My wife, son and I spent the weekend in London (Ontario) recently with my wife’s family to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. With the 3-hour drive through rush-hour traffic on Friday evening, the 3-hour return on Sunday afternoon and all the festivities and preparations in between, it was a very tiring weekend – but it was a happy tire.
One of the many highlights from the full weekend was Sunday morning Mass at Mary Immaculate parish. I always look forward to going to Mass at Mary Immaculate because it is the parish where we got married. Joyful warmth always comes over me when I remember looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar and I think of how Christ was, and still is, looking down in benediction on our marriage.
Fr. John Comiskey added to the joyful spirit stoking in my heart that particular Sunday with his homily. I was pleasantly surprised that Fr. Comiskey wanted to talk a little bit of the theology of the Eucharist in his homily, more specifically the words said by the priest just before the distribution of the Eucharist to the congregation:
Behold the Lamb of God. Behold he who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
Father began his homily by sharing the scriptural sources of The Supper of the Lamb in the Book of Revelations:
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out to all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the lamb, (Rev 5:5-8)
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and the testimony they had given; (Rev 6:9)
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:9)
Fr. Comiskey then went on to explain that the Book of Revelations isn’t exactly what the modern media would have us to take it as – an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. An interpretation I myself once fell into in a feeble attempt to write pop-fiction murder-mystery novel. In hindsight, perhaps it’s a good thing I was never able to find a publisher. Instead, much like Dr. Scott Hahn in his book titled The Lamb’s Supper, Fr. Comiskey reminded us that the Book of Revelations was written at a time when the nascent Christian Church was under extreme persecution by the Roman Empire, and that the imagery in the Book of Revelation was used to give hope to Christians suffering from this state sponsored persecution. Taken in this context we can see the supper of the Lamb as the Eucharist, Christ’s Passover meal, marrying himself to his church and conquering the evil of the world’s sin through Christ’s broken body on the cross.
Throughout the homily I was cheering inwardly. This is the kind of knowledge that Catholic’s need as they are mocked in the world for their devotion to their faith. This is the kind of knowledge that sets my heart on fire each time I approach the Eucharist that brings tears to my eyes, sets a fire in my heart and physically draws me towards the Tabernacle.
“There is so much more!” I wanted to add to Fr. Comiskey’s homily. I wanted to share what I’ve learned from reading Dr. Hahn, Fr. Barron and especially Dr. Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist that has helped me heighten my love for the Eucharist. Although all of this is too deep and complex to unpack in a single blog post, there are still a couple of things I wanted to add.
Firstly, in citing St. Jerome’s Dialogue with a Jew, Dr. Pitre recounts how, in the time of Christ, the sacrificial lamb that was too be eaten at the Jewish Passover meal, the Passover meal which Jesus ate himself, was roasted on a cruciform spit. So when Christ referred to himself as the Paschal Lamb while instituting the Eucharist, he was referring to the way he was going to die.
Both Dr. Pitre and Dr. Hahn explain and show how the Gospels of the New Testament are the fulfillment of the Old Testament. In linking the Eucharist to the Old Testament both make reference to the Bread of the Presence or the Bread of the Face. The Bread of the Presence of the Bread of the Face (both referring to God’s presence or God’s face) was the Old Testament sacrifice of the priest Melchizedek. The Bread of the Presence, in the form of Manna, was central to Old Testament Jewish worship, being kept in the Ark of the Covenant alongside the tablets of the 10 Commandments and the Rod of Aaron – it was that important to the Ancient Jews.
Although I’m amazed by this Old Testament link to Christ’s Passover, the supper of the Lamb, it’s what would happen with the Bread of the Presence at the time of Christ that completely floors me. In his Dialogue with a Jew St. Jerome recounts how, during the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem, the temple priests would bring the Bread of the Presence out of the Holy of Holies to present it to the Jewish faithful. Holding the Bread of the Presence aloft for the crowds to see, the priest would proclaim: “Behold the God who loves you.”
Now, every Sunday, when the priest holds aloft the Eucharist and proclaims:
Behold the Lamb of God. Behold he who comes to take away the sins of the world.
I also hear:
Behold the God who loves you.
and, although I am not worthy that he should enter under my roof; blessed am I to have been called to the supper of the Lamb.