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The Passover and the Mass


“The Mass of the faithful, the eucharistic banquet is a transformation of the Israelites’ religious banquets, especially of the paschal feast in the course of which Jesus instituted the Eucharist. This transformation is radical, for it fulfills the promises of the ancient rites while illuminating them with a brilliance before inconceivable.” – Rev. Louis Bouyer, The Paschal Mystery.

For two hundred and ten years the Children of Israel lived in Egypt – in the land of Goshen. At first, they enjoyed their life there, as they were in the favor of the ruling Pharaohs because of the wisdom and foresight of Joseph, son of Jacob the Patriarch, who had saved Egypt from a terrible famine.

  After about one hundred years of harmony and contentment, the reigning class turned against the Israelites. They realized that the former minority was fast growing into a powerful force. Over the years the Israelites had taken ownership of vast areas of the country. Pharaoh had the male children of the Israelites slain, so that when the Israelite women married, they would marry Egyptians and the land would revert back into Egyptian control.

In addition, the Egyptians imposed heavy tasks upon the Israelites, and subjugated them completely. From time to time, small bands of men from various tribes would attempt to save themselves from this enforced bondage, but their efforts always proved in vain. Day by day the Children of Israel slipped further into the quagmire of hopelessness until the majority of them became actual slaves, forced to do all sorts of menial labor, and erecting tombs and buildings for their oppressors.

Their plight grew steadily worse, until the Lord took pity upon them, and sent them a savior in the person of Moses, son of Amram. Moses was a man born in Egypt XE "Egypt"  and reared by Egyptians. His name can be connected with a Semitic root that means, “bring or take out, remove, extract.”

Under God’s direction, Moses had an extraordinary and transforming experience on mount Horeb, and became the instrument of God’s plan  to rescue the Hebrews from the oppression of Pharaoh Ramesses II (Exod. 3:1-6). The Bible tells of God’s visiting upon the Egyptians a series of divine punishments in the form of ten plagues.

The drama came to a conclusion with the Passover (Exod. 12:23-27; Isa. 31:5). The word Passover signifies the passage of Yahweh (God), who passed over the Israelite houses and struck down the first born of the Egyptians (Exod. 11:5). This, the final plague, on the night of the fourteenth of Nissan, took the life of Pharaoh’s own son. Pharaoh then relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt under the leadership of Moses. For this reason the festival that is now celebrated by Jews for eight days beginning at sundown on the fourteenth of Nissan is known as “Pesach” (Passover), to commemorate the Israelites freedom from slavery.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states: “The Paschal mystery of Christ’s cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world. God’s saving plan was accomplished ‘once for all’ by the redemptive death of His Son Jesus Christ” (§571).

The heart of all Catholic liturgy is the celebration of the Paschal mystery, which is the belief in Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Roman liturgy, the priest prays before Communion in these significant words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world”.

By His sacrifice, Christ brought us out of the slavery of sin into a new freedom of righteousness. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:17-18).

Catholics share in the Paschal Mystery whenever we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and also when we earnestly offer our sufferings, both small and large, to God, acknowledging that only He can use them by uniting them to the redemptive suffering of His Son Jesus.

The Passion and Death of Jesus infallibly resulted in His glorious Resurrection. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul wrote: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4).

Pope John Paul II, spoke to this issue in his General Audience of June 10, 1998: “By communicating his Spirit to us, Christ enters our life, so that each of us can say, like Paul: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal 2:20). Our whole life thus becomes a continual Passover, a constant passing from death to life, until the final Passover, when we too will pass with Jesus and like Jesus ‘from this world to the Father’ (Jn 13:1). In fact, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons says, ‘those who have received and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is, to the Son, and the Son welcomes them and presents them to the Father, and the Father gives them incorruptibility’” (Demonst. Apost., 7).

Jesus' history did not end in death but lead to the glorious life of Easter. Christ’s death and resurrection opened the gates of heaven and when we offer our present sufferings and eventual death, in humble submission to God, we too will be resurrected. Jesus provided the example of obedience that we all must follow. We must pick up our crosses and follow him to Calvary, with the assurance that we will also rise with Him, glorious and immortal.


© 2004 Victor Claveau


Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.


"Where Life was slain and Truth was slandered

On that one holier hill than Rome."

-G. K. Chesterton



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved