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SIDIC Periodical VI - 1973/1
Jewish and Christian Liturgy (Pages 10 - 28)

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Christian Liturgy: Its roots in Judaism
Sofia Cavalletti


We can see a very close ideological connection between the Synagogue and the Church: the essential element in the worship of the Synagogue is the proclamation of the Word of God, and the first part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Word. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that whereas in the Synagogue salvation is hoped for, in the Church it is announced as already accomplished.


The synagogue originated in the Exile. The Jews, deprived of the Temple, sought for a means of replacing the animal sacrifices offered there. The Lord had associated his presence in a very special way with the Temple, and after its destruction he himself was, in a sense, an exile. Yet he continued to speak to his people through his Law. Thus, their only remaining means of communicating with him and of answering his presence among them was to meditate and to ponder upon his Word. But the origins of the synagogue were not merely contingent and historical; when the Jews returned to the land of their fathers and reconstructed the Temple, the use of the synagogue increased rather than diminished, thus proving its vitality. It was rooted in a re-ligious need which became deeper and more widespread as time went on, a desire that religion should penetrate more deeply into daily life and that the non-priestly classes should have a more lively participation in its activities.

During the earthly life of Jesus, the synagogue was, for the Jew, perhaps the truest expression of his own spirituality. Jesus himself and his apostles frequently chose to teach in the synagogue. « Jesus went about teaching in their synagogues », says Matthew (6 : 23). He was often in the synagogues of Capernaum and Nazareth (Mt. 12 : 9; 13 : 54; Mk. 1 : 21, etc.). He himself, as though summarizing his life's work, says before the Sanhedrin: « I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in your synagogues and in the Temple » (Jn. 18:20).


Jesus spoke his own word during the synagogue worship. He had a reason for this and, in our opinion, his reason must be sought in the spirit of the worship itself which was totally centered on the Word of God. This Word was solemnly proclaimed to the people and they responded by prayer.

The nucleus of synagogue worship was the Pentateuch which the Jews considered to be in a special way « the Law » (Torah), hence, the teaching of God. By the time of Jesus the first reading was complemented by and joined to a second from the prophetical books. The oldest available information on the arrangement of these readings comes from texts slightly posterior to the time of Jesus. However, as religious traditions were in general conservative, we can conclude that this information applies also to the synagogue practice of the time of Christ. The prophetic text often explains and interprets the passage of the Law. Sometimes it helps to place a feast in its historical context, at others it is a spiritual or homiletic comment on the chosen passage. Finally, the prophetic reading is messianic, in that it describes a vision of the future or a liberator who will come « on that day » to bestow God's Spirit of comfort, salvation and plenitude upon his people.

The prophetic reading did not pronounce the last word on the Torah reading; it rather placed the latter in its future perspective, the expectation of an event still to come, the coming of a long-awaited person. It can be said that in such instances as these, the liturgy of the synagogue seemed incomplete, straining towards a fulfilment yet to come. Thus, at the end of the readings, the worshippers praised God who had just spoken his word to them, and in a prayer that is essentially eschatological, they asked him to hasten this fulfilment.

Magnified and sanctified be his great Name in the world which he hath created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time.1

This prayer, the Kaddish, whose similarities to the Our Father are obvious, has for centuries concluded the synagogue readings; it probably did so at the time of Jesus. Hearing the promises of God aroused the desire of their speedy realization, and the Kaddish was the most natural response.


It would seem that Jesus found in this future-orientated worship, and in those who shared it, the material and moral setting for the proclamation of his own word. The worship of the synagogue had kindled hope in men's hearts and Jesus responded to this hope by showing that it would be fulfilled in his own person.

Many of the episodes in the life of Jesus can be fully understood only if they are seen in this light,' e.g. the multiplication of the loaves as narrated by John (6 : 1ff). This miracle explains the later discourses of Jesus in which he calls himself « the Bread of Life » (Jn. 6: 22). Between the pericope of the miracle, which occurred at some undetermined place on the banks of Lake Tiberias, and Jesus' discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, comes the account of the walking on the waters when the boat of the apostles almost floundered in the storm. This miracle must have been performed between Jesus' leaving the place where he multiplied the loaves and his journey to Capernaum. In this context the evangelist states precisely: « It was shortly before the Jewish festival of Passover », and he adds: « There was plenty of grass there », thus stressing the fact that the season was spring. These details are given by the evangelist so as to place his narrative in its proper setting: the liturgical solemnity of the Passover. We know that the central point of the paschal liturgy was the Exodus, and that the Canticle of the Red Sea was read in the synagogue, a canticle which celebrates God's manifestation of his power in bringing his people through the Red Sea. What must have been the effect of this passage on the apostles who had just witnessed the extraordinary power of Jesus over the waters! They, and all those to whom the miracle was known, could not have failed to make the obvious connection. They would hear in the synagogue how « the Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted... » (Ex. 14 : 21), and they could scarcely have failed to remember that while a strong wind was blowing Jesus had walked dry-footed across the sea of Tiberias, almost as though a path had been opened for him. The prophets, referring to the Exodus, had said that « on that day » (i.e. the messianic times) a new way would be opened over the waters. Is there, perhaps, a connection between the words of the prophets and the miraculous event on the waters of the lake? The people of Israel had passed through the Red Sea; over Lake Tiberias, the long-awaited Messiah had passed, he who in himself epitomized the whole people of God.

