Bible Study: The Mass and the Old Testament (Lesson 2, Part 1)
For those who are just joining this study, we are going through the parts of the Catholic Mass and seeing how it is connected to the Bible. For a convert like me, it is fascinating to learn how the Mass picks up where the Bible leaves off. I learned that the Mass was the only way that Christians could encounter and learn about Jesus Christ for the first 1,500 years of Christianity (before the printing press was invented). As a matter of fact, the Catholic Mass is still the only way Christians can physically encounter Christ — His Body and Blood through the Eucharist. If you’re interested, the six parts to Lesson 1 can be found here. Please join me in exploring Lesson 2 – The Mass and the Old Testament, an online Bible study provided by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.
Biblical worship is the offering of sacrifice. Our worship in the Mass is likewise a form of sacrificial offering.
We hear this repeatedly in the Mass, although we may not notice it or fully understand what it means.
For instance, after the priest prepares the altar, he addresses us with these words: “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”
We respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His Name, for our good and the good of all His Church.”
Sacrifice was a universal practice in the religions of the ancient world and it is of the essence of the religious devotion and practice found in the Bible.
Here we have some examples of sacrifice in the Old Testament that prefigures what Catholics celebrate in the Mass:
Adam and Eve’s children offer sacrifices – Cain from the fruits of the earth, Abel from the firstlings of his flock (see Genesis 4:3-4). Noah, too, seems to have inherited a tradition of worship that includes burnt offerings of animals (see Genesis 7:2; 8:20).
Abraham, the father of the chosen people, responds to God’s call by building an altar and offering sacrifices (see Genesis 15:8-10; 22:13). Throughout the early part of the Bible, Abraham’s sons are frequently seen building altars and offering sacrifices (see Genesis 33:20; 35:1-7).
Of the sacrifices of Genesis, two are particularly important for our understanding of the Mass: that of the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek (see Genesis 14:18-20) and Abraham’s in Genesis 22.
Melchizedek is the first priest mentioned in the Bible. He is a “priest of God Most High.” He is also King of Salem, a land that would later be called “Jeru-salem,” meaning “City of Peace” (see Psalm 76:2).
This combination of priest and king is rare in the Old Testament. But later we will see this designation applied to the royal son of David (see Psalm 110:4) and, in the New Testament, to Jesus (see Hebrews 7).
Melchizedek’s sacrifice is also extraordinary in that it involved no animals. He offered bread and wine, as Jesus would at the Last Supper.
This is interesting… I didn’t know that Melchizedek offered only bread and wine as sacrifice. Doesn’t the name “Melchizedek” come up again in the New Testament?
Melchizedek’s sacrifice concluded with the priestly blessing of Abraham. And Abraham would later return to Salem to make his own offering.
At the mountain of Moriah, a site that would later be identified with Jerusalem’s Temple (see 2 Chronicles 3:1), Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac.
As we will see in our next lesson, in the story of the “binding” of Isaac, the New Testament writers saw a foreshadowing God’s offering of his only beloved Son on the Cross (see Genesis 22:12,15; John 3:16).
Notice the language in the story told in Genesis 22. The words “his son” or “the boy” are used 11 times in 15 verses. The only words that Isaac speaks begin with the word, “Father.” As if to drive home the point even further, the narrator of the story says, “Isaac spoke to his father…”
All of this will become even more important when we study our Lord’s sacrifice in our next lesson.