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Holy Sacrifice: Zevah shelamim - Hattat - Passover Lamb

menorah - solomon - savior - hanukkah

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy


Before considering the second aspect of the history of the Mass, its historical roots dating back to the earliest of times, let us pause to consider the intrinsic nature and essential character of sacrifice. The word comes from sacer and facere - to make sacred.8

One can define sacrifice as a two-fold act, the purpose of which is to bring a gift to God, and also to sanctify the person who gives it. Now it may seem cruel to us to sacrifice an animal, but in effect, life is a gift of the Creator, as is everything such as food which goes to maintain life. And so it is that we offer to the creator some part of that which He has given us. Usually this is the best part - the first fruits or the unblemished lamb. Now, as a result of the Fall of Adam, man had to die. In performing a living sacrifice, an animal is offered up in the place of man so that man can, as it were, be returned to the Edenic state in which there is no death. In some of the ancient pagan sacrifices, before the animal was killed, those responsible prayed God to enter the animal; and after the animal was killed, the priest would wear the animal's skin. The animal dies in our place - or we offer up the animal as we should offer ourselves up. As St. Thomas said: 'Exterius sacrificium signum est interioris sacrificii - exterior sacrifice is the sign of interior Sacrifice.' In the Mass the animal is replaced by Christ Himself. It is in this sense that Christ died for us or died for our sins that we might live. As a result of his Sacrifice, we are said 'to put on Christ.' By offering ourselves up with Christ - by participating and partaking of this sacrifice we offer up the 'old man.' This is why we must be baptized with Christ, die with Christ, and be resurrected with Christ into life everlasting.

The admonition to 'put on Christ' carries with it yet another implication. Adam was created in 'the image and likeness of God.' After the fall Adam lost the likeness, but still retained the 'image' of Christ. In his fallen state, he recognized that he was naked and was ashamed. As St. Symeon teaches, 'he was stripped of that uncorrupt garment and glory, and was clothed in the nakedness of corruption.' And before expelling him from Paradise, God clothed him in animal skins which as St. Augustine tells us, was a sign of man's new found corruptibility. Tradition has it that Christ was naked like the first Adam when he was crucified, a condition which we because of our fallen nature see as yet another humiliation. It is the Sacrifice of Christ that reversed the fall of Adam, and we by participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, cast off our corruptible animal nature and once again 'put on Christ.'

Again, when a live animal is offered, it is a bloody sacrifice: thus we see how the ancient Jewish sacrifices prefigured the bloody Sacrifice of Christ. Christ is, as St. Paul says, 'the first-born of all Creation.' (Col. I: 15-16) Now, according to St. Iranaeus, 'we offer up the first fruits of creation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice: all creation is recapitulated in Christ and offered to God.'

* * *

We should not be surprised to find the roots of our traditional Mass in the practices of the Old Dispensation, for Christ told us that he did not come to destroy, but to fulfil the law of the Prophets. We know from the Canon that the Mass is closely linked to the Sacrifice of Abel the just, the Sacrifice of Abraham, the Father of our race, the sacrifice of Noah, and that of the high priest Melchisedch who also offered 'a victim without blemish.' (The reason for the use of bold letters will become clear later.) Now these Sacrifices were precursors of the Mass. As St. Augustine teaches, 'in the Old Law the New was hidden, and in the New Law the Old was unfolded,' and as St. Paul tells us, the Old Law 'contained the shadow of the good things to come.' The rites established by the Old Law were incorporated into the Mass and as it were perfected by the Mass. And just as the rites of the Old Law were established on the Mount 'in exact detail,' as Moses tells us, so also, as we shall see, were the essential rites of the New Covenant. The reason these four sacrifices are specifically mentioned in the traditional Mass is that they in a special manner prefigure the Crucifixion.

The first type of holy sacrifice of the Mass was the sacrifice of Abel who offered a burnt offering of the firstlings of his flock. We learn that this offering - it was a lamb - was pleasing to Almighty God, for Scripture tells us 'The Lord kindled Abel's sacrifice,' which means that it was a holocaust or a burnt offering where the consuming flames came from above. So it is in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; when the priest has offered the oblation of bread and wine upon the altar, and pronounced the words of consecration over them, the Holy Ghost, the divine fire, descends from heaven and consumes the oblation, changing it into the true body and blood of Christ.9

The second type of holy sacrifice was that offered by the patriarch Noah. As we read in Scripture, 'Noah built an altar unto the Lord, and taking of all cattle and fowls that were clean, offered holocausts upon the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savor, and said: I will no more curse the earth for the sake of man.'

We find a third type of sacrifice in Abraham who offered up his son Isaac who carried the wood for his holocaust. It is said in Scripture of Abraham that he 'built an altar to the Lord, and called upon His name.' The same is likewise said of Isaac and Jacob.

The fourth type of sacrifice is that of Melchisedech who, as we know, is a type of Christ.10

The sacrifice offered by Aaron and all other priests of the Mosaic law formed a fifth type. One of these was the Rite of the Red Heifer which was referred to by St. Paul in Hebrews, Chapter 13. In Numbers, Chapter 19, we find that this was a rite of purification. The red Heifer had to be ritually clean, without spot or blemish. (Again, bold letters.) And this Heifer had to be brought outside the camp as Galgotha is outside of Jerusalem, and be immolated in the sight of all - immolated by being burnt with cedar wood which is the wood of the Cross.

It is very difficult to specify all the various rituals and sacrifices which the Jews practiced. It would appear that in the law of Moses God appointed three principle kinds of sacrifices to be offered to Him by the whole Jewish nation - primarily in the Temple at Jerusalem - the burnt offering, the peace offering and the sin offerings. The burnt offering was a sacrifice of adoration in recognition of the supreme majesty of God; in this the victim was entirely consumed. The peace offering was in thanksgiving and/or to propitiate the divine favor and appease God's anger; in this part of the victim was burned, another part reserved for the priests, and a third part attributed to those for whom the sacrifice was offered. The sin offering was expiatory, which is to say, to obtain forgiveness of sin and remission of the penalty of sin. These correspond to the four ends of the traditional Mass: a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, propitiation, and impetration or petition.

Father Lucas points out that for the attainment of the end ultimately desired, viz., full fellowship with God, it was needful that obstacles should first be removed; and accordingly, in the actual carrying out of the ritual, the sin offering took precedence over the other kinds of sacrifice (Lev. Xvi.3). After the sin offering, the holocaust; and then, to put the seal – as it were – upon the reconciliation already effected, came the thank offering or peace offering (Lev. Ix. 8,12,18).

Among the bloody sacrifices, the most important was the holocaust called in Hebrew 'OLA. In this sacrifice the bullock, after having been bled - the blood being sprinkled on the altar, in the sanctuary, and over the people - was entirely incinerated by the fire on the altar i.e., it was entirely offered up to God. This was the type of sacrifice that Gideon offered up in Judges 6.26; and Samson in Judges 13, verses 15 to 20. This is well described in Exodus: 'and they offered holocausts, and sacrificed pacific victims of calves to the Lord. Then Moses took half of the blood and put it into bowls; and the est he poured upon tha altar. And taking the book of the covenant, he read it in the hearing of the people... and he took the blood and sprinkled it upon the people and he said: This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.'

St. Paul refers to this when he says in Heb. ix, 20 that 'Moses sprinkled the blood of calves and goats upon all the people, saying: This is the blood of the testament which God has enjoined unto you.' When Christ consecrated the chalice at the Last Supper his words are almost identical: 'This is the new testament in My blood.' (St. Luke XXII.20). St. Paul adds, in the passage already quoted: 'It is necessary, therefore, that the patterns of heavenly things should be cleansed with these: but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.' By this he meant to say: the Jewish synagogue, which was a type of the Catholic Church is cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God. Now in order that anything be cleansed either with blood or with water, it must be sprinkled or moistened with blood or water. Thus, if our souls are cleansed by the blood of Christ in the Mass, they must be sprinkled therewith. Does this happen in our Mass? St. John Chrysostom tells us: 'Thou seest that Christ is immolated in the Mass, thou seest that the people present are sprinkled and marked with the crimson blood from His veins.' Marchantius, another church father says the same. 'The precious blood is shed in the Mass as a holy oblation, and the souls of the faithful who stand around are sprinkled with it.' The Beloved Apostle John also tells us that 'Jesus Christ hath loved us, and washed - not just sprinkled - us with His own blood.' (Apoc. 1.5). Of course, we do not see this blood any more than we see Christ's body - though individuals have been graced with visions in which for example, while holding the host over the chalice, the priest sees drops of blood falling into the chalice.

A second kind of sacrifice was the ZEVAH SHELAMIM, or the Sacrifice of Peace which was performed at the time of great solemnities. In this sacrifice one part of the immolated victim, the blood and the fat, was burnt; the remainder was eaten by the priests and the faithful. It was a sacrifice which prefigured Communion.

A third was called HATTAT and was a rite of purification for the expiation for sin. This is the rite performed at YOM KIPPUR, or the day of atonement. This rite involved two goats, one of which was sacrificed, and the other released into the wilds. The high priest extended his hands over a goat - just as the priest does over the chalice when saying the Hanc Igitur. The purpose of this was to convey the sins of the people and the priest to the goat. This goat was then burnt, the sacrifice ascending to the throne of God in odorem suavitatis. After this the second goat had a scarlet ribbon attached to his neck - scarlet being symbolic of sin - as in the phrase we still use of a 'scarlet woman.' And then the goat is led out to a deserted place and thrown down from a high precipice. In similar manner, after the scourging, Christ had a scarlet robe placed over his shoulders and tied around his neck by the Roman soldiers. This incidentally is the origin of the word 'scapegoat.' Christ embodied both aspects of this rite, and was, as St. Paul tells us, 'an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness' (Rom. III, 25). This rite is not unconnected with the challenge of Satan in asking Christ to cast himself down from the precipice. 11

Now the Jewish Pasch belongs to the type of sacrifice in which the animal offered is entirely consumed by men. The offerer was the head of the family and/or the priest, for the sacrifice of the Pasch was offered both in the home and in the temple. This rite was of the greatest importance to the Jews, for it commemorated their liberation from the slavery of Egypt and their entry into the promised land. PESAH signifies 'passage' and was the symbol that Christ had only in some way to 'vitalize' in order to make it an efficacious sign of the passage from death to life and from darkness into the light. It is by the immolation of the Divine Lamb that we are brought into the kingdom of the Father.

The Sacrifice of Christ incorporated all these previous sacrifices to a greater or lesser degree. As Pope St. Leo tells us, in His one sacrifice Our Lord has united and consummated the ancient rites with all their diversities (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost). St. Augustine tells us that the Sacrifice which the high priest of the New Testament, Jesus Christ, offers is the sacrifice of His body and blood, and that oblation takes the place of all the old ones which were only a shadow of that which was to be. And we find Christ Himself repeating the words of the thirty-ninth Psalm: ‘Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not, but a body thou has fitted for me’ (Heb. 10:5). An astronomer who read this paper pointed out something very startling to me. He noted that the Jewish calender had been changed several times over the course of history, and that when one combined all these calenders, the dates usually given for the three principle kinds of sacrifice actually could be made to come together at the time of the Crucifixion. Thus for example, it is known that the Essenes celebrated Yom Kippur at the same time as the Jews in Jerusalem were celebrating the Pasch.

In 1 Cor. 5, verses 7-8 St. Paul tells us that 'Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.' As St. Ambrose said, 'When we offer, Christ is present Christ is offering Himself, for Christ the Easter Lamb, our pasch is sacrificed' (in cap. 26. Mat.).12 It follows that if we are to understand the Mass one must consider the Paschal meal or Seder in greater detail, for it was this rite which Christ Himself chose for the institution of the Mass. In this rite, before the main meal a form of bread called meze is served. At the same time cups of wine are passed around. Both were blessed. In the Melkite Church this rite is still carried out before dinner on Friday evenings. This 'first chalice' at the Lord's Supper is described by St. Luke in XXII: 17. After this the guests washed their hands with perfumed water and the meal itself began. Christ replaced this with the washing of the Apostles feet. The main meal then commenced with the head of the family solemnly breaking bread and saying 'Blessed be Thou O Lord, who hath cause the earth to produce this bread.' It is undoubtedly at this moment that Christ consecrated the bread.

Next different courses were brought to the table and blessed. The main course was the paschal lamb and interestingly enough, it was forbidden that any bone should be broken during the cooking or eating of this victim. Cups of wine were served and each guest blessed his own cup. This is sometimes called the 'second chalice.' At the end of the meal the lamps were carried to the table. The lamp was the Menorah or seven candle stand such as Titus brought to Rome after the destruction of the temple, and which is carved on his triumphal arch. One mustn't confuse this with the currently used Jewish Menorah such as is used in the season of Hanakah, and which significantly has 8 candles. The temple Menorah which is figured on the triumphal arch in Rome was a seven candle stand always lit in the temple. The central candle was not lit because the Messiah had not yet come.13 Their place in the traditional Mass is represented by the six candles on the altar which are lit for high masses. The seventh or central candle is of course Christ our Lord.

Next there was a second washing of the hands. The table was then incensed following which the third chalice in which water was added to the wine was solemnly blessed by the head of the household or community who said: 'Blessed by Thou O Lord... who has created the fruit of the vine.' This was accompanied by a great thanksgiving for the material and spiritual blessings that had been received since the time of the exodus from Egypt - hence the name Eucharistica or thanksgiving. It was at this point that Our Lord introduced the Consecration of the Chalice.

