Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I Never Learned, Part VI: Jesus, the Mass, and the Eucharist

Years ago, I sent out some "catechesis emails" to interested friends and family. They, like me, never really learned much in Catholic religious education and CCD classes (I was catechized in the 1970s and '80s). What I wrote was pretty basic stuff, and I thought some of the Bubble readers might like the overview. 

Last time, we talked about Jesus as the sacrificial lamb (“Behold, the Lamb of God!” said John the Baptist about Jesus, pointing ahead to Jesus' sacrificial death).

We discussed how the Old Testament stories always point to the future, to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Remember that when something in the Old Testament foreshadows, or points to, something in the New Testament, we call that a "prefigurement" or a "type". Typology (studying the prefigurements in the Bible) is the most exciting way to look at Scripture.
So let's go back to a famous Old Testament event, the Passover in Egypt, and discover how it prefigured both Christ’s sacrifice and the Eucharist.

Approximately 1,500 years before Christ, Moses was set to liberate the Hebrew people and lead them out of Egypt, where they had been oppressed and enslaved by Pharaoh. (If you are unfamiliar with the story, then you haven't watched Academy Award winner The Ten Commandments lately! Rent it!) Moses instructed each Hebrew family to select a young male goat or lamb without blemish. They were to sacrifice the animal and then smear its blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house in which they were eating. They had to eat the flesh of the sacrificed lamb or goat that night, along with unleavened bread (there would be no time for leavening). The Hebrews were given other instructions as well, but for our purposes, we will focus on the lamb’s blood, the eating of the lamb’s flesh and the unleavened bread (are you thinking Eucharist yet??).

God sent an angel of death over all the households of Egypt that night to punish the oppressors (the Egyptians), while those whose houses were marked with the blood of the sacrificed lamb would be saved. God said: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you.” (Exodus 12:13)

Now you know why it’s called Passover!

In a nutshell:

The Hebrew people were saved by the blood of the lamb, just as Christians are saved by the Blood of the Lamb.

The Hebrew people were required to eat the flesh of the sacrificed lamb, just as Christians must eat the Flesh of the Sacrificed Lamb.

Read the Gospel of John chapter 6 to hear Jesus’ own words on the subject, which are unambiguous and oft-repeated. (For those tempted to regard Jesus' words as mere symbol, recall that every New Testament fulfillment is always bigger, better and more miraculous by far than the Old Testament prefigurement that pointed to it.)

After that original Passover in Egypt, the Hebrew people were commanded to celebrate it annually, as a memorial. To this day, Jews celebrate a Passover (or seder) meal every year.

You may note that the Catholic Mass looks a lot like a Passover meal, and that's because it is the fulfillment of the Passover meal. It is no coincidence that Jesus instituted the Eucharist during a Passover meal on the night before He died. As the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper tell us, Jesus made some substitutions and revisions at that Holy Thursday Passover: From that night on, He Himself would be the sacrificed Lamb to be eaten under the appearance of unleavened bread, and it would be His Precious Blood that would liberate God’s people (not from the bondage of slavery, but from the much more terrible bondage of sin). The flesh to be consumed and the blood to save us would from now on be Jesus' own, offered for the life of the world.

"Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us."

Christ did not come to abolish the Old Testament, He came to fulfill it. You can see why it’s so important that we Catholics understand the Jewish roots of our Faith. From there, everything starts to come alive for us, and we begin to see the beauty of the whole tapestry of Truth, and how it all fits together.

There are many more Old Testament prefigurements of Christ, His Passion and His Crucifixion, and there are many more Old Testament prefigurements of the Mass and the Eucharist. I hope this whets your appetite for more.

See you next time for Part VII: Authority!



  1. Excellent post! You are my teacher now!

    A friend (the one who runs TLM-MD) told me that he read in a book by Brad Pitre on the Jewish roots of the Last Supper and the entire Eucharist that in the time of Jesus, Paschal lambs were crucified. In the Temple, they placed a rod through the shoulders to better skin it and a rod through the axis of the body to make it easier to roast. So, Jesus would have known that Paschal Lambs were "crucified."

  2. Now you just taught me something, Stacy! (As you always do!)

  3. Stacy, I've read the book you mention; it's excellent! The title is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, if you'd like to find and read it. I don't know about other sources, but Amazon has it. I got mine on my kindle.


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