Passover in Judaism & a Mass that Transcends Time

Passover in Judaism & a Mass that Transcends Time January 13, 2020
“Past Events Become Present Today”/ Survey of “Remember” in Scripture

I have heard that Jews celebrating Passover believe that the past becomes present. As such, the Catholic sees a similarity to our notion of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and Jesus’ death on the cross becoming present, and in a very real sense, transcending time altogether. We also believe that the Last Supper, where the Holy Eucharist was initiated, was a Passover meal. Many common notions could be explored with regard to the development of traditional Jewish understanding and Christian belief that is related to these in some fashion. For example, one ecumenical Jewish site stated:

The Jewish conviction that at the Seder past events become present today is something that can resonate strongly with Catholics. The Catholic concept of anamnesis corresponds to the Hebrew term zecher. Both refer to the use of ritual to make the past a lived present reality.

The Hebrew word zecher (in Strong’s Concordancezakar or zeker: words #2142-2145), are usually translated as remember or remembrance, or related terms. It seems to have a connotation of more than a mere remembrance. The thing remembered has a direct relation to the present. For example:

Exodus 2:24 (RSV) And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

God “remembering” the covenant “made” it present insofar as it was still in force, thus enabling the Jews to win a battle. Of course, for God to “remember” anything is an anthropomorphism: God using expressions that human beings will understand. Since God knows everything at all times, to say that He “remembers” cannot be taken literally. If it were, this would imply a limitation of God’s knowledge. But this is how it is often expressed: God “remembers” the covenant, which is very much a present (or eternal) thing, so that past and present are in effect merged:

Genesis 9:15-16 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. [16] When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

Exodus 6:5 Moreover I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold in bondage and I have remembered my covenant.

Psalm 106:45 He remembered for their sake his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

Ezekiel 16:60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant.

1 Maccabees 4:10 And now let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today.

Luke 1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

Luke 1:72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant,

The “remembrance” is perfectly harmonious with being “present” and “eternal.” It’s the classic biblical, Hebraic “both/and” outlook. Less “sacramental” Protestants, on the other hand, often draw the conclusion that because the terminology of “remembrance” is used in the Last Supper and the Mass, that, therefore, the Eucharist is solely a thing of the past, to be reflected upon, with mere symbolism of bread and wine (or grape juice), as opposed to being a present reality, and the actual Body and Blood of Christ under the outward appearance of bread and wine: a miracle.


The Passover was a way for the Jews to remember, or make again present, the Exodus and deliverance from Egypt. Thus, when it was instituted, Moses stated:

Exodus 13:3-10 And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. [4] This day you are to go forth, in the month of Abib. [5] And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jeb’usites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. [6] Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. [7] Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. [8] And you shall tell your son on that day, `It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ [9] And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. [10] You shall therefore keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.”

Likewise, the Sabbath was an ongoing observance, but the word “remember” is applied to it:

Exodus 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

To “remember” all the commandments is to keep them in the present, and always:

Numbers 15:39-40 and it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go after wantonly. [40] So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.

Psalm 103:18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 119:55 I remember thy name in the night, O LORD, and keep thy law.

There was a spiritual, moral aspect to remembering, with regard to present conduct:

Deuteronomy 9:7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day you came out of the land of Egypt, until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.

Deuteronomy 15:15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

Deuteronomy 16:12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

Deuteronomy 24:18, 22 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. . . . [22] You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

2 Peter 3:2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.

Jude 1:17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Revelation 3:3 Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.

God “remembers” our acts of worship and prayers:

Exodus 28:29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment upon his heart, when he goes into the holy place, to bring them to continual remembrance before the LORD.

Exodus 30:16 And you shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting; that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the LORD, so as to make atonement for yourselves.

Psalm 20:3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! [Selah]

Acts 10:31 saying, `Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.

“Remembering” God is virtually a synonym for reverence and worship of God:

Psalm 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?

Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

Isaiah 17:10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and set out slips of an alien god,

Jonah 2:7 When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple.

Tobit 1:12 because I remembered God with all my heart.

Given all this background, the institution of the Holy Eucharist can now come into clearer focus:

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 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.” [25] In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The Eucharist and Sacrifice of the Mass are present realities, not just bare symbolic, abstract thoughts. The Jewish Passover has this characteristic also. Rabbi Yossi Kenigsberg explains:

. . . on no other Jewish holiday are we instructed to have a formalized dialogue and discussion recollecting the relevant historical events of the time. Why did our sages provide us with the Haggadah text and prescribe this lengthy and detailed analysis of our Egyptian experience?

Besides celebrating our physical emancipation from slavery, on Pesach we also commemorate the anniversary of Jewish nationhood and identity. Since the Exodus represents the genesis of our Jewish collective identity, it is vital that we do everything possible to discover and reaffirm our Jewish consciousness at this juncture. In order to achieve this, we must feel a connection to our Jewish past, present and future. The objective of the seder and the Haggadah format is to facilitate the opportunity for us to develop an acute sense of affiliation with the past, present, and future of the Jewish experience. . . .

Throughout the trials and tribulations of Jewish history, God continuously intervenes on our behalf and we are confident that His divine protection will always embrace us. The fusion of the past, present, and future that we created on those first nights of Pesach will provide for us and for our children a glimpse into eternity.

In a book specifically about the Passover celebration, Martin Sicker provides further relevant insight:

The Haggadah then continues with a statement that is also found in the Mishnah that calls upon each participant in the Seder to share vicariously in the experience of the Exodus.