The Seder has a fourth chalice which is consumed after the singing of the Hillel Psalms - especially Psalm 21 which foretells and describes the Crucifixion. But Scripture says nothing about this fourth cup or chalice being consumed at the Last Supper. Instead it tells us that after the Consecration of the Third Cup Jesus said 'I will not taste again of the fruit of the vine until I am entering into the Kingdom of God.' They then prayed the Psalms and he went out into the night.

No one can deny that the New Testament began at the Last Supper and not on the Cross. On Calvary Christ was dying, and by His death sealed the testament made at the Last Supper. It was on the eve of His final going to Golgotha that He promised the remission of our sins, saying 'This is my blood of the new and everlasting testament which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.' Nothing like that happened on the Cross.

What happened next?

According to the Scriptures, Jesus then went to the Garden of Gethsemani. Here he fell three times to the ground and cried out 'Abba, Father, All things are possible to Thee. Remove this chalice from me. Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.' What is this cup referring to? It can of course refer to the 'cup of wrath' which Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of, the chalice of wrath which the Messiah would have to drink. But it is even more closely related to the fourth cup of the Seder which Christ drank at the Crucifixion. You will remember that Christ was offered wine and myrrh while on the way to Calvary - myrrh is a kind of opiate which was meant to lessen the pain of crucifixion. But Christ refused.

There is a tradition that our Lord, hanging on the Cross, began to repeat- as we know from the Gospels, Psalm 21 - and repeating it and those that follow, gave up His most blessed Spirit when he came to the fifth verse of Psalm 30. Let us consider the 21st Psalm14:

My God my God, Why hast thou forsaken me? I am a worm of the earth and not a man the derision of men and the outcast of the people; All that see me laugh me to scorn; They whisper and shake their heads: He hoped in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him save him, since he has complacence in him...

They have dug my hands and my feet I can count all my bones They have divided my garments among them' for my tunic they cast lots.

Here we have then the story of the Crucifixion which is said in the Seder prior to the drinking of the last chalice. And how obliging were those who thought He was calling upon Elias because He cried out Eli, Eli, meaning 'My God, my God...'. They also fulfilled the Scriptures who derided him by saying 'if He is God, let him save Himself,' for as Christ said through David's mouth, 'All they that saw me scoffed at me: they spoke with their lips and tossed their heads, 'He relied on the Lord, let him deliver him, let him rescue him, since he loves him. This explains the seeming words of discouragement which Christ said on the Cross. But even more important, as Cornelius Lapide points out, in crying 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me, He made it clear that He was indeed the Person of whom the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of David. But let us continue with the Psalm:15

My throat is dried up like a potsherd of clay; My tongue cleaves to my palate.

At this point Christ on the Cross cries out 'I thirst.' He did this that 'Scripture might be fulfilled.' There was a bowl of wine near by - sour wine being vinegar, though many hold it to have been posca, a kind of thin wine which the Roman troops were supplied with when in the field. They put a sponge on a branch of hyssop - the very same plant used by the Jews to sprinkle blood on the door posts so that the angel of death would by pass their homes and their first born would not be taken, the same branch with which we are symbolically sprinkled in the Asperges. And dipping the sponge in the vinegar - actually, sour wine, they gave Christ to drink.16 After drinking it Jesus said, 'it is consummated,' a phrase so reminiscent of the phrase Ita Missa Est. St. John ends the story at this point, but Luke and Mark add a further phrase. After this He bowed his head and said 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.' This phrase is found in verse 5 of Psalm 30, is also one the priest repeats several times in his evening office.

One wonders whether Christ went on praying the Psalms to verse 5 of Psalm 30. One must of course remember that the numbering of Psalms has changed over the centuries. One should also note that Psalm 30 is a Psalm redolent with hope which starts out:

'In thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded: deliver me in thy justice. Bow down thy ear to me: make haste to deliver me. Be thou unto me a God, a protector and a house of refuge, to save me. For thou art my strength and my refuge; and for thy name's sake thou wilt lead me, and nourish me. Thou wilt bring me out of this snare which they have hidden for me: for thou art my protector. Into thy hands I commend my spirit: thou has redeemed me, O Lord the God of Truth.'

There is another explanation which the fathers give us for Christ's seeming despair. Many, facing death feel abandoned, and Christ concentrated in this moment, the duration of which is unknown to us, that complete despair and unspeakable grief of supreme abandonment. In assuming all our human weakness, he wished to sympathize with the sufferings of the poor human creature who no longer sees anything or knows anything, who counts upon no one, and expects neither remedy, nor solace, nor consolation. This is why I like to think that, after sharing our despairs, He turned to the psalm 30, a psalm of hope. For this is indeed the path which we must follow in our sorrows.

