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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… More On The Sacrifices Of The Old Law

April 8, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 23

Even though the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the Old Law of Moses are not relevant to Christians, because the New Covenant was established on the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary, it is important for those who want to know more about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to become acquainted with the ceremonies that prefigured it, in the Old Testament.
Then we realize that the Catholic rituals are not fanciful rites invented by some medieval Pope or early Christian writer, but reflect and develop the Mind of God Our Lord as expressed in the books of the Old Testament.
Anyone who wants to delve more deeply into those beautiful realities may enjoy an excellent book, available from TAN Publishers, called How Christ Celebrated the First Mass. It is an excellent explanation, from the points of view of history, archaeology, and Sacred Scriptures, about the origin and blossoming of the Church’s Sacred Liturgy.
If we could compare the Temple of Solomon to a beautiful caterpillar, the Catholic Church is the butterfly. It was born, or emerged, or blossomed from the former, more perfectly and complete, but left behind an empty cocoon, no longer useful for salvation.
There were three particularly important elements in the Old Law, namely, the Sacrifice of the Covenant, the Pasch, and the Day of Atonement. Let us take a brief look at each one of them.
These three festivals or solemnities require special mention, because they are referred to in important texts from the New Testament that will be quoted further on in this series of articles.
We read about the Sacrifice of the Covenant in Exodus 24, after Moses had spoken to God on Mount Sinai, and wrote the Lord’s words in the book of the Covenant. Moses sent some young Israelites to offer sacrifices, took half of the blood of the sacrifices, and poured it upon the altar.
Then he read the book of the Covenant to the people, who promised their obedience to the Covenant and Moses then sprinkled the rest of the blood upon the people, saying, “Behold the blood of the Covenant which the Lord has made with you.”
What happened afterward is not generally known to people who are not accustomed to paying attention to little details in the Bible.
Then Moses and Aaron and two others, with seventy elders of Israel, went up the mountain and “they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
Wow! Can you imagine? Those elders had dinner with God! And they saw Him — not as He is, of course, since they would have died and gone to Heaven, such is the powerful attraction of God’s infinite Beauty. God must have been with them in the form of an Angel, as in the days when He visited Adam and Eve in paradise, at the time of the afternoon breeze. Those were the days!
So, that was the sacrifice of the Covenant: It involved the killing of an animal, the reading of the Law to the people, and the sprinkling of the victim’s blood upon the audience. They promised to keep the Covenant.
Then comes the Pasch or Passover. The word Pasch means literally, “a passing by,” or Passover, and it was the most solemn of the Jewish festivals, and is set out in Exodus 12. Please read it there to get a fuller picture of the series of events. It commemorated Israel’s deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and the preservation of the firstborn of the Hebrews whom the angel of God spared (“passed by”) while he slew the firstborn of the Egyptians.
The people sacrificed a one-year-old male lamb without any defect, ate its meat with some bitter herbs, and marked outside their doors with the blood of the lamb. If they did not like lamb meat but preferred chicken, they were in trouble; or if they did not like the idea of smothering their front doors with animal blood, they were in trouble. The Angel of Death would not pass over their homes, but kill their firstborn. Even if anyone was visiting Egypt in those days and was a firstborn but did not perform the ritual, he would also be in trouble.
The Angel meant business. But there happened only in Egypt.
After the liberation and settlement of the Jews in the Holy Land, and especially after Solomon built the great Temple, the festival of the Passover could be celebrated only at Jerusalem, and was of seven days duration and occurred at the time corresponding to our Holy Week. God Our Lord was preparing them for the Catholic Church’s Lent time.
Strictly speaking, the name Pasch applied only to this preliminary rite; the seven days that followed were called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That is the bread the Church uses for the consecration at Mass. The Lamb sacrificed now is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

For Our Sins

The third important event was the Day of Atonement. It was called the day of solemn atonement or propitiation (in Hebrew, Yom Kippur) and was instituted for the expiation of all the sins and irreverent acts committed by the people during the course of the preceding year.
It was observed as a most rigorous fast, all food being prohibited from the previous evening to the evening of the festival. Our Lenten fasts reflect this procedure. The High Priest, clothed in linen vestments and wearing a linen miter (miters are used by our bishops today), offered a calf for the sins of his own household, and also two goats, but only one of which was slain, for the sins of the people.
He twice entered the Holy of Holies, taking with him on the first occasion the blood of the calf, and on the second the blood of the goat, to be sprinkled upon the Mercy-seat (Propitiatory), or poured out as the rite prescribed.
The fate of the second goat is well-known. The High Priest, laying his hands on the head of the live goat, confessed the sins of the people over it, and had the animal driven into the wilderness, as a sign that the people had renounced evil and had obtained forgiveness.
That is the origin of the expression “expiatory goat” or “scapegoat,” meaning someone who gets the blame and foots the bill of misdemeanors committed by others. This is precisely what happened to Our Lord Jesus Christ: He was the expiatory lamb for the sins of the whole of mankind.
Next article: Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrifices of the Old Law.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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