Passover and the Holy Mass

 

A loaf of bread and a cup of wine shared among friends. What made this meal different from all other meals was that God Himself had instructed His people to eat it. Along with the bread and wine, a lamb was roasted and eaten, with its’ blood marking the doors and windows of each home. This meal, eaten by the Jews exiled in Egypt, was the Passover meal (Exodus 12:1-28). The blood of the slain lamb saved the Jews from the death which God sent to the unbelievers. The Passover lamb and the meal the Jewish families shared prefigures the Last Supper shared by Christ and His chosen. In His Sacrifice on the Cross, He becomes the Paschal Lamb, saving His children from the death of sin. (Matthew 26:17-30). The Church and the Sacraments emerge from Jewish history and Scripture. Understanding the Passover Lamb helps us to fully appreciate the Holy Mass of His Church. 

Catholics read the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and take Jesus’ words literally: “This is My Body”(Matthew 26:14-15). When He tells us to “do this in memory of Me”(Luke 22:7), we do it. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb meant life for the Jews, the Body and Blood of Christ means life for His Church. Jesus, as the Paschal Lamb, fulfills all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament:”…I come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”(Matthew: 5:17). Our worship of Christ is expressed in the celebration and sacrifice of the Holy Mass. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is “the source and summit of the Christian life”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1324). The Mass is the public prayer of the Church in which we offer God praise and thanksgiving, ask forgiveness for our sins, intercede for the needs of others and share in His Body and Blood, as He has instructed us. Just as the ancient Jews ate the meal God prescribed for them, Catholics share in the Eucharist as Jesus has instructed us. The celebration of the Eucharist is the prayer of, by, and for the Church.

The Catholic Mass is not only based on the last meal shared by Jesus with his disciples, but also reflects a long history of special meals described in Scripture and celebrated by both the ancient Jews and the early Christians. From that original Passover meal and all its’ annual re-presentations, to Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39), the meal shared at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and His breakfast at the sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14). In the early Church, worship included the Eucharist as well as readings from Sacred Scripture (I Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-34). In the year 150 A.D., a Christian convert named St. Justin Martyr describes how the Church celebrated the Eucharist when he wrote a famous letter explaining his faith. He describes a Sunday assembly where Scriptures are read and the priest gives a homily or sermon explaining them to the faithful. Shared prayer follows and then an offering of bread and wine is consecrated by the priest. The Body and Blood of Christ is then shared by the faithful, with some reserved to take to those not present. A collection is taken to support the Church and to help the needy. Some things never change! If St. Justin were to come to a Catholic Mass today, he would feel very much at home. With few changes, the order of our worship remains essentially the same. If you’ve ever wondered how the early Church worshiped together, come to Mass sometime and see what you’ve been missing. 

“He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day”(The Gospel of St. John, 6:55). 

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