Exodus 16:14-15

And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."

The ancient Israelites were fed by miraculous food in the wilderness of Sinai.  It was yummy, but the natural question they asked was "What is it?" Some may have had their doubts about nibbling it at first but, as the Yiddish saying goes, "Hunger is the best sauce" and they soon were all eating with a will.  But they never did figure out what it was.  Indeed, the name they gave it — manna — basically means "Whatsit" in English.  Novelist Frank Schaeffer, a member of the Orthodox communion, relates a moment in his catechesis when he confronted his priest and asked why they gave Eucharist to infants in the Eastern Church.  "After all," he remarked, "they don't even know what it is!"  His priest turned to him with an eyebrow arched and replied, "Do you?"  In the face of a true miracle it's better to receive first and analyse later.  If the analysis of manna or Eucharist turns up nothing, that doesn't mean it can't still satisfy your hunger, whether of body or soul.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage