1 April 2011

What's Mass for: a Jewish view

The central purpose of the Mass ... even before the 'Supper' aspect ... is sacrifice. Or so I claimed in a recent post. Even if you wanted to agree, you may have noticed a couple of little doubts lurking on the outskirts of your mind.

Doubt 1: Why did S Paul call the Eucharist the Lord's Supper (kyriakon deipnon)? But this is, surprisingly to us, sacrificial language. In the Greco-Roman world, sacrifice was a communal activity. After the animal was killed and the prescribed portions sacrificially burned, the rest was cooked and eaten by the worshippers in a supper which was not just a sequel but was an integral part of the sacrificial ritual (what the Jews called a Communion Sacrifice). Many such invitations have come to light in the rubbish dumps of ancient Egypt, preserved by the dryness of the desert sand. A typical example is 'An invitation to you from Nilos to have deipnon in the dining room of the Kyrios Serapis in the Serapeum' (POxy 2592; late first century). That is why so many excavated temple complexes have dining rooms and extensive kitchen areas attached to them; although sometimes the sacrificial banquet happened, like Christian Eucharist, in a private home (when this happened, the phrase in the papyri is en tei idiai oikiai). And it is one reason why S Paul is so concerned about his Corinthian converts partaking "in the tables of demons". To do so is to share in the pagan sacrifice. Look at I Cor 10:14-22 and note the parallelism the Saint draws between pagan sacificial banquets and the sacrificial banquet which is the Eucharist. Kyriakon deipnon certainly did not, as liberals like to assume, mean some informal sort of matey event ("an expression of fellowship") or a plate in front of the television during Channel Four News.

Doubt 2: Did Jesus really have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and its sacrificial theology in mind when he sat at table with his disciples hours before his death? Jacob Neusner powerfully argues that he did ...
Neusner? Who's he? He's a very distinguished and learned Orthodox rabbi and academic expert on first century Judaism and Christian origins.
Oh yes? So why didn't I hear about him when I was doing New Testament Studies? Because his researches often give strong support to the Catholic and Orthodox Faith from an academic, non-Christian, Jewish standpoint. Your mentors, careful men, naturally wanted to spare you such explosive material, and anyway they were far too busy teaching you about the Synoptic Problem, the Historical Jesus, the non-physical nature of the Resurrection, and the inauthenticity of most of S Paul's letters.
But you can't expect me to take seriously what a Jewish scholar thinks about Jesus.
I don't see why not. The Holy Father does. In the first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth, the entire section on the Sermon on the Mount was indebted to an analysis by Neusner. And Neusner, in another brilliantly argued piece, shows that the reason why our Lord 'cleansed' the Temple on the first Palm Sunday was to denote the termination of the Jewish sacrificial system (particularly the offering of the tamid lamb, morning and evening, for the People; their Temple taxes, paid in Temple shekels acquired from the money-changers, went to provide the lambs) because he purposed, on Maundy Thursday, to replace it with his own sacrifice of the Eucharist: Table in place of Table, Sacrifice in place of Sacrifice.

If it's good enough for Neusner it's good enough for me.


AndrewWS said...

If it's good enough for the Holy Father, it's good enough for me.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Surely, the conspicuous absence of lamb at the last supper is significant. A discussion on the presentation, elegance and beauty of the Passover meal in general would be useful. In other words, what did the Lord’s penultimate Passover meal look like? How shocking therefore, was this final meal to his closest followers?

Sadie Vacantist said...

Father, may I point out a contradiction?

Under the Allen Hall blog we are told:

“He (Mgr. O’Toole) then assured us that the dark decades when seminaries were less than totally in tune with Catholic Tradition were now just about over.”

You then inform us here that:

“(Y)our mentors, careful men, naturally wanted to spare you such explosive material, and anyway they were far too busy teaching you about the Synoptic Problem, the Historical Jesus, the non-physical nature of the Resurrection, and the inauthenticity of most of S Paul's letters.”

In which camp does O’Toole place himself, I wonder?

I hope that the Ordinariate understand that their present ‘rearrangement’ has nothing to do with an accommodation by a “generous” Pope but constitutes rather, an ambitious project to revive authentic Christian tradition within these islands!

fieldofdreams2010 said...

Dix long ago suggested that the Last Supper was not (if St John is correct) the passover meal (hence no lamb) but a chaburah meal which our Lord related to his own sacrifice next day, at the precise hour when the lambs were killed.

Pachomius said...

Fr, why on earth is anyone still harping on about this "Historical Jesus" nonsense? Speaking from the point of view of ancient, non-Christian texts, this is surey an eisegesis. The Gospels (whether canonical or not) do not contain the "Historical Jesus"; they exist to reveal the Christ, surely.

Sadie, there are, as I see it, two answers to this:

1. Mgr O'Toole referred to Catholic seminaries, while Fr Hunwicke referred to Anglican seminaries;

2. Both Mgr O'Toole and Fr Hunwicke referred to times past, not the present.

You seem to be making a rather obtuse objection to me.

Sadie Vacantist said...


I accept my post could be viewed as such.

My point is that Anglican and Catholic seminaries differed from each other less than you might think in recent times. O’Toole is effectively admitting as much. Notwithstanding, the Westminster Monsignor’s assurances, are we certain that our seminarians are being taught correctly (and imaginatively) in the manner proscribed by Fr. H? Given that the brother of the rector’s former Archbishop continues to teach heretical nonsense, I still have my doubts. What else could explain the curious (and defensive) welcoming speech?

Alice C. Linsley said...

It may be that the best context for understanding the Last Supper is neither the passover meal nor the chaburah meal, but the events that unfolded on Mount Moriah. There was no lamb, only the Father and the Son. After the offering up of the Son, a ram appears. The ram is the lamb come to full strength and maturity. Among Abraham's ancestors the lamb-ram sequence was associated with the rising and setting of the Sun, teh symbol of the Creator. The temporal sacred center was noon, a time of no shadows. (James says He is the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.) The spatial sacred center was the mountain top, between heaven and earth. Perhaps the Last Supper is the sacred center where we meet God about to cross over to redoubled strength. Just a thought.

Nixon is Lord said...

"Holy Father"?
Not after all those pedophile pastors, no.
Sorry-another reason I'm relieved to be an atheist.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Just wondering which book of Neusner's you got this from. I'd be interested to read his whole argument.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'm not offended when Christians eat pork," says Jacob Neusner. At least not usually. The brilliant--and none too patient--Jewish scholar does recall a religion conference where so much pork was served that he was reduced to a diet of hard-boiled eggs.

One day on the food line something snapped, and he rhymed aloud, "I hope you all get trichinosis/
And come to believe in the God of Moses." A fellow conferee instantly replied, "And if we don't get such diseases/
Will you believe in the God of Jesus?"

Trisagion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kplus said...

@ Auriel

Jacob Neusner, “Money-Changers in the Temple: The Mishnah’s Explanation,” New Testament
Studies 35 (1989): 287–290