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"Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread": The Eucharist, Epiousios, & The "Our Father"

What if I told you that all Christians everywhere are praying for the Eucharist?

"Give us this day our daily bread"

Look at this sentence. Think back to your 7th grade English class and diagramming sentences. What's wrong with this sentence? Do you see something odd about it? Here's a clue. Do you see a word that's redundant?

Think about the word "day." Why does it say "day" and "daily"?

Mind you, Our Lord Jesus taught us to say this prayer, knowing that it would be said again and again through history, billions of times every day. The lines of the Lord's Prayer have likely been said more than any other collection of words in human history. Why would it include a spare word?

Why would Jesus use "day" twice in one line? Is there a reason for this redundancy? Was this line translated by the Department of Redundancy Department?

No. "Give us this day our daily bread" -- is an inaccurate, a bad, translation. There is an important word hidden in this phrase.

What is the Greek word for "Daily" in the Our Father for "Daily Bread"?

The word that Jesus uses for "daily" is epiousios or epiousion, according to Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3. This word is something of a mystery. It occurs no where else in the New Testament, nor anywhere else in Greek literature. It's a neologism. This is the first time this word was ever used. According to Origen, a father of the early Church, Matthew and Luke coined this word, or perhaps Jesus himself did.

It's sort of a difficult word to translate because it's brand new. Before Christ, nobody had used this word. This word is found no where else in Greek literature. Jesus actually coined this word. Perhaps he did so to give this petition special significance.

There is also the literal meaning of the word, broken down into its parts epi-ousios. What does epi mean? Think of epi center and epidermis and epithelial. This prefix means higher, above, or super.

The stem, ousios, was very important when the early Church councils and fathers were formulating their understanding of the three persons and one nature of God and the human and divine natures of Christ. Ousios can mean nature, being, essence, or substance.

So what words do these components make when put together? "Super-substance," "Super-nature," or "Super-essence". That gives us "supersubstantial," "superessential," or "supernatural."

I think you know where this is going. This "supernatural bread" is obviously referring to the Eucharist. Let's keep digging, though!

Why Don't We Translate "Our Daily Bread" as "Our Supernatural Bread"?

Why hasn't this translation been used before? It has.

Dr. Brant Pitre, in his Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist - an amazing book! - seems to favor "supernatural.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2837, also confirms this translation ...

What does the Catechism say about "Daily Bread" and Epiousios?

So, what does this mysterious word, epiousios, mean? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 2837 explains the first levels of meaning, the meanings we probably all would have expected:

"Daily" (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repetition of "this day," to confirm us in trust "without reservation." Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence.

Not only that, that's how St. Jerome translates "daily bread" ...

St. Jerome and "Daily Bread" in the Our Father

Working in the Fourth Century A.D., St. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin, creating the Vulgate Bible.

St. Jerome translated epiousios as "supersubstantial." The Vulgate Bible translates the Our Father as "Give us this day our super-substantial bread."

What's also interesting is where St. Jerome was working: Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. Do you know what "Bethlehem" means in Hebrew?

Bethlehem means "House of Bread".

Isn't that amazing? St. Jerome was working in the "House of bread," the place where Jesus, the "bread of heaven," was born and placed in a "manger", which translates as "to eat"!

What is this "Supernatural Bread" mentioned in the "Our Father"?

What, then, is this super-substantial or supernatural or super-essential bread? It could mean the Manna, the supernatural Bread from Heaven, that fed the Israelites for their entire 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Coming from Jesus, however, "supernatural bread" means the fulfillment of the manna: the Eucharist.

The original "supersubstantial bread" was the Manna of Moses

There is SO much more that could be said of this heavenly reality. "Supersubstantial" or "supernatural" bread is also a reference to the greatest miracle of Moses: the Manna.

The manna fed the Israelites for forty years in the desert, cf. Exodus 16. It is the original bread from heaven which came to earth every morning, except on the Sabbath.

It formed on the ground like dew. Does that sound familiar? The bread came down "like the dewfall". These words are uttered by the priest at the epiclesis, the consecration of the bread, when the work of the Holy Spirit makes the bread supernatural.

Why Does Jesus Refer to the Manna in the "Our Father"? 

Jesus usually refers to the Manna of Moses when talking about the Eucharist. Jesus does so repeatedly in the Bread of Life Discourse at John 6, which I describe in depth here. The Bread of Life Discourse is Jesus' most explicit and in-depth teaching on the Eucharist.

In John 6, Jesus refers to His own flesh as the New Manna. Jesus' own flesh, the Eucharist, is the New Manna.

Put it all together and what do you get?


The Catechism (par. 2837) confirms all this in its typical style, very beautiful and very dense:

Taken literally (epi-ousios: "super-essential"), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the "medicine of immortality," without which we have no life within us. Finally in this connection, its heavenly meaning is evident: "this day" is the Day of the Lord, the day of the feast of the kingdom, anticipated in the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come. For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day.

Our daily bread, that all Christians everywhere pray for daily, is both our earthly bread and our heavenly bread. It is, of course, right that we eat bread every day for our physical well-being. Just as much, for the health of our immortal souls, it is right that we consume the "medicine of immortality" daily.

Wait ... Does that Mean Protestants are Praying for the Eucharist?

Sure does. Isn't it funny that every day, every hour Protestants everywhere are crying out to the Lord for the Eucharist? If they only knew how ready the Catholic Church was to answer their prayer! What a great tool this one line from the Lord's Prayer could be for reaching our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.

How Does the Eucharist Shed New Light on the "Our Father"?

This should shed more light on the lines that come before and after "gives us this day our supernatural bread." First off, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." The coming of Our Father's kingdom is somehow bound up with our daily reception of the Eucharist. Moreover, the Father's "will" is accomplished -- as is the Son's will to "do this in remembrance of me."

The Eucharist and the Forgiveness of Sins

What follows "give us this day our supernatural bread"? "Forgive us our sins." Is it possible that this "supernatural bread" is also involved with the forgiveness of our sins? Of course! 

What comes after "give us this day our supernatural bread"? The second petition, right after that, is "forgive us our trespasses" or "forgive us our sins." Why? Might this "supernatural bread" have something to do with the forgiveness of sins?

Yes, of course! This is the ultimate mercy of God that He would give us His own flesh to eat in the appearance of bread. In consuming the Eucharist, we are forgiven our venial sins.

Extra: Dante's Divine Comedy, "Daily Bread" and "Daily Manna"

The Divine Comedy is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri from the Fourteenth Century. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Dante wrote his masterpiece from 1308 until 1320, a year before his death. It is widely considered the pre-eminent work of Italian literature, as well as one of the greatest works of world literature.

Dante provides an expanded form of the "Our Father" in the first terrace of Purgatory, the terrace of Pride. Look how he translates the "daily bread" section:

Give unto us this day the daily manna
without which he who labors most to move
ahead through this harsh wilderness falls back. 

Isn't that interesting? Not only does Dante use the "manna" translation, but there's more.

The use of "manna" is followed by a description of the "harsh wilderness." Why? Because the manna and the Eucharist are the "bread for the journey."

What "journey," you might ask? Exactly the one that Dante is describing. Our journey to Heaven through Purgatory. Just like the Israelites wandering in the Wilderness, this manna feeds us on our journey to the Promised Land.

Conclusion: Importance of the "Our Father"

As I hope you're beginning to see, this one word, properly translated, opens so many other doors of meaning. I hope this simple insight adds new meaning and depth to your recitation of the Lord's Prayer, in which every word is important. I know it has for me.

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