The seamless garment was prescribed for the High Priest in Jerusalem during the Pasch service in the Temple. Once again, this prefigured the true High Priest which is of course Our Lord Jesus Christ. And again, it was said of our Lord that 'not a bone shall be broken.' It was of course the custom to break the legs of the crucified if they took too long to die - once their legs were broken they hung limply on the cross and could no longer take in an adequate breath. But there is yet another connection. When the sacrificial lamb for the Pasch was examined, if it was found to have a broken bone, it would be discarded and replaced. Once again we see fulfilled St. Paul's words, 'Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.'

Now all these events occurred within a 24 hour period; there is a continuity between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, for the Jewish day was from sundown to sundown. And Christ was, in accord with Jewish custom, buried before sundown.


8 Novus Ordo theologians actually described the process of creating the new mass as a 'desacrelization' and a 'dymystification.'

9 Cochem's Explanation of the Holy Mass.

10 That the sacrifice of Melchisedech was a figure of the Sacrifice of the Mass. St. Paul explains this in his letter to the Hebrews, Chapters VII, VIII, and IX. He expatiates at length on the priesthood of Christ showing that Christ was a priest but not of the order of Aaron, because He was not of the tribe of Levi whose sons alone were ordained to the priesthood. Being of the generation of Juda, from which kings were chosen, Christ was a King and, therefore a priest according to the order of the King-priest Melchisedech. The two priesthoods differed in two things. In the first place, Aaron sacrificed the blood of animals, while Melchisedech offered bread and wine. Secondly, the priesthood of Aaron was temporal and was to terminate, but the priesthood of Melchisedech, or Christ, was eternal, and its institution was sealed with an oath of God concerning which the Psalmist writes: 'And the Lord hath sworn and he will not repent. Thou are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech' (Ps. 109:14). St Cyprian tells us 'Christ offered that which Melchisedech offere, bread and wine, that is His body and blood' (Lib.2, ca.3). It is of great significance that all references to Melchisedech have been eliminated from the new mass as well as from the new ordination rites.

11 This sacrifice is described in Levitics, Chapter 16. Actually, two male goats were brought to the high priest. One was sacrificed to the Lord as an offering and the other sent away 'living.' Origin states that this prefigured Pilate demanding of the Jews that they choose between Christ and Barabbas. It was Barrabas who was sent out into the wilderness bearing with him the sins of the people who cried out and said 'crucify, crucify.' It was Christ who was offered to God as an offering to atone for sins.

12 Christ was a priest on the Cross. He is the eternal priest, for He daily makes His offering through the hands of His priests.

13 The Menorah is 'a nine branched candelabra used a Hanukkah commonly referred to as a mannorah, although a more accurate description for it would be 'Chanukah'. Menorah is actually the word for the candelabra consisting of 6 or 8 branches, which is used in the synagogue. The original temple menorah had seven branches, but the use of seven branches is avoided today so that we might draw a distinction between worship today and worship when the temple was still in existence.' Ruth Rosen, Jews for Jesus, A Messianic Jewish Perspective, San Francisco, Calif., 1987

14 Rabbi Solomon, a ancient Jewish commentator on the psalms, predicted that the Messiah in the midst of His sufferings would sing this Psalm aloud. (Commentary on the Psalms, Rev. J. Neale and R Littledale, Moseph masters, London, 1884.

15 St Leo speaks to this in his De Pass. s. 16: by noting that in the Savior’s statement Deus mesu, Deus mesus, ut quid dereliquiste me? (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) our Savior was not complaining but teaching - Vox ista doctrina est, non querela. 'Jesus Christ did not thus speak to the eternal Father to be delivered from death, nor was he speaking of his own abandonment, but of the abandonment of grace, of which all men would have remained deprived if he had not died for our salvation. He was praying then in our name, that we might be delivered from eternal death; in our name also he prayed for his resurrection, to make us also have a share therein. so that he then put himself in our place, and thus prayed not to be abandoned, whilst at the same time he offered up his own death in order to save us from the abandonment that we deserved, and he did not die himself until he had at first made our salvation secure. This is the reason why, towards the end of the psalm, he gives thanks to his Father, and sings the fruits of his victory.'

16 I have not found this reference in any Church father. It is referred to by Gerald Metatics in his discussion of the Mass. The English translation of the Divine Office for the Third Nocturn of the Feast of the Precious Blood does translate the word acetum (vinegar) as 'wine.'

dymystification - desacrelization - zevah shelamim - hattat - passover lamb - levitics - melchisedech - cross - menorah - solomon - savior - gerald metatics - hanukkah

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