Friday July 15, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Exodus 11:10-12:14) Gospel (St. Matthew 12:1-8)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that He Himself is the Lord of the Sabbath, and He tells us also that it is mercy He desires and not sacrifice. When we put these two points together with the first reading, we come to some very interesting points of understanding.
First of all, if the Lord is the Lord of the Sabbath, that means He Himself is the one who determines what shall happen on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the Lord's Day. Ultimately for the Jewish people, the Lord's Day was not merely on Saturday, but the Lord's Day for them was especially the day of the Passover, the most holy day of the entire year. When we think about this in the context of what we just heard in the first reading, we are told that on the Passover the father of each family is to procure for his family a lamb. It is to be a year old, it is to be a male, and it is to be without blemish. They are to sacrifice that lamb at the evening twilight on the fourteenth day of the month, and they are to eat it whole. (In other words, they were not to cut it open and pull out all the entrails before they cooked it. They were not just to cook parts of the lamb, but rather they were to roast it whole with its head, shank, and inner organs all together. Then they had to eat the lamb.) They are to sprinkle its blood upon the lintel and the doorposts, and the Angel of Death will pass over the places where they are. Then we are told that this is to be an everlasting memorial for the people of Israel.
Now if we put that into the context of what Our Lord has just told us in the Gospel, first of all, He says it is mercy He desires and not sacrifice. What we have in the Eucharist is a sacrifice, but it is mercy. It is the perfect act of mercy and it is the perfect act of love and it is the perfect sacrifice. In this, we have both sacrifice and mercy. Scripture tells us that we are not to come before the Lord empty-handed. Sacrifice is part and parcel of religion. It is interesting that until the New Age nonsense of our own day, there were only two religions in the history of the world that did not offer sacrifice, that is, modern Judaism and Protestantism. Those are the only two religions that did not offer sacrifice until the New Age nonsense came to light, and now they do not either. Otherwise, every single religion – even the pagans – understood that sacrifice was part and parcel of religion. The sacrifice is necessary, but it is a sacrifice of mercy that we offer because it is the sacrifice of Christ. The Sabbath now is established according to this sacrifice. So the Holy Day which we celebrate is still the Passover because we still offer the Passover Lamb, not just once a year but perpetually as a continuous sacrifice. That Lamb is a male without blemish. It is the Lamb that our heavenly Father has obtained for His family. The Lamb must be eaten whole. It is not a symbol of the Lamb that we are to eat, nor a piece of the Lamb that we are to eat, but rather we get to consume the entire being of the Lamb.
That is exactly what happens in the Eucharist. In Holy Communion, the full Person of Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – is present. And so we consume the Lamb. We do not consume a piece of the Lamb and we do not consume a symbol of the Lamb, because if the people of Israel had not eaten the lamb, their firstborn son would have died. We must eat the Lamb or we will die. We must also have the Blood of the Lamb sprinkled upon us; no longer the lintel and doorposts of our homes, but rather the lintel and doorposts of our souls. This is what happens when we are baptized. It is what happens when we go to Confession. It is what happens in Holy Communion. The Blood of Jesus is poured upon us so that the Angel of Death will pass over.
We see all of these points and that it is an everlasting memorial. For the Jewish people, the notion of memorial is not "Remember what happened way back when." In our day, they would have to say, if they understood it wrongly, "Remember what happened 3,500 years ago and have a little celebration in its honor." That is not the Jewish notion of memorial. The Jewish understanding of memorial is that it is real and it is to be done still. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, they are not celebrating an event of 3,500 years before – they are living the Passover today. So too, when we offer Jesus in sacrifice at Mass, we are not remembering what happened 2,000 years ago. He told us, Do this in memory of Me. We are doing it still. The sacrifice of Jesus is the same sacrifice as it was 2,000 years ago. He is not being sacrificed again; He is being sacrificed still. He is the Passover Lamb that is offered for us. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the sacrifice and He is the mercy. All of these things come together in the Person of Jesus Christ.
We must understand the importance of these points from Exodus if we are to understand what we do at Mass, because Jesus is the Passover Lamb that was procured by the Father for His family. He is our Passover. He is our mercy and our sacrifice. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. We have this everlasting memorial that we continue to celebrate and which will continue to be celebrated until the end of time, as Scripture has prophesied. As we celebrate this Mass today, we need to understand what is happening. The only way to understand it is to go back to Exodus and to understand what the Passover Lamb was all about and to apply that to Our Lord as He is sacrificed on the altar today and as we receive the fullness of His Person so that the Angel of Death will pass over and eternal life will be ours.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.