What is Typology?
Since the time of the Apostles, the Church has shown how intimately interconnected the Old and New Testaments are in the plan of God. This unity is highlighted by typology which “discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of the incarnate Son (CCC 128).”
Typology shows us a reality in the Old which is revealed in its fullness in the New. As St. Augustine said, “The New is hidden in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New.” A very clear example of typology would be when St. Paul speaks of Jesus Christ as the “new Adam.” Jesus is not Adam but, rather, He is the fulfillment of Adam.
Jesus is also the new Abraham, Moses, and David. And Mary is the fulfillment of the Jewish role of the Queen Mother. And Peter is the new Steward of the Kingdom. But these are topics for another day.
The New Covenant, which is the central message of the New Testament, is the Most Holy Eucharist. However, we see foreshadowing and preparations or “types” of the Eucharist in the Old Testament.
Most Catholics are used to hearing about how the Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice. But what are some of the other types of the Eucharist in the Old Covenant?
Fruit in the Garden of Eden
There were two trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. The former brought death and expulsion from the Garden and the latter was eternal life naturally offered to Adam and Eve.
The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Tree of Life. It is for us a remedy for sin and death. Jesus Christ gives us His Body and Blood as a pledge of eternal life with Him in Heaven. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they made themselves like God. When this happened, the new forbidden fruit was the Tree of Life.
Only through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, offered to us as a communion in the Sacrament of Baptism is the way to the Tree of Life opened again. In a state of grace, we can worthily receive the Blessed Sacrament as union with Almighty God and the medicine of immortality. This typology is not lost on the Church Fathers who spoke of the Cross of Christ as the new Tree of Life.
The Strange Priest-King Melchizedek
After a battle, Abraham came across the priest-king of Salem, a man named Melchizedek (cf. Gn. 14). This strange figure enters and exits the biblical narrative swiftly and his presence is strange. He offers a sacrifice of bread and wine for Abraham. The Psalmist would later say you are “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” This Psalm speaks directly of Jesus Christ, our new and greatest High Priest.
The Priesthood of Jesus Christ is a perfection and fulfillment of the Temple priesthood of Aaron, but it more specifically a continuation of the priesthood of Melchizedek. We see this most clearly at the Last Supper when Jesus Himself institutes the Eucharist as an offering of bread and wine.
Manna in the Desert
Jesus refers to the Manna in the desert in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. He says,
“47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jn. 6:47-51).”
The Lord is doing a bit of typological exploration here. The Manna in the wilderness was this miraculous food left like dew on the ground each night. Each morning, the Israelites wandering in the desert would gather up the Manna and be sustained. This miraculous food appeared without fail and was sufficient. In the New Covenant, the fulfillment of Manna is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is freely given by God for our spiritual nourishment, and it is sufficient to give life. As the fulfillment of the type, it is truly more than sufficient.
The Thank Offering – The Todah
In the Old Testament, there is a particular kind of sacrifice of praise called the todah or “thank offering.” First there would be a lament and cry for help. Then, God would save the person crying for help and bring them out of their trouble. In fact, the cry for deliverance is not from death but through death. The natural response would then be praise and thanksgiving accompanied by a sacrifice of bread and wine and then a shared meal.
There are multiple parts here which should quickly and clearly point us to the Most Holy Eucharist. Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving” in Greek and follows in this same todah tradition; thanksgiving is at the center of the celebration of Eucharist.
The Passover sacrifice and todah sacrifice are in the same category of offerings of peace and praise. The todah sacrifice was offered by an individual but the Passover was really a collective todah offered by the whole community. The New Passover, and therefore the new todah, is the Eucharist.