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.
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.