By “added dimension” I mean that, in the Eucharist/Mass/Lord’s Supper, not only are bread and wine offered to God, and so set apart from mundane use, they actually manifest the presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is actually present in every Mass. Indeed the bread and wine are the worshipable form of the Lord. Such is the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of the “Real Presence.”
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