The Jews used animal sacrifice to atone for their sins. In this sacrifice wood would be placed on the altar. The animal to be sacrificed was slaughtered and placed on the wood. The wood was then set on fire. The aroma of the cooking food would rise to heaven and was pleasing to God. Blood is considered sacred because it contains life. The blood of the animal was sprinkled on the altar. If God found favor with the sacrifice his grace would descend down upon the animal. The animal was consumed by the people offering sacrifice and they shared a meal with God. This shared meal was the bond for the atonement. Animal sacrifice was never enough to atone for all sin for all times so the sacrifice had to be repeated as often as necessary.
The greatest sacrifice the Israelites offered to God was the Passover. When the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians Pharaoh ordered all new born male Israelites to be put to death. This kept the male population down and made the Israelites easier to control. The tenth and last plague God sent down upon Egypt was in kind. God would take the life of the first born male of every creature in Egypt, both human and animal.
The Israelites were warned of this coming plague and were told how to be delivered from it. Each household had to sacrifice a lamb or goat without blemish and then that sacrifice had to be consumed by the entire family the night of the plague in a very specific manner. The blood from the sacrifice had to be put on and over the doorposts. When the angel of death descended upon Egypt any family who sacrificed properly was passed over and the first born male of that family was not killed.
Jesus Christ is the new Passover. The altar he was sacrificed on was the cross and his holy blood saturated the wood. He was not offered up as a burnt sacrifice but his sacrifice did atone for all sins of all people who participate in the sacrifice for all time. How does one participate in the sacrifice of Christ? The same way the Jewish people participated in the sacrifices of atonement and of Passover - by consuming the flesh of the sacrifice and sealing the bond with a holy meal with God. Does this mean we have to eat the flesh of Christ to receive the blessing of atonement for our sins? That is exactly what Jesus told us we must do.
“Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” - John 6, 52-56
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” - 1 Corinthians 11, 23 – 26
At the last supper Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In his earthly body he could only be in one place at one time. After he ascended to the Father he was able to come down into the Eucharist when a priest consecrates it. This allows Jesus to be everywhere at all times until the end of time. Jesus is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the form of bread and wine in a consecrated host.
Why must it be a priest? Jesus passed this authority on to the Twelve and only the Twelve. The Twelve passed this authority on to their successors, which became the bishops of the Catholic Church. Because bishops cannot be in every parish every day they have passed this authority on to their priests to act as their proxy. It is an unbroken line of apostolic authority from Jesus, through the Twelve, to the bishops, to the priests.
I thought Christ was sacrificed once for all. Doesn’t the Catholic Mass sacrifice him over and over again?
No, there was only one sacrifice for all. The Mass does not re-sacrifice Christ. It re-presents it. Mass acts as a conduit between time and space transporting those taking part in the Mass back to the original sacrifice, the crucifixion of Jesus. Our sacrifice does not re-sacrifice Christ but makes us present to the one sacrifice. If human eyes could see the supernatural glory taking part at the Mass we would be able to see Christ in his glory on the cross surrounded by all of the heavenly hosts and the Saints giving worship to the Lord our Pascal sacrifice, the Lamb of God without blemish. We are connected to the greatest event that will ever happen. But human eyes can only see the world in which we live and not the truth that surrounds us.
As Catholics we believe that Jesus descends down into the host during the words of consecration and that the Eucharist becomes the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. We consume the Eucharist, eating the flesh of Jesus himself completing his sacrifice on our behalf. We do as he commanded and eat his flesh and drink his blood and believe we have his everlasting life within us.
This presents a problem for non-Catholic Christians who view communion as nothing more than a symbol of the last supper. For 1500 years Christianity took part in Jesus’ sacrifice and honestly believed they were actually eating the body and blood of Christ as he had instructed them to. Then along came Luther who thought himself smarter than the Church and began to teach his opinion over what the Church had always taught. He let the genie out of the bottle and people started creating churches that taught what they believed truth should be over that which Christ had passed on to his Church. Mass ceased being a sacrifice and became nothing more than an opportunity to instruct the faithful.
By Jewish understanding of the sacrificial laws passed down from God when Christians ceased eating the actual body and blood of Jesus they also ceased to participate in his sacrifice of atonement for sin. It is written in Holy Scripture that he was sacrificed for many, not all, who believe in him. It also says that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only God knows who is saved and not saved. I have to take Jesus at his word and be part of the only Church that can offer me his real body and blood as my holy food. I don’t want symbolic salvation, I want to really be saved.
Do you think that the angel of death would have passed over a Jewish house the night of the tenth plague if they had coated their doorposts with red paint symbolizing blood? If the life of your firstborn son were at stake would you have chanced it?
When Jesus told those following him that if they wanted eternal life they would have to eat his flesh they fled from him in droves thinking him crazy. He didn’t chase after them telling them he was only speaking of symbolically eating his flesh. Instead he turned to his disciples and asked if they were going to leave him too.
Where can I go Lord? Only you have the words of eternal life. If you tell me I have to eat your flesh and drink your blood to have this life within me then that is what I will do.
Take this and eat. This is my body that will be given up for you….