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
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:
- The lamb was sacrificed
- its blood smeared on the
- 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.
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)
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
|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)
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.
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)
|14 He grants peace
to your borders, and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
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:
top one represents Abraham
- the middle one his son Isaac, and
- the third
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:
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."
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
We eat the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. See verse
". . . 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 . . ."
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,
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)
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!!
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)
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 . . ."
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).
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
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
- 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,