In every generation one is obliged to view oneself as though he [personally] had gone out from Egypt. As it is said: And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt (Ex. 13:8).

The Haggadah then amplifies this teaching, providing an appropriate biblical prooftext in support of its elaboration.

The Holy One, blessed is He, did not redeem only our ancestors, but also redeemed us along with them. As it is said: And He brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers. (Deut. 6:23).

. . . The Mishnah calls upon each participant in the Seder to make an intellectual leap across the millennia and thereby to share directly in the experience of their ancestors. (A Passover Seder Companion and Analytic Introduction to the Haggadah, IUniverse, 2004, p. 104)

Another Jewish source concurs:

By participating in the Seder, we are vicariously reliving the Exodus from Egypt. Around our festival table, the past and present merge and the future is promising.

Rabbi Dan Fink provides a further eloquent explanation:

Our sages taught: “In every generation, it is incumbent upon us to see ourselves as if we, too, went out from Egypt.” Pesach is not about remembering the distant past; it is about re-experiencing that past in the present time. It is not the story of our ancestors long ago; it is our story. Our challenge is to consider what enslaves us — anything and everything from money to television to old, stale habits — and find ways to free ourselves from those burdens. The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, means “a narrow place.” This spring festival of deliverance is the time of our own liberation, an opportunity to renew ourselves.

So this year, don’t ask, “When do we eat?” Savor the journey rather than kvetching your way to the destination. Find creative ways to make your seder a living, breathing experience of redemption. Raise other, better questions: “What can I do to change the world this year? What still enslaves me? How can I help hasten the redemption of others still in bondage?” It’s not about the food. It’s about the freedom. Experience it this year.

Citing some of the same passages from the Talmud, Jewish educator Jennie Rosenfeld wonderfully expresses the same notions:

. . . it is particularly difficult to imagine how anyone so historically removed from the Egyptian exile can personally experience the redemption from Egypt in the same way that the Jewish slaves experienced it. . . . If we use this season in order to tap into our personal need for redemption in the here and now, we can either vicariously relate to or truly experience yetziat mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) in our own lives. . . .

One type of holiness is kedushat hazman, holiness of time; the time of year in which miracles occurred in the past has within it the potential for future miracles. Jewish holidays both commemorate past miracles and contain the kedushat hazman, the temporal holiness, which we can access to effect miracles now. . . . by believing in the miracle of yetziat mitzrayim, we can experience it again now in our personal lives. Every individual can tap into this season in order to leave his/her personal meitzar (place of narrowness or confinement) or mitzrayim. The fact that Pesach occurs in the spring, the season in which nature renews itself and the flowers begin to blossom, foreshadows this potential for personal growth.

These fascinating aspects of the Jewish self-understanding of Passover have obvious analogical implications relative to the Catholic Mass. The great Catholic writer Karl Adam exclaimed:

The Sacrifice of Calvary, as a great supra-temporal reality, enters into the immediate present. Space and time are abolished. The same Jesus is here present who died on the Cross. The whole congregation unites itself with His holy sacrificial will, and through Jesus present before it consecrates itself to the heavenly Father as a living oblation. So Holy Mass is a tremendously real experience, the experience of the reality of Golgotha. (The Spirit of Catholicism, translated by Dom Justin McCann, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954; originally 1924 in German, 197)

In conclusion, here are my thoughts, from my (1996) book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 99-100):

Some verses in Revelation state that the “prayers of the saints” are being offered at the altar in the form of incense (8:3-4; cf. 5:8-9). But the climactic scene of this entire glorious portrayal of Heaven occurs in Revelation 5:1-7. Verse 6 describes “a Lamb standing as though it had been slain.” Since the Lamb (Jesus, of course) is revealed as sitting in the midst of God’s throne (5:6; 7:17; 22:1, 3; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Heb. 1:8), which is in front of the golden altar (Rev. 8:3), then it appears that the presentation of Christ to the Father as a sacrifice is an ongoing (from God’s perspective, timeless) occurrence, precisely as in Catholic teaching. Thus the Mass is no more than what occurs in Heaven, according to the clear revealed word of Scripture. When Hebrews speaks of a sacrifice made once (Heb. 7:27), this is from a purely human, historical perspective (which Catholicism acknowledges in holding that the Mass is a “re-presentation” of the one Sacrifice at Calvary). However, there is a transcendent aspect of the Sacrifice as well.

Jesus is referred to as the Lamb twenty-eight times throughout Revelation (compared with four times in the rest of the New Testament: John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). Why, in Revelation (of all places), if the Crucifixion is a past event, and the Christian’s emphasis ought to be on the resurrected, glorious, kingly Jesus, as is stressed in Protestantism (as evidenced by a widespread disdain for, crucifixes)? Obviously, the heavenly emphasis is on Jesus’ Sacrifice, which is communicated by God to John as present and “now” (Rev. 5:6; cf. Heb. 7:24)


Related Reading:

Sacrifice of the Mass & Hebrews 8 (vs. James White) [3-31-04]

Biblical Evidence for Priests [9-13-15]

St. Paul Was a Priest [9-15-15]

Luther Espoused Eucharistic Adoration [9-17-15]

Catholic Mass: “Re-Sacrifice” of Jesus? [11-19-15]

“Re-Presentation” vs. “Re-Sacrifice” in the Mass: Doctrinal History [4-4-18]

Eucharistic Adoration: Explicit & Undeniable Biblical Analogies [2-1-19]



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(originally 7-7-09)

Photo credit: The Last Supper, by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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