CATHOLICISM COMPLETES COVENANT FOR JEWISH CONVERT
The Pelham Parkway apartment canyon in the Bronx where I grew from child to man was so Jewish that there were four synagogues and two <glatt> kosher restaurants within walking distance. It imprinted on me a Jewish soul that would last a lifetime. I'm still a New York City Jew, and always will be. I love to eat soup with <kreplach, kasha varnishkas>, and all the other wonderful foods from the old neighborhood. But especially, I love the Passover feast we call the <Seder>, because now I understand it.
Jews have waited a long time for completion, for fulfillment of the messianic prophecies in King <Moschiach>, the Messiah. But He has already come. For a thousand years there were canonical prophecies that He would come; these prophecies stopped completely when Jesus of Nazareth came. For a thousand years the Jewish priests had sacrificed, but after Jesus' redemptive sacrifice the animal sacrifices stopped. Jesus had foretold that the Temple would be destroyed; in 70 A.D., it fell, never to be rebuilt. A Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, in 362 A.D. tried to prove Christ's prophecy wrong by rebuilding the Temple. The pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that the builders encountered storms and earthquakes, and that balls of fire came up out of the ground. Julian the Apostate was killed by a mysterious arrow. Three thousand years after God took Israel from the Jews, He returned all of it except the Temple Mount. Only the Western Wall remains, incomplete, a wailing wall. All this can have only one meaning: Jesus is the true Messiah; we who follow Him are completed Jews.
At every Seder, Jews set an extra place for Elijah. But Jesus sits there, present in the bread, the wine and the lamb, the true head of household and provider of the meal. The bread is unleavened, pure as Jesus was pure. It has dark stripes, as His back was striped by Pilate's scourging. It is pierced, as He was pierced on the cross. When Moses led the Israelites toward the promised land it had been the bread of life; Jesus, born in <Beth Lechem> (House of Bread), is the Bread of Life, leading us toward the promised kingdom. The head of the family breaks the unleavened bread into three pieces, reminding us of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The second piece, suggesting the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is called the <afikomen> (Hebrew: a festival procession), a reminder of Jesus' constant call, "Follow me." The head of household wraps the <afikomen> in white linen, reminding us of Jesus' linen burial cloth, and "buries" or hides it, as Jesus was entombed. Later the youngest at the table "resurrects" or finds the <afikomen> as Jesus rose from the dead. The head of the family breaks the <afikomen> into three pieces and passes it around for all to eat, as Jesus did when He told His apostles, "This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."
Jesus is present in the wine. When the <afikomen> is broken and passed around for all to take and eat, Jews at the Seder table drink the third of four cups of wine, called the cup of redemption because it represents the blood of the sacrificed paschal lamb in Egypt on that memorable Passover night. That was the cup Jesus gave to His apostles, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood." Jesus did not drink the fourth, the <kalah> cup, with his apostles. After his capture at Gethsemane, Jesus asked Peter, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?" Jesus drank the last cup on the cross from a sponge full of vinegar held to His mouth, said in a loud voice, <kalah> (it is finished), bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
Jesus is present in the paschal lamb. <Pasch> or <pesach> in Hebrew means "he passed over." The paschal lamb recalls the lamb that was sacrificed so that its blood might be daubed on the doorposts of every Jewish home, and its body eaten in every Jewish home, that the angel of death might know it as a household of the faithful and pass over. Since there are no more Jewish sacrifices, many Jews today represent the paschal lamb with a lamb's shank bone. As the Jews in Egypt ate the paschal lamb to be physically redeemed and led to the promised Canaan, Catholics for two thousand years have eaten the body and blood of the Lamb of God, that we might be spiritually redeemed and find the promised kingdom of heaven.
God chose the Jews to carry His first self-revelation to the world, to raise His Torah high for all to see, as in <shul>. Only now, as a complete Jew, can I understand how His Messiah explained the Torah. As the great Rabbi Hillel had summed up the Torah in a single sentence just decades earlier, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was the <Shema>, from Deuteronomy 6:5, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, from Leviticus 19:18, was "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Of the Ten Commandments the first three, three as in Blessed Trinity, teach us love for God. The remaining seven, seven as the days of creation, teach us love for one another.
In the only Church personally established by God Himself, where priests in the tradition of the ancient Jewish law, in an unbroken line of apostolic succession from Christ Himself, re-present Christ's sacrifice as He taught us, I find the faith of my fathers, my magnificent heritage at last complete, its prophecies fulfilled.
(Marty Barrack is a Catholic writer-evangelist. He calls every man and woman to open and public witness for the glory of Our Lord.)