Thursday, September 25, 2008

Signs and Mysteries: What You Didn't Know About that Fish Symbol

So we all know about why the fish symbol is used by Christians. Don't we? Well, maybe we do ... and maybe we don't. Or at least, maybe we don't know everything about it. As Mike Aquilina is ready and willing to point out. Love these details, don't ya know?
But we have not yet touched on the original and the deepest meaning of the fish. The fish is the primal symbol of the Holy Eucharist. One need not be Catholic to recognize this fact. Erwin Goodenough, an agnostic scholar at Yale University, wrote that the Gospel According to John — which he called “the primitive Gospel” — gives us “the earliest explicit acceptance of the fish as a eucharistic symbol and as a symbol of the Savior who was eaten in the Eucharist.” John does this, in his sixth chapter, by moving immediately from Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes to the Bread of Life discourse, His most famous eucharistic sermon. Jesus is the bread come down from heaven, multiplied for the multitude. At the end of John’s Gospel, we see the figures of fish and bread return as Jesus prepares a lakeside meal for the disciples (Jn 21:9). For the early Christians, all of these events prefigured the life-giving blessing that Jesus bestowed upon the Church. The Protestant scholar of archeology Graydon Snyder concluded: “the fish was, with the bread, the primary symbol for the Eucharist, the meal that developed, maintained, and celebrated the new community of faith.”

No text could make the association as clearly as one particular depiction in Rome’s Catacomb of St. Callistus. There we see two fish on a gravestone, one fish bearing bread, the other bearing a cluster of grapes: the eucharistic bread, the eucharistic wine . . . and the symbolic eucharistic fish.

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