chapter four

New Traditions are established for the New Sacrifice

    The Apostles were charged to carry on what Christ had instituted. Guided by His teachings and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, they went out to preach the Good News and to baptize countless converts, bringing them into the fold despite the intense persecutions that hounded them wherever they went. They took refuge in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its embryo stage borrowing from both the Judaic rite and customs and traditions of the Gentiles to build the structure of the New Sacrifice and perpetuate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This was accomplished in an uneasy atmosphere of the torture and slaughter of a growing mass of believers who would not deny that Jesus Christ was truly their Hope and Salvation for He would be with His Church always - "even to the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:20).

    As we saw in the last chapter, the New Sacrifice was phasing out many of the Jewish traditions that had been a landmark of the Hebrew liturgy for thousands of years. Though the new Christian faith was a split from the Jewish faith, some of the Jewish traditions remained within the Mass such as the Amens, Alleluias, and Sanctus, which proclaims Isaiah's chant with the angels present in all of their magnificence (cf. Isaiah 6:3), "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory." It was a perfect vehicle for passage from the Offertory to the Consecration of the Eucharist.

    Though the etimology of the word Eucharist comes from the Greek eu meaning "well or good" and charizesthal which means "to show favor or thanks," it really evolves from the Jewish custom for it was Christ Who instituted the New Sacrifice on the eve of His death with His Passover prayer of thanksgiving. Thus it was a "thanksgiving for good." It seems truly an understatement when you consider the magninimity of this. However, as mentioned earlier, Jesus used the framework of the old to introduce the new. The Apostles realized this and preserved as many of the traditions as possible while still proclaiming and celebrating the New Covenant. Thanksgiving prayers have always been a an integral part of the Mass for within the structure of the New Sacrifice is the meal and, following Christ's example, we give thanks for what we are about to consume. This custom continues today with "Grace" before and after our regular meals so it's only proper that it continue to be an important part of the ultimate meal -- the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

    Just as in the Judaic rite, the sacrificial part of the ritual was an essential element of the Mass. The only difference was that in the New Covenant the sacrifice was an unbloody one on the altar of love -- the re-enactment of the Sacrifice of the Lamb on Calvary whereas in the Old Testament it was the Zebah Todah in which a lamb was sacrificed on the altar of fire and that which was not consumed by flames was distributed to those who offered it. This became both a sacrifice and a meal, which the Mass truly is for after the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into His Body and Blood there is a "communion" -- a sharing of this miracle and graces with all who are worthy or in the state of Grace. Thus the phrase "Holy Communion" came to be.

    Though there have been accounts of "breaking of bread," most do not verify if it were truly leavened bread or large pieces of unleavened bread. Also, just as Jewish law dictated that the bread used would be unleavened so also the Church today continues to direct us to use unleavened hosts as bread in the liturgy of the Mass. This has been the mainstay of contemplative orders for centuries -- making unleavened hosts.

    Another preservation taken from Jewish custom are the Psalms which are read at every Mass. While we remember the Old Testament we so so in relationship to what Jesus taught and instituted.

    This was the heart of what the Apostles taught and as they grew in wisdom and piety, so also the persecution intensified for their zeal could not be hidden. This is chronicled in Acts 3 and 4 when Saint Peter and Saint John were interrogated about their healing and preaching and ordered to be silent. But, in a move which clearly illustrated their break with Jewish law and their embracement of the New Covenant, the Apostles said: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4: 19-20) and "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, Whom you put to death, hanging Him on a tree. Him God exalted with His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, Whom God has given to all who obey Him" (Acts 5: 29-32).

    This prompted the beginning of the open persecutions that still continue nearly 2000 years later. In the next issue we shall discuss the first persecutor of the Christians who was, of course, Saul, a Pharisee who made it his personal crusade to flush out and convict these radical people who persisted in a religious zeal that threatened the Jewish order of things. As we know, God in His Wisdom, allowed evil for good ... a good that would bring the Church a saint for all ages -- Saint Paul.