Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Eucharist and the Shekhinah

The Eucharist and the Shekhinah

The latest edition of the "Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament Newsletter" for October 2010.

'The Eucharist and the Shekhinah' by A Bloomer a Hebrew Catholic who is the assistant to Father Doug Harris in promoting Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.

In the Middle Ages there were a number of Jewish converts to the Church who had become convinced Christians by studying and practicing the Jewish Mystical Tradition. These Jewish converts wrote a number of books which explored the Jewish Mystical traditions in the light of Catholic belief. Pope Sixtus IV along with some other Popes approved of this movement and ordered seventy books of Jewish mysticism to be translated into Latin and to be studied by all Divinity students. However with the rise of a more rationalistic generation this field of research was neglected by Catholic scholars.

Shekhinah is the central concept of this mysticism. Father Elias Friedman [founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics] in his writings mentions this understanding of Shekhinah in regards to the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacles of the Catholic Church. Just as the Shekhinah dwelt in the Temple of Solomon so the Shekhinah in the flesh was Jesus and now dwells in the tabernacles of the world. Thus the central concept of both Jewish and Catholic mysticism is the Divine Presence (Shekhinah). A study of the Jewish Mystical tradition in the light of the Eucharist is, in my opinion, essential in the future development of a Hebrew Catholic spirituality that would enrich the whole Church. Adoration of the Shekhinah is the central activity of the Jewish mystics just as Eucharistic Adoration is the central activity of the Catholic mystics. These adorers in the Jewish traditions are called the Reapers of the Field or Comrades/Friends (haverim).

Shekhinah is the feminine form of the word meaning ‘to dwell’ and shekhen is the male form. The more accurate term for the uncreated male Divine Presence is Shekhen Y-H-V-H who is Jesus as the uncreated male Wisdom and the uncreated female Divine Presence Shekhinah Elohim is the uncreated Divine Wisdom the Holy Spirit. The created male presence and wisdom is the Shekhen who is Joseph who manifests out of Eternity as Cloud and Shadow and the created female presence is Shekhinah and Wisdom who is Mary/Miriam who manifests out of Eternity as fire. These different manifestations of the Presence of God are called in the Hebrew mystical tradition (based on the Bible) the Shekhakim [see the Jewish mystical book called the Bahir]. Shekhakim is the mystical (but not literal) plural for Shekhinah and Shekhen.

St Augustine also distinguished between the uncreated Wisdom who was the Divine Word (Logos) and the created Wisdom (Sophia). Some Fathers and Doctors of the Church also described the Holy Spirit as Wisdom or the uncreated Sophia. St Maximillian Kolbe described Mary united to the Holy Spirit in eternity as Wisdom (Sophia). Jewish mysticism refers to the male Wisdom as Hokhmah (wisdom) and Abba(father) and to the female wisdom as Binah (understanding) and Imma (mother). This is associated with the closed and open letters 'mem'[the Hebrew letter for M] in the name Miriam and mayim (waters). In Rabbinic tradition the term Shekhinah became used for all mentions of the Divine Presence whether male or female. The development in understanding of the connection between Sophia and Our Lady is found strongly in the Russian Orthodox tradition. This understanding in the Russian Church has received theological development by Serge Bulgakov and in the Western Church by Father Louis Bouyer. This is closely connected to the nuptial mysticism of John Paul’s “Theology of the Body”.

It is significant that it was in 1993 in Spain, where the population is very Jewish in ancestry, due to the mass conversions of Jews in 1391 and 1492, that Pope John Paul II expressed a desire for Perpetual Euchatistic Adoration in every parish and community. It is in Spain that many Catholics believe that a future Eucharistic miracle in connection with the Shekhinah Presence of God will occur at Garabandal.

The Old Testament speaks of a similar event to happen on the mountain where Moses died in the last days. In the Second Book of Maccabees (2:4-12), it describes how the Prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave. He prophesied that the Ark of the Covenant would remain hidden until the time of the return of the Jews and their receiving of God’s mercy. Then the Ark will be revealed and the Presence of God will manifest himself just as he did in the time of Moses and Solomon. In this passage of Scripture our attention is drawn to the two figures of importance in a reflection on the Jewish origins of the Eucharist. They are Moses (Moshe) and Solomon (Shlomo). This short passage is like a capsule hiding many interesting treasures.

Verse 8 of this chapter links us to the Manna of the Old Covenant in Exodus as a type of the Eucharistic bread, and verses 10-11 with the institution of the Old covenant sacrificial priesthood (Leviticus 9). This passage also draws our attention to the Tabernacle (Exodus 40) and the Temple (1 Kings 8) showing the connection between the Shekhinah and the sacrificial system.
The Jewish mystical tradition as recorded in the Zohar (an important work of Jewish Mysticism published by Moses de Leon), relates that all Scripture has a hidden mystical meaning as well as the literal historical meaning. The earthly meaning is only a shadow of the true heavenly or mystical reality.

Blurred Cloudy Lens

It is through the use of the earthly language of symbols that man can get a glimpse of the heavenly reality as through what the Rabbinic tradition calls a blurred, cloudy lens (as also mentioned by St.Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus in one sense we could say that the Eucharistic species is that blurred, cloudy lens through which we see the Real Presence of the Divinity. Paul states that one day the full glory of the Eucharist will be revealed when we see God face to face. This dwelling of God’s Presence in time and space is called in Judaism the Miniature Presence or Shekhinah. The Jewish Artscroll Siddur-Sefard (p.391) states in the commentary:

“Although God’s Presence is everywhere, it is not readily discernable on earth where events can be understood as a result of natural causes rather than emanating from Him. The lack of clarity in our perception of His Presence is as if we observed an event through ‘me-iy-rah is-pak-lar-ya she-ey-nah’, a blurred, cloudy lens. The result is that we have a diminished appreciation of God’s greatness. This is the unclear lens through which we attempt to perceive His influence and is referred to as the miniature Presence of God.”

The Miniature Presence

The Shekhinah or Miniature Presence of God is also called in the Jewish Mystical Tradition the Holy Apple Orchard or the Field of the Sacred Apples. This terminology comes from the Song of Songs where the Bridegroom (in Hebrew, Hatan) is associated with the Apple Tree (Song of Songs 2:3;8:5). The fruit of the apple tree is associated by the Rabbis with the Torah. They interpret Song 8:5 as:

“How worthy she is who rises from the desert bearing Torah and His Presence, clinging to her beloved.”
The Bride and the Bridegroom

In this interpretation the Bride (Kallah) is called the Kehal (the Community, Church, Assembly, Synagogue, Ekklesia) and is the bearer to mankind of the Torah and the Divine Presence. Thus the Jewish tradition proclaims that the Torah which is the Word of God (Dabar), and the Divine Presence are the possession of the Community (Kehal or Kehilla) of God’s People. In the Catholic sense this is the bride of St. Paul’s writings the Church which is the bearer of the Word of God and the Sacraments that make the Divine Presence really present in the life of the believer. That the Song of Songs is a mystical writing is proclaimed by both the Jewish Tradition and the Church Fathers. The Mystery of the Church (or Body of Christ) is explained in symbols through the love of the Bridegroom (Hatan) for his Bride (Kallah).

Jesus himself drew on this imagery and referred to himself as the Bridegroom and His disciples as the children of the Huppah (the Marriage Canopy). This is why the Blessed Sacrament, when it is processed, is covered by the Huppah (Canopy) of the New Covenant. Paul also explains the mystery of the Church in this mystical language drawn from the Jewish tradition. As the Jewish bride circles round the bridegroom, so the Church revolves around Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Shekhinah Presence

St. John the Beloved also uses this tradition. John links the Incarnation of the Divine Word (Dabar in Hebrew, Memra in Aramaic and Logos in Greek) in John 1:14 with the Shekhinah/Shekhen in the Tabernacle (or Tent) and Temple of the Old Covenant. John 1:14 states literally that “the Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us.” This can be translated also as “the Word was made man and tabernacled or shekhen-ed amongst us.” Thus Jesus is the ‘Miniature’ Presence of God which in the Old Covenant was veiled by the cloud but in the New Covenant was veiled by Jesus’ human flesh and also by the veil of the Eucharistic species of the bread and wine.

John 1:14 continues in the second part: “and we saw his glory (Kavod in Hebrew closely associated with the concept of Shekinah), the glory (Kavod) that is his as the only begotten Son of the Father, full of Grace (Hesed) and Truth (Emet).” The Jerusalem Bible commentary on this states that:

“The ‘glory’ is the manifestation of God’s Presence (Ex 24:16+), but the human nature of the Word now screens this glory as the cloud once did. Yet at times it pierces the veil, at the transfiguration, for instance, cf Lk 9:32,35 (alluded to in Jn 1:14?) and when Jesus works miracles ‘signs’ that God is active in him. The Resurrection will reveal the glory fully (cf Jn 17:5+).”

The Kavod or Glory of God is closely associated with the concept of Shekhinah, as it is Shekhinah that allows the Kavod to manifest in time and space through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ruach haKodesh) in a veiled form that man can perceive as through a blurred cloudy lens. It is the Kavod or Dabar (Word), also known as Wisdom or Primordial Torah, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that manifests himself in time and space. This process is what Shekhinah is. Thus the Shekhinah came to be seen in the Jewish tradition as a simile for the Divine Presence itself.

The Shekhinah is often referred to in the feminine form because in the Jewish traditions the Holy Spirit and wisdom are at times referred to in the feminine gender. Understanding (Binah) which is closely linked to Wisdom (Hokmah) is also referred to in feminine terminology. Jesus (Yeshua) also gives himself feminine imagery when he describes himself as a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings this is a direct allusion to the concept of the ‘wings of Shekinah’ found in Rabbinic literature.

The Heavenly Portal

The Jewish Mystical tradition teaches that the portal or gateway to the mystical realm of the Heavenlies is through the Holy Apple Orchard or Shekhinah. Thus we can say that the Eucharistic Presence in the Tabernacle is the portal or gateway to ascending to the Heavenlies and the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. The following prayer-praise is recited during the Jewish Sabbath evening meal.

“Prepare the feast of perfect faith, the joy of the Holy King. Prepare the feast of the King. This is the feast of the Field of Sacred Apples. And the Miniature Presence and the Holy Ancient One come to feast with it. I will cut away (the accusers) with praises, bringing them up through the portals that are in the Apple Orchard, for they are holy. Let us now invite (the Shekinah) with a newly laid table.”

This links the earthly Sabbath meal with the Heavenly Wedding Feast. The Sabbath itself is called the Sabbath Bride or Queen in the Jewish liturgy for the Sabbath. Thus we see that the Sabbath meal is associated with the Heavenly banquet or Wedding Feast in connection with the Shekhinah as the kingly bridegroom and the Sabbath as the queenly bride the linking the Sabbath meal with the Song of Songs. In the New Covenant the Sabbath meal along with all the festival meals is transformed into the Mass as the Wedding Feast of the Eucharistic King. Thus the Jewish Sabbath Meal is a type of the Mass and Eucharist.

All the festival meals of Judaism including the Passover have their roots in the weekly Sabbath Evening Meal. These meals all find their fulfilment or culmination in the meal of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which we call the Holy Mass.

The Sabbath Queen

The Sabbath Bride or Queen is an image or type of Our Lady and the Church. Our Lady is the Sabbath Queen for whom Catholics honour each Saturday as a feast day of Our Lady, and the Jews unknowingly invoke her in song as the Sabbath Queen. The Orthodox Jews sing the song Lechah Dodi (Come my Beloved) each Sabbath to welcome the Sabbath Queen. The title alone links in to the Song of Songs. It concludes with:

“Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride, enter O bride, the Sabbath Queen, Come my Beloved to greet the bride the Sabbath Presence, let us welcome!”.

Thus the concept of Shekhinah is also the concept of the Incarnation in Eternity as the first thought of God outside himself. God the Father manifests in the Creation through the manifestations of the Divine Son and the Holy Spirit. These manifestations of God is accompanied by a mystical Presence of Our Lady and St Joseph out of Eternity often represented as Cloud and Fire as the perfect Adorers of the Divine Presence. In our Holy Hours of Adoration this same manifestation of the Shekhinah flows forth perpetually from the Eucharistic Host and we are mystically united with Our Lady and St Joseph in Adoring the Triune God. These mysteries are hidden in the Jewish Mystical Tradition and help us deepen our understanding of the teachings of our own Catholic mystics and illustrates that the source of all authentic Mysticism has its origins in the mystical reading of the Biblical text.

Some other News

At the recent Marian cenacle here at St Bernadette’s Father Hugh Thomas who does wonderful work promoting Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration mentioned that in 1979 there were about 10 chapels in the world that had PEA but today there are over 3000. This is very encouraging news as sometimes with all the struggles in promoting Adoration we forget that so much has been achieved in the last 21 years. Both Father Hugh and Father Doug have assisted in starting PEA chapels in Indonesia in recent years. I believe there are now 15 chapels of Perpetual Adoration in Indonesia whereas a few years ago there were none.

Another stalwart of PEA is Father Patrick Barry who has been responsible for starting many chapels of PEA all over the world. Father Patrick is presently in Latvia working to establish the first chapel of PEA in which the local Catholics and Lutherans will do PEA together. The Lutheran Pastors have been desiring this for at least 12 years and finally the Catholics [with the gentle nudging of Father Patrick] have decided this is also a great idea. This is true Ecumenism at work and part of the new evangelisation which must be Eucharistic Evangelisation. Please keep this important project in your prayers and holy hours.

Importance of a set hour

Some people like to just do holy hours whenever the Spirit moves them and won’t commit to a set hour. What then are the benefits of the Adorer who takes a set hour? If one just does any old hour then one only gets the graces of that hour. However the person who takes a set hour allows Perpetual Adoration chapels to exist and they not only get the graces of the hour they attend but they share in perpetual graces from all the hours- 24 hours 7 days a week- from that chapel of PEA for themselves, their family and all those close to their hearts. They not only receive the graces of that chapel but they are mystically joined in the perpetual graces of all chapels of PEA that have been, are and will ever exist in human history. And the person who takes two set hours has double all these graces and the Adorer who takes three hours receives triple the amount of all these graces flowing from the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus present in all these chapels which mystically dwell in Eternity itself.

For further information contact
Father Doug Harris-Chaplain for the Promotion of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration for Archdiocese of Perth on 0894446131.

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