Give Us this Day our Supersubstantial Bread

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus advises us to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” Why the redundancy of “day” and “daily”? Well, it turns out that in the Greek of the NT, there is no redundancy, because the two words are quite different. The word we translate as “day” is hemera, “day.” So, e.g., ephemera are things that are only for a day – thus if there were a redundancy in the Greek, Jesus would have been advising us to ask God to give us this hemera our ephemeral bread.

But he didn’t.

The word we translate as “daily” is epiousios. It is a neologism: the first place it appears anywhere is in this very passage of the Gospels. It might therefore be an original composition of Jesus himself. The most direct and straightforward translation is epi, on, upon, above + ousia, being, substance, nature, essence (English “is” and Latin “esse” and Greek “ousia” are all the same word). St. Jerome – the first scholar to translate the Greek NT – translates it into the vulgar Latin as “supersubstantial,” or as we might say today, “supernatural.” In a Thomist mood, we might say “superessential.” Colloquially, we might use the word “heavenly” instead, or “angelic.” Numerous others among the Fathers interpret epiousios in just this way. Jerome says the bread is “above all substances and surpasses all creatures.”

There is only one thing like that: God. So, the supersubstantial bread we are asking God to provide us is the ambrosia the saints and angels eat in Heaven, the manna of the Eucharist: the body of God himself (you know, the stuff that they reserve in the tabernacle of the altar, the way the Israelites reserved a portion of the manna from the wilderness in the Ark of the Covenant, together with the Torah – the Word – and the flowering staff of Aaron – the vine, the Branch of the Tree of Life). In asking for our supersubstantial bread, we are asking God – for the umpteenth time – to make today the day of our Passover, our redemption from sin and death. The Lord’s Prayer is about the Mass.

Nifty, no?

Now, one thing that had always puzzled me about the Lord’s Prayer is that we say, “give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses …” Kind of an abrupt transition there, from eating to being forgiven our trespasses, isn’t it? I always wondered if there was some bridge that had been left out. But no: in order to partake of the Eucharist, we must first confess and repent – must forgive, and beg forgiveness – so as to approach the holy of holies in a state of ritual cleanliness, aka grace, thus avoiding the mortal sin of taking the Name in vain. So when in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to allow us to partake of the Bread of Heaven each day, it makes perfect sense that we should ask him also to make us fit to do so.


I owe the discovery of this totally cool factoid to my recent race through Brant Pitrie’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. It’s a quick read, and fascinating; there were about eighty other tasty morsels I picked up from the book.

I should note also that, of course, the manna was indeed ephemeral. Except for the extra day’s portion that the Israelites gathered on Friday mornings, to tide them over the Sabbath, it was no good after a day. This might indicate to us how often we ought ideally to show up for mess at the tent of meeting in the camp of the saints of the Lord, sandals on our feet and staffs in hand.

Is daily attendance at Mass a vain repetition? Up to you.


You can read more about the supersubstantial bread here, here and here.

14 thoughts on “Give Us this Day our Supersubstantial Bread

  1. I’ve always thought that “this day our daily bread” could be piously viewed as including Holy Eucharist, but based on this interpretation, that is really the most correct way to view (and pray) it. Great stuff, Kristor. I shall now have to be more careful when praying the Our Father.

  2. Pingback: Give Us this Day our Supersubstantial Bread « The Avenging Red Hand

  3. I’m sure I read something awhile ago breaking down the Our Father that drew this connection, except without the metalinguistic elaboration. (Interesting!) Ever since, I’ve immediately drawn the same connection while praying, and I find the following line, “and forgive us our trespasses,” to fit perfectly. What else could we do before partaking in the Eucharist but ask for mercy?

    The thing about Christianity that so boggles my mind is how everything connects. The Eucharist is literally everything of God in relation to humanity. It never ceases to amaze me. Thanks be to God for it.

    • “The Eucharist is literally everything of God in relation to humanity” … probably the most ridiculous statement I’ve heard this year! And all those poor souls the Roman Catholic Church KILLED upon denying the wafer was anything but a wafer, would agree with me!