During the Passover the account of the sending of the manna to satisfy the hunger of the Israelites in the desert is also read from Numbers 11. The discourse on the bread of life which takes up the greater part of Chapter 6 in John's Gospel is in answer to the question: « What miracle will you show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers ate manna in the desert, as Scripture says, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat' » (6: 31). The Gospel text makes no reference to the Passover liturgy; St. John evidently considered the previous reference to the feast to be sufficient. To us who read these texts so long after they were compiled it is less clear why the crowd recalled the manna, which Jesus took as the theme of his discourse and of the subsequent discussion; but as soon as we realize that the account of the manna had just been read in the synagogue, the connection is evident. Jesus uses the question to show how the Scripture was fulfilled in himself: the manna had saved the Hebrews from temporal death; he had come down from heaven to save men from eternal death. « Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and they are dead... I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever. »

Jesus situated his teaching in the framework of the proclamation of God's Word in the synagogue, thus showing the fulfilment in his own person of events narrated and foretold in the Old Testament. The synagogue worship did not supply Jesus with an opportunity merely to teach; it was for him the opportunity to give his own teaching.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is found only in John's Gospel (10 : 1 ff ), and it is completed by that of the Lost Sheep in Luke (15: lff). John ends his narrative by saying that it was winter, on the feast of the Dedication. This feast commemorated the purification of the Temple by Judah Maccabee after it had been profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes, and during its liturgy Genesis 46 : 28ff was read. This passage relates Joseph's instructions to his brothers to make clear to Pharaoh that they and their fathers before them had always been shepherds. The account of David's seeking permission from Saul to fight Goliath is also read (1 Samuel 17). David says that he has already given proof of his strength and courage: « Your servant used to look after the sheep for his father, and whenever a lion or a bear came out and took a sheep from the flock, I used to follow him up and strike him down and rescue it from his mouth; if he turned on me I seized him by the hair at his jaw and struck him down and killed him. Your servant has killed both lion and bear. » David is here seen as an intrepid shepherd, constantly attentive to his father's flock. The prophetic reading for the feast (Ezek. 34 : 1ff) shows the shepherd, David, in a different light; he is called the « one shepherd » to whom God will entrust his sheep when he binds himself in friendship to his people by the « covenant of peace ». David's relationship with God is difficult to establish because, in the same passage, the prophet explains that God himself will gather his flock together « on that day ». He will seek out the dispersed sheep to bring them back so that he can heal their wounds and cure their sickness.

The entire liturgy of the Dedication, centered on the theme of the « shepherd », gave Jesus the opportunity of presenting himself as the « Good Shepherd », in contrast to those shepherds who « fed themselves » (cf. Ezekiel). The « Good Shepherd » who, like David the intrepid shepherd, defends his sheep against the wolf (gives his life for them), is the « one shepherd » sent by the Lord to his flock. Jesus is the Shepherd who, like the Lord himself in Ezekiel, cares most lovingly for his sheep and goes in search of them when they are lost.

Seen in this light the parable of the Good Shepherd is an explicit declaration by Jesus that he is the Messiah, and the identification of the Shepherd with the Lord himself (cf. Ezekiel) can lead to a very profound understanding of the nature of Jesus, the Messiah.

The great autumn festivals are also reflected in the teaching of Jesus. The liturgy was performed in the Temple with certain « popular » elements introduced by the Pharisees, chief among these being the libation on the altar. This took place towards the end of the festival: water was drawn from a spring outside the walls of Jerusalem, carried into the city through a gate which is still called the Water Gate, and poured out on the altar in supplication for rain. The entire rite is given a messianic interpretation through the prophetic reading which follows it.

When that day comes,
running waters will issue from Jerusalem,
half of them to the eastern sea,
half of them to the western sea;
they will flow summer and winter.
And the Lord will be king of the whole world.
When that day comes, the Lord will be unique and His Name unique.

These words of Zechariah (14 : 8ff) urge the people to dwell no longer on the present, but to see in the water poured out on the altar the eternal « living water » which « on that day » will make the earth fruitful. Ezekiel speaks again of the marvellous fertilizing power of this water (Ezek. 47 : 1ff). Wherever it flows all living things will be restored and vivified, and « oneither bank will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails; they will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary ». According to the interpretation of a rabbinical text,' this marvellous fertility will renew the earth in such a way that, no longer contaminated by man's sin, it will be restored to its pristine fruitfulness. Furthermore, continues the commentary, between the earth's origin and its messianic renovation there is in salvation history the essential event of the Exodus when Israel drank from miraculous springs in the desert; this must not be forgotten. Thus when the Jews participated in this Temple liturgy, they looked back to the origin of the world, saw it already being renewed at a crucial moment of Israel's history, and at the same time looked forward to the time when all their hopes would be realized.

It is against this background that Jesus cries: « If any man is thirsty let him come to me » (Jn. 7 : 37). These words are said deliberately. Jesus has waited for the time when they would be most fully understood, when the minds of those who heard them would be most open to the long-awaited fulfilment of messianic hope. He himself was the inexhaustible source of living water, the water of eternal life.


We have seen Jesus constantly placing his teaching in the context of synagogue worship. He did this from the beginning of his ministry. Luke tells of his preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth and places it in the first year of his public life, shortly after the miracle at Cana. News of the miracle would soon have reached Nazareth, which is close to Cana. This perhaps accounts for the fact that on the following Sabbath Jesus was called upon to read in the synagogue of Nazareth, where he was known only as « the son of Joseph » and where he was to make so little impact. He was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, and opening it, he read the following passage:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;
to proclaim liberty to captives,
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord's year of favor.

(Is. 61: 1-2; Lk. 4: 18-19)

Then he « rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him » (Lk. 4 : 16). The hope of the people was not to be disappointed. On that day in the synagogue they listened to an explanation of Scripture such as they had never before heard. This was the reason why Jesus said: « This text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen. »

The very presence of Jesus in the synagogue meant that the Word of God, revealed by the prophets and patriarchs, had been fulfilled. All the expectation of the Old Testament had been realized in « the son of Joseph ». The presence of Jesus was the answer to that invocation of the Kaddish which implores God to send the promised salvation. On that day Jesus openly proclaimed this fact, and by linking it with the synagogue worship he gave it a ritual solemnity: he himself is the awaited one, he is the light of the world that has been kindled, and in his splendor (according to Isaiah) many peoples and kings will flock to Jerusalem.

On that day in the synagogue of Nazareth the synagogal liturgy became the Christian Liturgy of the Word, the proclamation that salvation is already here. These words are the essence of the Christian message just as the essence of the Old Testament message is: Salvation is on the way. The novelty of Christ's message lies in the « today » with which he opened his interpretation of the prophetic passage. His « today » ends the period of waiting and begins a new era. It is the « today » of salvation in which we live, and Jesus solemnly proclaimed it in the context of the synagogue worship.


After the return of Jesus to his Father, the apostles continued to teach in the synagogue and to proclaim there the news that was to resound throughout the world: « Christ is risen. » They chose the synagogue because its liturgy inspired men to hope. Even Paul, although called to be « the apostle of the Gentiles », upon arriving at Antioch in Pisidia during his first voyage went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and after the reading of the Law and the Prophets was invited by the heads of the community to speak. He availed himself of this opportunity to proclaim Christ, crucified and risen: « ...this message of salvation is meant for you » (Acts 13 : 13ff). He spoke also in the synagogue at Philippi (Acts 16 : 13), on three successive Sabbaths in that of Thessalonika (Acts 17 : 2-3), and finally at Corinth (Acts 18 : 4ff) where the president of the synagogue came to believe in the Lord.


The Christian Liturgy of the Word evolved from the synagogue worship and it is still marked by its origin. If we compare the Sabbath services with the oldest available forms of the Christian Liturgy of the Word, we cannot fail to notice striking similarities of structure. In the words of Righetti, « a true and exact continuity of worship was intentionally allowed by the first Christians ».4

Justin the Martyr in his First Apology has left us the most ancient description of the Mass in liturgical history. In the introductory part are to be found, although in a different order, almost all the elements of the synagogue service.

... And on the day which is called Sunday, there is an assembly in the same place of all who live in cities, or in country districts; and the records of the Apostles, or the writings of the Prophets, are read as long as we have time. Then the reader concludes: and the President verbally instructs and exhorts us, to the imitation of these excellent things: then, we all together rise and offer up our prayers ... (I, 67).5

A description of the Eucharist follows, and the service ends with a collection for the poor.
In this account there is no mention of the profession of faith (Shema) which is part of the synagogue service, nor of the blessing which doses it, but all the other elements are common to both synagogue and church. The « prayers » mentioned by Justin are our « prayers of the faithful ». Like those of the synagogue, they conclude the Liturgy of the Word by presenting to God the needs of all men. They resemble the greatly venerated « Eighteen Blessings », the most ancient elements of which go back to a past that is more or less legendary. The Talmud refers to them as the work of the prophets and the 120 elders. They can be divided into three parts: the first is devoted to praise and the last to thanksgiving. The central portion, by far the most interesting, changed according to the feast because it contained those prayers of petition which suited the different occasions. It had the same element of petition as that found in our « prayers of the faithful».

It is quite possible that when Justin speaks of « prayers » he includes psalms. Selections from these were recited in the synagogue before the Scripture readings. In both church and synagogue the readings were followed by a sermon, and at the end of both services a collection was made for the poor.

On the basis of the data given by Justin, the following scheme can be drawn up.

Synagogue Service

Profession of Faith
Prayer of the « Eighteen Blessings Psalms
Readings (Law and Prophets) Sermon
Priestly Blessing
Collection for the Poor

Liturgy of the Word
Prayers of Intercession
Psalms (?)
Readings (Law, Prophets, Gospel)
Collection for the Poor 6

The resemblance between these two structures is still more striking when we compare the Jewish with the more recent Christian form in which the people respond to the proclamation of the Word of God by a profession of faith, thus introducing into the Christian cult an element of Jewish worship which was not present at the time when Justin wrote.

Hence, today, Christians should realize that when they listen to the proclamation of the Word of God in the liturgy, they are taking part in a form of worship which has its roots in Judaism, that is to say, a form of worship which was used for the first time one day in the earthly life of Jesus Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth.


It is still more significant to see how the Eucharist, the most important act of Christian worship, originated in the context of Jewish worship. Without entering into the question of the paschal character of the Last Supper, we would like to draw attention to the similarity of structure which exists between it and the Jewish Passover meal, thus making it possible to reconstruct the banquet which Jesus celebrated with his apostles on the eve of his death.


The modern reader can be misled by the sobriety of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. Living at a time far removed from that of Jesus' earthly life, he wants nevertheless to reconstruct, as accurately as possible, the event and its context. The silence of the evangelists leads us to investigate those texts which treat of Jewish religious life at the beginning of the Christian era, and which throw indirect light on the figure of Jesus himself. There are no available texts of the Passover meal dating from the time of Jesus, but in the corpus of civil and religious rules called the Mishna, particularly the tract on Passover (Pesahim), the additions to this tract (Tosefta), and an interpretative text (Sifrei), there exists an outline of the Passover meal and certain of its elements. These documents are of the second century A.D. and can therefore be trusted to give an accurate description of the Passover ritual as observed by Jesus and his apostles. In them must be sought the living context of the Gospel account.

According to the Mishna, the Passover meal (which the Jews called seder, i.e. order) was celebrated, at the beginning of the Christian era, in much the same way as it is celebrated today, with the exception of a few unimportant additions. The following is a brief description. After the blessing of the day had been recited over the first cup of wine, all the requisite foods were brought to the master of the seder. Among these foods was, of course, the unleavened bread (matzah). According to a well-documented custom of a later date, three portions of unleavened bread were presented to the master. He divided one of them in two, covering one part with a small napkin and placing the other with the uncut portions. Over them all he then recited the customary and already ancient formula' for the blessing of bread: « Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God, who bringest forth bread from the earth. » The divided matzah seems to have had a special importance because a second blessing was pronounced over it immediately after the first: « Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God, who hast sanctified us with thy commandments and commanded us concerning the eating of unleavened bread. » After this blessing the master of the seder ate a piece of the matzah and distributed it to those at table.' The portion which had been placed under the napkin was brought out at the end of the meal and consumed without a blessing. The final blessing over the rest of the food followed. It must be kept in mind that these details are found only in a relatively late text, but, given the scarcity of earlier liturgical documents, we cannot exclude the possibility of their referring to a much earlier practice.

At this point the youngest child present had to question his father as to the particular significance of the Passover night, why it differed from all other nights. Why is the bread unleavened, why are the herbs bitter, why is the meat roasted and not boiled? These questions prompted the father of the family to explain the meaning of the celebration, which he was obliged to do, according to the precepts of the Mishnah, « beginning with the humiliation and ending with the glory ». In other words, he had to explain the passage from Deuteronomy (26 : 5ff):9):9 « My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down into Egypt ... there he became a nation, great, mighty and strong. The Egyptians ill-treated us, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm... » Or he had to explain the text of Joshua (24: 2ff):" « In ancient days your ancestors lived beyond the River [Euphrates]... then I brought your father Abraham from beyond the river and led him through all the land of Canaan... Then I sent Moses and Aaron... So I brought you out of (Egypt)... I gave you a land where you never toiled, you live in towns you never built; you eat now from vineyards and olive groves you never planted. »

These are the two most ancient outlines of salvation history; they stress the Lord's call to the fathers of the Israelites to leave an idolatrous country in order to take possession of the promised land that he would give to them, his people, and the liberation from enslavement to the Egyptians when Israel truly became the free people of God. Already in Exodus 13 : 14 there is mention of sons asking their fathers the reasons for certain fixed cultic laws, but there the answers were determined by the duty to speak of the redemption of the first-born. They were therefore limited to the second point of salvation history, the liberation from slavery, since it was then that the firstborn of the Israelites were miraculously delivered from the scourge that had killed the first-born of the Egyptians.

This brief summary of the history of Israel provides the master of the seder with a particularly suitable context in which to explain the reasons for eating roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. In the Passover rite during which the eating of the foods is prescribed, every Jew can relive, and in a sense actualize, his historic past.

The paschal lamb (pesah) recalls how the Lord had « passed over » (pasah) the houses of the Israelites at the very moment when the first-born of the Egyptians were dying. The unleavened bread is a reminder that because they had to leave Egypt in haste there was not time for the bread to rise. The bitter herbs recall the bitterness of their sufferings in bondage. Yet this history is never totally past, since it is re-enacted in the person of every Jew who participates in the rite of Passover.

According to the Mishnah, every Jew must « consider himself as having come forth from Egypt ». The liberation worked by God at the time of Moses is the same as the liberation worked by him for each and every Jew. The Passover rite enables all Jews to become conscious of this liberation and to share in it.

Therefore, every Jew is bound to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, honor, bless, extol, and adore Him who performed all these miracles for our fathers and for us. He has brought us forth from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to holiday, from darkness to great light, and from bondage to redemption. Let us then recite before him a new song: Hallelujah.12

These words mark the beginning of the recitation of the first part of the Psalms of Praise (Hallel), i.e. Psalms 113 and 114. These psalmsmust end with a mention of redemption, to which mention Rabbi Akiba gave a clearly messianic character in the following words:

So, o Lord our God and God of our fathers, bring us to other festivals and holy days that come toward us in peace, happy in the building of thy city and joyous in thy service. And there may we eat of the sacrifices and the paschal offerings ... Blessed art thou, 0 Lord, Redeemer of Israel.13

The history recalled by the master of the seder is being continued in the person of every Jew who participates in the Passover rite, while at the same time it looks forward to that future foretold by the prophet when Jerusalem will be rebuilt and an unending worship celebrated there.

At this point a second cup of wine is blessed and the meal begins. It is truly a ritual meal preceded and followed by readings and prayers. It is this rite that makes it possible for the Jew in every age to share in the liberation wrought by God for his people. The blessing « over the food » follows, in thanksgiving for the meal. A third cup of wine is then blessed, after which comes a blessing for the earth and another blessing that begins « To him who restores Jerusalem »." Every meal is an act of worship because it is a sharing in the good things of God, but for the Jew it is connected with the rebuilding of the Temple, since worship is connected with the Temple.
The thanksgiving is completed by the blessing of .a fourth cup of wine. This is the most solemn of all the blessings and here Jews declare that David alone would be worthy to bless this cup, thus clearly attributing to it a messianic character. The blessing is followed by the other Psalms of Praise beginning with 115 (« Not by us, 0 Lord, not by us, by you alone is glory deserved ») and ending with 118.

There follows another prayer, of which the Mishnah gives only the name: « Benediction over the Song ». However Rabbi Johanan knew already in the third century " that this prayer concluded the Psalms of Praise in almost every rite, and hence those of the Passover meal.

The breath of every living thing shall bless thy name, 0 Lord our God, and the spirit of all flesh shall glorify and exalt thy memory, our King, for ever. From the eternity of the beginning to the eternity of the end, thou art God, and except for thee we have no redeeming and saving king, liberating and delivering, and provident and compassionate in every time of trouble and distress. We have no king but thee, 0 God of the first things and the last, God of all creatures, the Lord of all generations, who is lauded with many songs of praise, who conducts his universe with mercy and his creatures with compassion. The Lord slumbers not nor sleeps. It is he who awakens the sleeping, and rouses the slumbering, and makes the dumb converse, and loosens the bound, and steadies the falling, and straightens the bent.

To thee alone do we give thanks. Though our mouth were full of song like the sea, and our tongue of rejoicing like the multitude of its waves, and our lips of praise like the breadth of the horizon, and our eyes were shining like the sun and the moon, and our hands were spread like the eagles of the sky, and our feet light as the hinds' — we should never thank thee enough, 0 Lord our God and God of our fathers, and to bless thy name, for one of the thousands of thousands and myriads of myriads of the good thou hast done with our fathers and us.

From Egypt Thou hast redeemed us, 0 Lord our God, and from the house of slaves ransomed us, in famine fed us, and in plenty provided us, from the sword saved us, and from the pest delivered us, and from evil and serious illnesses lifted us. Till now thy compassions have helped us and thy mercies have not deserted us; and may Thou never, 0 Lord our God, desert us. Therefore, the limbs that thou hast distributed among us, and the spirit and breath that thou hast blown into our nostrils, and the tongue which thou hast placed in our mouths — they shall give thanks, and bless, and extol, and glorify, and exalt, and reverence, and sanctify and crown thy name, our King.

For every mouth shall give thanks to thee, and every tongue shall swear to thee, and every knee shall kneel to thee, and every stature bow down before thee, and all hearts shall fear thee, the inward parts and reins shall sing to thy name. As it is written: « All my bones shall say: 'Lord, who is like unto Thee, / Who deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, / Yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?' » (Ps. 35:10).

Who is like thee, and who is equal to thee, and who is comparable to thee, the God who is great, mighty, and awesome, God most high, master of heaven and earth? We shall praise thee, and laud thee, and glorify thee, and bless thy holy name. As it is said: « Bless the Lord, 0 my soul; / And all that is within me, bless His holy name. » (Ps. 103:1).16

A medieval legend attributed this prayer to Peter. In the absence of data it is not possible to verify such an attribution, but it is easy to imagine that Peter, the only apostle to whom the Father had revealed the true nature of the Messiah (Mt. 16: 16ff), would have grasped the significance of the Last Supper more clearly than the other apostles. In consequence, not finding in the psalms the full expression of his gratitude, he might have formulated a prayer in which he recognized that the incapacity of man to praise God adequately was the best expression of his own inward consciousness.

On the other hand, at this point in the Passover ceremonial another tradition (Tosefta) prescribes that it must end with the following verse from one of the Psalms of Praise: « Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. » This conclusion anticipates both by invocation and implied desire the coming of the Messiah and his salvation. It is followed by a final hymn to God, Redeemer of his people.


There have been various attempts to specify at exactly what point during the Passover meal Jesus pronounced the words of consecration, words which nobody before him had ever pronounced: « Take and eat of this, for it is my Body, » and « Take and drink of this, for it is my Blood. » These words are the answer to all the prayers for messianic redemption: today everything is fulfilled.
The Gospel texts give us little information, but from them we know that Jesus washed the feet of the apostles (Jn. 13 : 1), consecrated bread, and a short time afterwards, towards the end of the meal, consecrated wine (Lk. 22 : 20). Finally, before going out, hymns were sung (Mk. 14 : 26; Mt 26 : 30). We would like to be able to situate these actions correctly in the framework of the Jewish ritual so as to reconstruct this unique Passover meal. All the actions of Jesus mentioned by the evangelists have their counterparts in the ritual actions of the Paschal meal, but at the Last Supper their aspect is different. A possible example of this is the washing of the disciples' feet. In the Passover rite, before the meal the master of the seder washes his hands before reciting the blessing over the bread; Jesus follows this custom, but he adapts it.

The words of consecration over the bread transcend all ritual tradition, but is it not possible that they were introduced by the formula already quoted, which is still used by every observant Jew when he breaks bread: « Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God, who bringest forth bread from the earth. » The Last Supper was a meal overshadowed by the presentiment of death, and the apostles, even if they did not fully understand, surely felt something of this presentiment. In such a context the above blessing must have assumed the tone and the importance of a prophecy of the Resurrection. Jesus identified the bread with his body, so the implication was clear: just as the Lord brought forth bread from the earth so would he bring forth from the grave that body soon to be buried. Moreover, Jewish mysticism was later to speculate that the bread and wine represent both Israel and the Messiah.17

It is possible also to see in the broken matzah, which is blessed twice during the Passover meal and hence is particularly sacred, the bread which Jesus consecrated and gave to his apostles. In Jewish tradition the unleavened bread came to be eaten with the lamb, and in time it recalled the lamb; " this leads to the supposition that all the prescriptions relating to the lamb were applied to the bread." Hence this would be the bread over which the Lamb of God, come to perfect the Jewish Passover sacrifice, would have pronounced the words of consecration.

In this matter all is conjecture, but since Luke expressly states that the wine was consecrated after the meal it seems possible to identify the cup consecrated by Jesus with that cup which was and still is blessed with particular solemnity at the close of the ritual meal." It has already been said that a messianic character was attributed to this blessing and that the Jews expected David, prototype of the Messiah, to come himself to bless the cup. The Psalms of Praise seem particularly suitable to the experience the apostles were just then living; indeed parts of these psalms seem inexplicable outside of the particular context:

... Death's cords were tightening round me,
the nooses of Sheol;
distress and anguish gripped me,
I invoked the name of the Lord: « Lord, rescue me! »
Return to your resting place, my soul, the Lord has treated you kindly.
He has rescued (me from death)
my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling.
(I will walk in the Lord's presence in the land of the living.) ...
In my alarm, I declared,
« No man can be relied on. »
What return can I make to the Lord for all his goodness to me?
I will offer libations to my saviour, invoking the name of the Lord....
The death of the devout
costs the Lord dear
(Ps. 116:3ff).

In this psalm the agony of death alternates with a sense of security in the Lord's help, with a faith which we can define as faith in the resurrection. Perhaps Jesus alone understood the full meaning of these words. The apostles had heard them in an atmosphere of impending tragedy; this, and their uneasiness at the prophecy of Jesus' betrayal, had perhaps rendered them incapable of perceiving the hope and promise inherent in the psalm.

The Last Supper ended with the recitation of the « hymn » mentioned by the evangelists, in which we recognize the Psalms of Praise that closed the Passover meal. Thus was concluded the rite of Jesus which is both old and new, and which enables every believer to share in the new and definitive revelation made by God for his people. By means of the blessed wine and matzah the Jew was able to reactualize the redemption of Israel and to anticipate in petition and desire the completion of the redemption to be wrought by the Messiah. At the Last Supper the new words pronounced by Jesus rendered that completion present. That night the apostles could apply to one person the invocation which had for so long expressed the yearning of the Jews: « Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. »

Once again Jesus performs an action in the context of Jewish liturgy. At Nazareth he had wanted the synagogue to be the background of his proclamation that the salvation foretold by the prophets was present in his own person. Again, at the crucial moment of his earthly life when he celebrated his own sacrifice under the veil of signs, he chose the context of Jewish worship since this was the worship that he lived, resumed in himself and perfected.

In the brief summary of the history of salvation which the master of the seder makes for his guests, he mentions its beginning and the determining event of the Exodus. Prophets had foreseen that this history would end in the messianic age; this age for which Israel had been praying for centuries had now come. The Jewish religion is essentially messianic in that it is directed with dynamic tension towards the future. Past events are evoked only in so far as they have bearing on what is to come; they are relived in the rite only to orientate it towards the future, to the moment of its perfect maturity. This moment came in Jerusalem on that night in the « upper room ». A new stage in salvation history had been reached, at the same time an arrival and a departure; henceforth men were to await only the final fulfilment, the glorious return of Christ at the parousia.

Until this moment Israel had sought union with God in many ways suggested by the Law, but from now on all these means were to be summed up in two: the paschal elements of bread and wine. All that the Law entailed with regard to circumcision, Sabbath, phylacteries, etc., had been followed in obedience to the explicit will of God. Up to this moment they had had for Israel a value that could be called « quasi-sacramental » because they were exterior signs (othoth) expressing the union of the people with their God. Henceforth all these signs would be resumed in the Person of Christ whose presence is veiled by the bread and the wine. This Person in whom union with God is realized is himself the Word of God, the living expression of his will. He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it in himself.


Everybody knows that the latest liturgical reform of the Roman rite has enriched its Eucharistic Prayer with new forms. It also reintroduces a structure which was used in Rome during the early Christian period and which remained in force even outside the Roman liturgy. The following are the main constituents of this structure:

1. Praise to the Lord for his creation.
2. Praise for the Redemption wrought by Christ which culminated in his passion and death.
3. The account of the institution of the Eucharist which re-enacts Christ's passion, death and resurrection.
4. Often an expression of expectation of the final coming of Christ.
5. A final doxology.

