Behold the Lamb!

“Change” isn’t a word you immediately associate with the Catholic Church.  But starting in just ten days, on the first Sunday of Advent, American Catholics will begin using a new translation of the Roman Missal.  This is the book which contains all the prayers used by the priest and the people during the Mass.  These changes are the result of many years of work by scholars and liturgists from around the English-speaking world.  Their work was commissioned by the late Pope John Paul II for two purposes:  to make the English translation of the Mass more faithful to the original Latin and by doing that, to allow the beauty of the original Latin to shine through.  There’s been some debate in the Catholic community about what we’re going to be saying, but most people seem to recognize that the changes in what we pray are an improvement.
Personally, I think the translation is a good thing for us.  It will make us pay attention at Mass and really listen to the prayers.  It’s been 40 years since the words we pray have changed, following the Second Vatican Council.  Some of us might have gotten so comfortable with the words that we’ve forgotten what actually happens at Mass — that Jesus Christ comes into our church and into our midst in a real and physical way when the bread and wine become His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  At Mass we’re in Christ’s presence just as we will someday be in His presence in heaven.  And in the new translation there’s one new word we’re going to pray that I think beautifully illustrates this profound experience, and that word is “behold.”

After the priest has prayed the words that Christ used at the Last Supper, he breaks the bread and holds it up for us to see.  In the old translation, he’d say, “This is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”  In the new translation, he’ll say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world.”  It might seem like a small thing, but what a different experience we have when we hear the word “behold” rather than the mundane “this is.”  In fact, this announcement by the priest are the same words used by St. John the Baptist when he first sees his cousin Jesus approaching the Jordan River to be baptized. “Behold the Lamb of God.”  It connects us to the reality and mystery of what has just happened before us:  that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity has come into the sanctuary and that we are in the very presence of God.  It reminds us of the question Isaac asked of his father, Abraham as they walked up Mt. Moriah.  Abraham had been asked by God to sacrifice Isaac as a seal of the covenant He was making with Abraham.  As a man of faith, Abraham was willing to do the unthinkable for his people and His God.  He was going to kill his son.  Isaac knew about sacrifices, but didn’t know he was the intended victim.  As he looked around for an animal to be used, he said to his father, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb?” (Genesis 22:7) Nineteen centuries later, John the Baptist provides the answer:  “Behold the Lamb!” (John 1:29).  What an amazing God we worship.  And by reclaiming the word “behold” at that profound moment in the Mass, we’re transported to the river as Christ is first proclaimed Savior and Messiah by his cousin, which is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants God’s own people forever and from them, to give the world Salvation.  We’re there to encounter Him as the Lamb Who was slain for us in order that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Behold!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: