Word Magazine April 1960 Page 4-5
THE HOLY EUCHARIST
by Father Michael Azkoul
Spring Valley, III.
Last month we considered the figures of Melchisedech, the heavenly Manna and the Rock of Horeb, and the Banquet in the Old Testament. These figures are not artificially put together, but are supposed to be interpreted as figures of the Eucharist as is shown by Christ and Saint Paul. Since the Old Testament prophecies Christ, it is not unusual that it also speaks of His Body and Blood present under the forms of bread and wine. We want to continue this study of the Old Testament figures with the greatest of them all, the Passover. It is written in the first part of Exodus 12:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the Land of Egypt saying: This month will be for you the beginning of all months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to the congregation of Israel and say: In the tenth day of this month they must take a lamb after the manner of their fathers… The lamb shall be without blemish and a spring lamb. . . and You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the month when the entire assembly of the congregation will kill it in the evening. And they shall take the blood and paint it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses where they live. . . For I shall pass through the land of Egypt this night and will kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. . . And the blood on the houses shall be a sign and when I see the blood, I will pass over you and the plague will not destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. And this day shall be for you a memorial which you must keep as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; you shall keep it forever Its a feast by command. . .’”.
The blood of the Passover Lamb will spare the life of the firstborn. The destruction of God will “pass over” those whose house is painted with the blood of the Lamb. By the blood the destruction will know that the occupants confess the God of Israel. In commemoration of this marvelous event, this effort of God to save His people from the Pharaoh, the congregation of Israel must institute a yearly feast of the Passover.
How is this a figure of the Eucharist? Listen to Saint Justin: “Those who were saved in Egypt, were saved by the blood of the Pasch (Gr.) with which they anointed doorposts and lintels. For the Pasch was Christ, who was later sacrificed. And, as the blood of the Pasch saved those who were in Egypt, so the blood of Christ was to preserve them who have believed in Him…” (Dial. cxi, 4); and Saint Augustine: “The Passion of Christ was prefigured by the Jewish people when they received the command to mark the doors of their houses with blood… (P.L.xl.325).
“The Lamb of God” . . . “the first born”
Now, we know that St. John called Christ “the Lamb of God” (Jn. i,29) and Saint Paul called him “the first born” (Rom. viii,29). He is “male” and “without blemish.” Spring is a symbol for life. Christ is eaten by the congregation of the new Israel (i.e., the Church) in the night (i.e., in this world of darkness). And Hippolytus says: “You will eat in a house: there is one synagogue, there is one house, there is one Church in which the holy body of Christ is eaten.” (Hom. Pas., 41) . The interpretation of the house where the Pasch is to be eaten is a figure of the unity of the Church. To take part in it one must be “in the house,” i.e., the Church. For us this “one house” is spiritual, the Church as a unity of true believers in Christ.
“We are co-crucified with Him …”
These true believers are “firstborn” who are spared because they have received the Blood of Christ. These are “firstborn because they are identified with Christ, the First Born. They are also lambs identified with the Lamb of God. We are co-crucified with Him and offered to the
Father. This Blood of the Lamb, when drunk, fills our beings and marks the doorposts of our souls. Destruction passes over. Thus, when we drink the Blood and eat the Flesh of the Lamb of God, we are spared from destruction seeing that we are consecrated to the Father in the offering of the Son. St. Cyril of Alexandria says: “The communion in the holy body and drinking of the saving blood contains the confession of the Passion and death received for us by Christ, as He said Himself while instituting the laws of the Sacrament for His own People: ‘Whenever you eat this bread and drink this chalice you announce the death of the Lord. . .” (lxix, 428c) . As the Feast of the Passover is a commemoration of the saving of Old Israel by the slain Lamb’s blood and the eating of its flesh, so the Eucharist, which is the Flesh and Blood of Christ, which we consume, is the salvation of the new Israel or the Church.
“We must die in order to live. . .”
Strange as it may seem, Passover means also passing over from death to life. We must die in order to live. We must die to the world so that we may pass over to life eternal. We must be crucified with Christ in order to be resurrected with Him. As Saint Paul said (Gal. ii, 20): “I have been crucified with Christ yet, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If we do not understand how it is that we are crucified with Christ, we will if we “all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. iv, 13). Spiritual unity and knowledge in Christ is attained by our joint participation in the Lamb of God who marks the door-posts of our souls with the blood of redemption which allows the destruction of God “to pass-over” us. If we live in the “one house” or the Church wherein the Lamb is eaten, where there is the commemoration of the Death of Christ, God will spare us.
Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Passion of Christ
This meal or the Passover Lamb was even in Judaism “a Sacrament of Salvation.” But it was figurative. In the Holy Eucharist, the reality which the lamb foretold, is now present under the forms of bread and wine. The Eucharist is seen to be the eating of the true Paschal Lamb. It is the lamb that is killed and eaten and whose blood is painted on the door-posts of our souls. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Passion of Jesus Christ. It is the memorial of the Passion and a participation in the mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The Paschal (Gr. Suffering) Lamb was the Sacrament of the Old Testament recalling God’s favor on the people of Israel; so the Eucharist is the “blood of the New Testament, shed for the remission of sins.”
Each Liturgy a Commemoration
The Liturgy is very much like the Passover meal, but the Lamb sacrificed in it is the very Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Christ is present on the altar and given to us in the “one house” to be eaten and drunk. Each Liturgy, however, is not a new sacrifice, but a commemoration, i.e., real in the present time. The same sacrifice of the Lamb on the Cross is made present by the Holy Spirit through the priest and in the congregation of the new Israel. Notice that the word in Greek for “commemorate” is “anamnesis” or “remember” or “re-join” aside from being made present in our minds. Christ and the Church join in one offering to the Father. It is not many lambs that are sacrificed on the altar, but the one Lamb, the Lamb of the Cross. The offering at the Liturgy is the same as that made on the Cross, the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God who died for our sins. It does not take place once a year, but at each Liturgy. “pass-over” us who have taken into our bodies and souls “the food of immortality” as Saint Ignatius of Antioch said. Those who have become the brothers of Christ and to other men because of Him by Baptism, those who have become members of the “firstborn” who partake of the common meal which is the Flesh and Blood of the perfect, unblemished, Spring Lamb, are saved. We are in the Lamb, in Christ, and are offered in Him to the Father as a pure sacrifice which He accepts as an atonement for sins. It does not take place once a year, but at each Liturgy. The Eucharist is not a sacred symbol of the Passion as the Feast of the Passover is a sacred symbol of that time when God passed by those homes painted with the blood of the Lamb, rather the Eucharist is the same Sacrifice offered by God on Calvary. Though it occurs in time, as did the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist as the Crucifixion is above time, eternal, the eternal act of the eternal Son to the Eternal Father, an Act to which we are joined by faith and Baptism. Identified with that Sacrifice, which is not many, whether as to time or number, but one (Christ together with the Church), we are saved. We are not saved individually, but together, in the one Church which is united to that same Christ that sacrificed Himself for the world. The Eucharist is consumed in the “one house,” the Holy Eastern Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, the Church of the Lamb, the Church of the Eternal Father.
“The Paschal meal …a messianic feast”
Let us remember that the Eucharist is consumed, eaten, drunk. It is a banquet, as we mentioned in our last lecture. Like the banquet of Wisdom the Passover meals were taken in the Temple, or for us that means, the Temple of Christ, His Body, or the Church. The Paschal meal was considered in Judaism as a figure of the kingdom to come, considered as a messianic feast. “The thought of the Paschal or Passover meal,” writes J. Leenhardt (Le sacrement de la Sainte Gene, p. 21). “was dominated by the memory of the redemption that had already been accomplished should fulfill definitely the virtualities of the first.” And Jesus said to His Apostles: “I have greatly desired to eat this Pasch with you before I suffer. For, I say unto you, I will eat it no more until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God” (Luke xxii, 15). Thus, the Pasch eaten by Christ with His disciples before the Passion is the same kind that Christ will invite His own in the Kingdom of the Father. The Church is the beginning of that Kingdom. Nevertheless, Jesus is referring ultimately to the Great Banquet in Heaven.
Holy Eucharist Anticipated by the Passover
Between the Jewish Passover and the Great Banquet in Heaven, the Holy Eucharist is an intermediate link. It is the anticipated realization of the Heavenly world. The Holy Eucharist was anticipated by the Passover. The Holy Eucharist is the anticipation of the Heavenly Feast. But there is a difference between the Passover and the Eucharist: the Passover is a figurative anticipation while the Eucharist is a realized anticipation. This means that the Passover is like a prophecy, but the Eucharist is making present now what is going to be in Heaven: union with God and our brothers in Christ. In other words, the Christian Pasch or Passover tells us about the future, even as did the Jewish Pasch, with the single difference that the Jewish Pasch prophesizes the coming of Christ, while the Christian Pasch already shares in the world to come. This is called “eschatology.” The Eucharist is “eschatological”: making the realities of Heaven present now, not in symbols or even prophecies but mysteriously now, during each celebration of the Christian Pasch, the Feast of the Holy Eucharist, the Lamb, the Body and Blood of the Firstborn.