The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

The Passover and the Eucharist as Redemptive Sacrifices

Authored by Ben Safranski in Issue #10.3 of Catechetical Review

Art Image of the Lamb of God on an altar in heaven with angels and saints

I suspect that most Catholics who have some familiarity with the Bible and the Eucharist could tell you that the Eucharistic celebration, rooted in the Last Supper, has connections with the Passover of Exodus and Jewish practice. We know that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper in the context of the Passover Feast and that he and his apostles used some of the same foods used at Passover, such as unleavened bread and wine. I’m not sure that most of us, however, appreciate the depth of the connections. They are not just historical or biblical trivia, either—they reveal the profundity of God’s plans for us in the Eucharist. This is especially true of the korban pesach, the sacrifice of the lamb. Most of the time, we overlook the fact that the lamb was offered as a redemptive sacrifice. It was offered in place of the Israelites, who deserved death just as the Egyptians did. When we understand this, we can begin to truly appreciate the depth of God’s mercy in giving his people the perfect sacrifice after centuries of imperfect ones.

Setup for Passover: The Plagues

To begin, we need to understand the background for the Passover in the ten plagues, which are recounted in chapters 7–11 of the Book of Exodus. After the encounter with the Burning Bush in Exodus 3, Moses and his brother Aaron tell Pharoah to let the Chosen People leave Egypt. Pharoah refuses. In response, God begins to send plagues, wonders intended to display his power. Pharoah’s heart is so hard, however, that God continues to display greater and greater power until we come to the eve of the tenth and final plague: the death of the firstborn. This is a plague that we regularly misunderstand, but it is impossible to grasp the whole meaning of the Passover without an accurate understanding of this plague.

Our main problem is that we look at the death of the firstborn, and the plagues in general, as punishments intended to hurt the evil Egyptians. There certainly is an element of punishment here, but the primary function of the plagues is to display the power and rights that the God of Israel has not only over his own people but over all of nature and, ultimately, over human life. In Exodus 7:4, when God foretells the plagues to Moses, he does call them “great acts of judgment.” However, he goes on to state the purpose of these acts: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (7:5). The plagues then build upon each other, successively showing Pharaoh God’s power over the Nile, over crops, over livestock, over the human body, and over the sun, which the Egyptians considered a god. Ultimately, Pharaoh only realizes that the God of Israel has power over life itself when the tenth plague takes the lives of Egypt’s firstborn. Remember this as we discuss the Passover meal.

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This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting [email protected]

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