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ForFrech wrote:

Hi, guys —

Why don't Catholics practice Passover?


  { Why don't Catholics practice Passover? }

Eric replied:

Ah, but we do: in fact, on two different levels.

At the center of the Catholic faith is what we call the Paschal Mystery: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, our Passover sacrifice. Paschal means, pertaining to the Passover.

We celebrate the Paschal Mystery by observing the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper), which we do every time the community gathers. We also observe the Christian Passover in a special way every spring. We pray and fast in preparation for forty days, repenting of our sins. Then, during Holy Week, we remember the triumphal entry of Christ, the Last Supper, His betrayal, His suffering, His sacrificial death, His descent to the dead, and, finally, His most Glorious Resurrection.

In English, this feast is referred to as Easter, following the German. In nearly every other language, (I know for certain this is the case in Latin, Greek, and Arabic), this feast is referred to by the same word used for the Jewish Passover (usually, Pascha).

  • So why do we associate the Passover with the sacrifice of Christ, and especially with the Eucharist?

Through the Eucharist (the word from the Greek for thanksgiving), we enter into the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and partake of the flesh of the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for our sins. Christ spoke of a New Covenant in His blood. In the Biblical perspective, a covenant relationship is sealed with a ritual — often involving blood. Christ died once for all on the Cross to free us from sin as the Lamb of God, the Passover Sacrifice that delivered us from bondage to the slavery of sin. When God led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, He first had them celebrate the Passover:

  1. The lamb was sacrificed
  2. its blood smeared on the doorway, and
  3. its flesh eaten in the Passover ritual.

Examine the Passover ritual in Exodus closely. Without doing all three of these things, the Angel of Death would strike down their firstborn. The Paschal feast also fed the Jews through their journey in the desert, as did the Manna, into the Promised Land of milk and honey.

Jesus' death on the Cross fulfills the sacrifice. Christ, as Scripture says, is our Passover: the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our sins, of whom the Exodus lamb was a type. Nevertheless, unless each one of us partakes of the flesh of the sacrificed lamb, as the Israelites did, we do not truly participate in the sacrifice.

  • For what Jew would merely say, I claim the blood of the Paschal lamb over my sins and leave it at that, trusting that, that was enough?

No, He would also eat the flesh of the sacrifice. So, too, is the Eucharist the sign of the New Covenant with God — it is the one sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary made present for each of us at the Eucharist, the flesh of the Lamb of God sacrificed for us to partake, and the Blood of the Lamb to smear on our door posts (symbolized by our lips). The Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal, but if Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain, there remains according to the Passover type, one more step: not only was the lamb sacrificed, but its flesh was eaten . . . and the flesh had to be eaten: it was eaten during the Seder meal. Through the Seder meal, the Jews received the lamb's sacrifice: it was not enough for them to merely say, I claim the blood of the lamb over my sins, but neglect to eat the sacrifice.

Therefore, in order to enter into the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross, we must eat the flesh of that sacrifice. Through the most wonderful gift that Jesus left us for His remembrance, we are able to enter into the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and truly receive the sacrificed flesh of the Lamb of God so that we, like the Jews of Exodus, may eat it. This sacrifice of the New Covenant is the pure offering prophesied by Malachi:

11 My name will be great among the Gentiles, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the Gentiles.

(Malachi 1:11)

The word for offering in this verse means a food or grain offering. When it occurs in Scripture, it is almost always in the context of cultic sacrifice, and then, almost always in the context of a grain offering.

This is our Eucharist: an entering-in or re-presentation of the one sacrifice of Christ. As such, the Eucharist is a sacrifice, or rather is the Sacrifice: it is one and the same as Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, with the same priest (Christ) and the same victim (Christ). This sacrifice feeds us so that we may escape slavery to sin (as symbolized by the slavery in Egypt) and travel through the spiritual desert of this life (the forty years), fed continuously by Manna from Heaven (again, a type of the Eucharist), until we reach the Promised Land.

St. Paul draws a critical parallel between the Passover Seder and the Eucharist. He says,

7 . . . Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast . . .
(1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
  • What feast?