  4. What seems depressing to me is the fact that we have been praying with the wrong words and meaning for two millennia. Thank you Kristor

  5. You’re welcome. No credit to me; credit to Brant Pitrie. Pitrie himself makes a point, in his book, of disclaiming all credit. He points out that after years of painstaking research on this subject, and full of excitement about the possibility that he had discovered something quite unsuspected about the Pater Noster, he was chagrined – and thrilled – to find that it’s all right there in the Catechism. Which means that this has been known all along; the knowledge was never lost. Anyone who wants to, after all, can go straight to the Vulgate to see how Jerome translated epiousion.

    In any case, we needn’t worry about the fact that we don’t fully understand all the mysteries in which we are as Christians involved. We might not have understood what we were praying for, but God certainly did.

  6. I know. As my high school priest said to me, it’s not that you mean it, it’s that you pray the words so you ask God the right petitions. However, I am still amazed at the fact that the Church hasn’t done anything to restore the original words for common people.

    Some years ago, the Church ruled the change of the text of the Pater Noster in Spanish so it could be prayed with the same words in every Spanish-speaking country (before that, each country had its own translation, with the same meaning but slightly different words). I think this was a good move, although it made me sad to lose the Pater Noster I have loved since childhood.

    I don’t think making another reform is impossible and I don’t know why the Church is not moving towards that.

  7. The word we translate as “daily” is epiousios. It is a neologism: the first place it appears anywhere is in this very passage of the Gospels. It might therefore be an original composition of Jesus himself.

    Is it not normally assumed that Jesus spoke Aramaic? I’m not sure that this affects your overall argument, but it might affect what we think about this Greek hapax legomenom.

    • That had indeed always been my assumption. But recent scholarship indicates that Greek was for the Hebrews of the first century – especially in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” teeming as it was with goyim – at least as likely to be the language of choice for daily life as Aramaic. Jesus and the Apostles were almost certainly as fluent in Greek as in Aramaic. They were apparently familiar with Greek drama – there was an important theater only four miles from Nazareth, and Jesus quotes one of the Greek playwrights – Aeschylus, I think it was. A letter from bar Kochba to one of his commanders was written in Greek (saying, among other things, “no one [in this camp] understands Hebrew”), and so were many of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      For a ton of fascinating insights into this aspect of life in the early Church, check out The Cosmopolitan World of Jesus, by Carsten Peter Thiede. Jesus and the apostles were not uneducated rubes. Indeed, they were probably more educated than most of us.

    • Fascinating! Thank you for the reference.

      Indeed, we are the uneducated rubes: indoctrinated in Marxism, feminism, liberalism, leftism—all variants on a theme, I’m afraid—but ignorant of our own history, unread in the classics, unable to appreciate what has come before us (due in no small part to being ignorant of it), and bereft of the ability to think, but skilled at emoting.

      As Joseph Sobran so succinctly put it, “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”

      • One other interesting factoid: the Greek translation of the OT known as the Septuagint (LXX – for the seventy Hebrew scholars who produced it) was commissioned for the people of the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt, who no longer understood Hebrew, and who vastly outnumbered the Hebrews of the Holy Land. Greek was chosen for the LXX – and the NT – precisely because it was the one language that all the Jews spoke. The Jews of Judea and Galilee spoke Aramaic, but not so for, e.g., the Ethiopian eunuch. The LXX and the NT were aimed at all the Jews, so Greek was the logical choice.

        Thus even for the Jews of Palestine and Syria in the first century, the LXX was the version of the OT that everyone knew. The Hebrew OT was used in synagogues and the Temple, but not in common discourse. This meant that for the Hebrews, the LXX was to the Hebrew OT as the KJV is to the Vulgate for us. When the authors of the NT quote the OT, then, it turns out that they are generally quoting the LXX.

        The LXX was a popular text, and was probably an important factor in the phenomenon of the God-fearers – gentiles who practiced Judaism without, for the most part, actually putting themselves under the knife that full conversion would have entailed. It was the Jews and God-fearers of the Diaspora who constituted the first and most productive mission field for the early Church. Putting oneself in a male God-fearer’s shoes, it is easy to see how the Gospel promise of adoption into the New Israel via baptism and confirmation would have seemed Good News indeed, as compared with the prospect of circumcision.

  8. The only transubstantiation the Bible speaks about is Christ “having made Himself of no reputation, taking upon Himself the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men” {Phil 2:6}. He was previously in the form of God, having created the universe which outwardly expresses the inward glory that is naturally His. However, through the incarnation, He now takes on the form of a servant. The word, “form” has reference to the outward expression of an inward quality or character. And this is precisely what “being made in the likeness of men” demonstrates: the outward expression of an inward quality of servitude. In light of the Holy Spirit giving us an “outward/inward” incarnation theology in Philippians 2:6, it is unreasonable to believe He could be so neglectful in failing to give us a “Eucharistic theology” within the sacred text itself if it were really true. Thus, God’s silence in regard to the inward essence of the elements changing, but the outward appearance remaining that of ordinary bread and wine, speaks louder than words. Therefore, this is a tradition of men which has no place in the plan of salvation.

    With regard to the “Real Presence” — Scripture declares that the physical presence of Jesus was GOING AWAY!!!!

    “I go to prepare a place for you” . . . “Yet a little while and the world seeth me no more.” . . . “I go away” . . . “But now I go my way to Him that sent me.” . . . “I leave the world and go unto the Father” . . .. “I go to my Father and ye see me no more.” . . . “For the poor ye have with you always; but me ye have not always.” . . . “Ye shall seek me and shall not find me; and where I am, thither ye cannot come.” . .. . “And now, I am no more in the world.” . . . {John 14:2, 14:19, 14:28, 16:5, 16:29, 16:10, 12:8, 7:34, 17:11}. And Paul confirmed that, “though we have known Christ in the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more ” {2 Cor 5:16}. Notice— He makes no exception that we be consoled with either Christ’s presence in–or eating His flesh as a result of, the Eucharist. Naturally then, a doctrine such as Transubstantiation which bids us to believe in the actual bodily presence of our Lord is at war with the Bible from the get-go.

    Furthermore, Jesus emphatically states that prior to the time of His second coming, “if any man shall say to you, lo, here is Christ; or lo, He is there; believe it not ” {Mk 13:21}.

    Is not the RCC bidding us to believe Christ is “over there” in a dispensary called a “monstrance”, and picked out by the hands of the priest distributing Him in “physical form” at Communion? Yes they are, and this should rightly disturb you. But the Bible declares that Jesus does not dwell in temples {or any holy places} made with hands . . .but has entered into Heaven itself” where He will remain until He appears “a second time” {Acts 7:48; Hebrews 9:24;28}. No mention is made of a “sacramental presence” to sustain us in the meantime. Thus, the RCC vessel called a “monstrance” {or a “ciborium” or “tabernacle”} is nothing other than an alleged holy place made with hands, but Scripture states that Christ is not there!

    We also note another warning in Matthew 24:26: “Therefore, if they shall say to you, Behold He is in the desert; go not forth: {or} Behold, He is in the secret chambers {King James Version} believe it not. ” The New King James Version renders “secret chambers” as “inner rooms”. . . or even, “inner chambers” {American Standard Version}. What does this mean? In order that there would be no need to speculate, Jesus provided exact locations where these false appearances would occur. With reference to Strong’s Concordance, the actual meaning of the Greek word “TAMEION” that is translated as “inner rooms” is, “a dispensory; i.e. a chamber on the ground floor or interior of an Oriental house {generally used for storage or privacy; a spot for retirement}.” In other words, the original Greek actually refers to some kind of storage space , dispensary or private place. The backbone of Roman Catholicism is its star prop—the monstrance, which is a vessel/dispensary/private dwelling—-wherein they insist Jesus Christ “retires” in physical form until taken out by the hands of the priest, to be dispensed to the people via the mouth. However, our Lord says to REJECT any future sightings of His physical presence in any “secret chamber” by preceeding his warning with, “See, I have told you beforehand.” {Matt 24:25-26}. And He most certainly did. No where but in Catholicism do the words of Christ find their fulfillment with such stark clarity.

  9. Pingback: Supersubstantiation | The Orthosphere

  10. Pingback: Incarnation & Transubstantiation are Formally Analogous – The Orthosphere


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