Not the Jewish Seder, for the Old Law had passed away. Paul is referring to the Eucharist, which he calls a participation in the body and blood of Christ, that is, the means by which we enter into the one sacrifice of Calvary.

16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
(1 Corinthians 10:16)

This is the cup prophesied by the Psalmist when he said,

13 I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.
(Psalm 116:13)

This was the very same Psalm used in the Seder — called the Hallel. Jesus and the Apostles would have sung it just before they got up to go to Gethsemane, where Jesus contemplated the Fourth Cup of the Seder. He also prophesied the bread when he said,

16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. (Psalm 81:16)

And again,

14 He grants peace to your borders, and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
(Psalm 147:14)

This explains why the Eucharist must be both sacrifice and Real Presence of Christ. The Eucharist is God's means of allowing us to apply the one sacrifice of Christ to our sins. The Eucharistic liturgy is based on the Jewish Passover Seder and indeed, we call the Eucharist the Paschal Sacrifice (or feast). The Last Supper, where Christ instituted the Eucharist, was a Passover Seder. In the Passover Seder, there is a part where three cakes of unleavened bread are covered and set aside:

  • the top one represents Abraham
  • the middle one his son Isaac, and
  • the third one Jacob.

These three cakes also represent the Holy Trinity. As Isaac, represented by the second cake, was the only son sacrificed by his Father (the first cake), so Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, was sacrificed for our sins. This second cake, called the Afikoman, at some point during the Seder is broken and a part of it hidden. Afikoman means I have come. The Jews believe this represents the hidden Messiah. Little do they know how this was fulfilled in Jesus, the Bread of Life, wrapped in swaddling clothes and hidden in the manger! It is the job of the youngest toward the end of the Seder to find the hidden afikoman, and to demand a ransom (of for example candy) for its return. When he, the father of the family, pays the ransom, the afikoman is returned and everyone takes a piece of it and eats it. It is most likely this Afikoman that Christ blessed and broke as His Own Body. Note that this represents Jesus's revelation as Messiah, His Body broken and crucified on the Cross to pay a ransom for the sins of the world, and then resurrected and made present to God's family in the Eucharist to be consumed.

This, too, is the meaning of John chapter 6, the Bread of Life discourse John 6:52-69, where Jesus promises to give us His true flesh to eat, and His true Blood to drink, which He promises will give us eternal life:

  • Why?

Because the Sacrifice of Calvary is the source of eternal life, and it is through the consumption of His Flesh and Blood that we receive this sacrificial banquet.

Ironically, the same book which Protestants so zealously quote in their attacks on the Eucharist actually contains some critical evidence proving it. The author says in Hebrews 13:10:

"We have an altar of which those serving the tabernacle have no right to eat."

He is in the midst of explaining why the New Covenant is superior to the Old (in fact, this is the whole theme of Hebrews), and specifically he is referring here to the Jews.

  • But what altar is he referring to?

An altar implies a sacrifice, which is why to many Protestants altars are anathema. Nevertheless, Paul is saying that we eat from an altar.

  • Where is the altar?
  • What do we eat?

We eat the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. See verse 12 and following:

". . . Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then go to him outside the camp . . ."

(Hebrews 13:12-13)

The author is alluding here to the Day of Atonement. This was the only sacrifice which was outside the temple and outside the camp, and the only one which the priest had no right to eat.
In God's infinite love, He sacrificed His only Son outside the camp to be our Atonement, but
this time to be a sacrifice which we can eat. The altar, as we shall soon see, is in Heaven.

The author of Hebrews goes through great length in Chapter 7 to compare Jesus to Melchizedek of Salem. The author presumes his Jewish readers are intimately familiar with this account and its significance in Jewish tradition, so for us let me recall it.

Melchizedek shows up only very briefly in Scripture: Genesis 14:18-20. That's it. Melchizedek did only one thing: He offered a sacrifice of bread and wine and blessed Abraham, for which Abraham offered him a tithe (a tenth of all he owned). We know it is a sacrifice because offering sacrifices is what priests do. Paul compares Melchizedek, who collected a tithe, to the Levite priests, who collected a tithe for their services, but who did not have a priesthood which lasted forever.

Melchizedek is the only priest of God ever recorded until Aaron arrives on the scene hundreds of years later. As Paul says, Melchizedek was undoubtedly greater than Abraham, because the greater blesses the lesser. (Hebrews 7:5-7)

Scripture declares that Jesus is a priest forever, a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 7:15-17)

  • Why?

Because his priesthood lasts forever, it is true. But also because Jesus offers a sacrifice to God under the forms of bread and wine, just like Melchizedek did, the bread and the wine being the Eucharist.

But one will protest, Jesus' priestly work is over!!

  • But is it?

Certainly, His sacrifice on Calvary is finished, perfect, and complete. But Hebrews says,

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. (Hebrews 7:23-24)

This Jesus, . . .

"serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. . . . But the ministry that Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is a mediator is superior to the old one . . ."

(Hebrews 8:1-6)

The author points out that the Jewish tabernacle was intended to be an image of the Heavenly One. That is to say, there is a Heavenly Temple with a Heavenly tabernacle and sanctuary (described in Revelation 5) where Jesus is ministering.

Take note of this. It says that if Jesus were on earth, he would not be a priest. Jesus' priestly ministry is in the true tabernacle, which is in Heaven, not on earth (cf. Hebrews 9:11).
His priesthood is permanent; he continually intercedes for us.

  • What is his ministry there?

To cleanse us with the blood of his one sacrifice, and enable us to enter (mystically, through the Eucharistic celebration) the Most Holy Place in heaven (10:19).

  • How do we enter?

Through the curtain of his body (10:20), which we consume in the Most Holy Eucharist.

In Revelation 5, we see this tabernacle more clearly. There is an altar there, and a Lamb looking as if it had been slain. This is the altar which we eat from, from which we receive the All-Holy Body and Blood of Christ, which He sacrificed once for all on Calvary to cleanse us from our sins.

Paul alludes to the sacrificial character of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 10:14. I've already mentioned how he emphasizes that it is a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, which can only imply a participation in the sacrifice of Calvary. Paul goes on to explain that we cannot eat of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. He first appeals to the Jewish tradition, reminding them that those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar. We have already discussed how Hebrews ties this to the Eucharist. He goes on say that the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, and for this reason you cannot:

  • drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, or
  • eat from the Lord's table and the table of demons.

It is obvious that he regards the Eucharist as a sacrifice, as he has compared it both to pagan sacrifices and to Israelite sacrifices, doing so, to prove his point.

The early Christians understood this clearly. St. Clement, the bishop of Rome, wrote in 80 A.D. to the Corinthians (chapter 40), in rebuking the Corinthians who had overthrown their presbyters:

"Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity."

Another first century document, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (the Didache), explains in Chapter 9:2 and Chapter 14:1:

"Regarding the Eucharist ... Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: Do not give to dogs what is sacred."

"On the Lord's own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations." (Malachi 1:11, 14)

Here the author not only refers to the prophecy of Malachi, but warns that our sacrifice — the Eucharist — must be pure.

Not much later, in 180 A.D., the martyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons explains in his work, Against Heresies (4, 18, 2):

"It is not oblations as such that have met with disapproval. There were oblations of old; there are oblations now. There were sacrifices among the people of Israel; there are sacrifices in the Church. Only the kind of oblation has been changed: now it is offered by freemen, not by slaves. There is one and the same Lord, but the character of an oblation made by slaves is distinctive, so too that of an oblation made by sons: their oblations bear the mark of freedom.

"We must make oblation to God, and in all things be found pleasing to God the Creator, in sound teaching, in sincere faith, in firm hope, in ardent love, as we offer the first fruits of the creatures that are his. The Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator when it makes its offering to him from his creation, with thanksgiving.

"We offer him what is his, and so we proclaim communion and unity and profess our belief in the resurrection of flesh and spirit. Just as bread from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, made up of two elements, one earthly and one heavenly, so also our bodies, in receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, for they have the hope of resurrection."

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

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