The Eucharistic Prayers are seen to be formed of two parts. The first is commemorative in that it recalls past events; the second is a re-presentation of these events in a single event which brings the others to completion and itself projects into the future.
If the above outline is compared with the Jewish Passover the structural and theological similarities are striking. Let us examine the Eucharistic Prayer of Hippolytus, a third century Doctor of the Roman Church. It treats with the characteristic sobriety of the Roman liturgy the themes of which we have spoken. This sobriety makes them stand out all the more clearly.

We render thanks unto thee, 0 God, through thy Beloved Servant Jesus Christ Whom in the last times Thou didst send [to be] a Saviour and Redeemer and the Angel of Thy counsel; Who is Thy Word inseparable [from Thee]; through Whom Thou madest all things and in Whom thou wast well-pleased. Whom thou didst send from heaven into the Virgin's womb, and Who conceived within her was made flesh, and demonstrated to be Thy son, being born of the Holy Spirit and a Virgin. Who fulfilling Thy will and procuring for Thee an holy people, stretched forth His hands for suffering (or for the passion) that he might release from sufferings them who have believed in Thee;
who when He was betrayed to voluntary suffering (or the passion) in order that He might abolish death and rend the bonds of the devil and tread down hell and enlighten the righteous and establish the ordinance and demonstrate the resurrection,
taking bread [and] making eucharist to Thee, said: Take eat this is My Body, which is (or will be) broken for you. Likewise also the cup, saying: This is My Blood which is shed for you. When ye do this ye do (or make ye) My "anamnesis".
. through Whom honour and glory [be] unto Thee with [the] Holy Spirit in Thy Holy Church, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.

The prayer begins with a brief synthesis of the history of salvation, but the perspective differs from that of the Jewish Passover. In the Christian text salvation history begins with the creation of the world as the first saving act of God; the Jewish text begins with the « creation » of the chosen people called by the Lord in the person of Abraham who was « a wandering Ara-mean ». The Jewish liturgy remains faithful to the formulation of the most ancient synthesis of salvation history found in the Bible, while the Christian is here seen to be heir to the prophetic spirit. In the prophets, especially Isaiah, there is a change of perspective: the circumference of Israel's history is as it were broken, because creation is no longer seen apart from this history but as the first manifestation of God's saving power and goodness. This « circumference of Israel's history » was more than broken, it was enlarged to cosmic proportions in which the creation at the beginning was seen as but the first stage of a long development which was to include the call of Abraham, the liberation of Israel from Egypt, the conquest of the Promised Land, and was to end with the advent of the Messiah.

To the Christian the redemption wrought by Christ is that fulfilment awaited by primordial creation, a fulfilment of which it had from the beginning borne the need within itself. This fulfilment was made present in the Eucharistic meal, which represented the Sacrifice of Christ, because in it Christ repeated the central act of salvation history, synthesized in himself. Messianic redemption is already here awaiting the end of time.

The final doxology of the Canon expresses in a concise and theologically perfect form the essence of the same praise of God which the Jew, with truly oriental redundance, expresses in the Psalms of Praise and the « Benediction over the Song ».

Many examples could be adduced but we prefer to limit ourselves to a single oriental liturgy, the Syriac tradition of James which is inspired by the ancient rite of Jerusalem. It has the same general lines as other ancient Christian liturgies but it is more developed. It begins by praising God, the Creator. It recalls the fall of man as the occasion on which God proved himself to be a merciful Father, a Father who helps sinful mankind — first by the Law and the Prophets, and then by sending his Son to renew man in his own image. Then it shows the Son who

when he was about to accept a voluntary death for us sinners, himself without sin, in the same night in which he was delivered up for the life and salvation of the world, took bread ... 22

Expectation of the glorious return of Christ is clearly expressed in the prayers immediately following the Consecration:

... we sinners making the anamnesis of His life-giving sufferings, His saving cross and death and burial and resurrection on the third day from the dead and session at the right hand of Thee, His God and Father, and His second glorious and fearful coming, when He shall come to judge the living and the dead, when He shall reward every man according to His works . . . we offer unto Thee 0 Lord ... 23

In our own reformed liturgy, particularly in the fourth Eucharistic Prayer, we have a synopsis of salvation history which culminates in the death and resurrection of Christ. In this prayer, too, salvation is regarded as a gift of the Holy Spirit who today and every day transforms bread and wine into the presence of the Lord whom we welcome with the proclamation of the hope that sustains us « until he comes in glory ».

In the Jewish meal, the coming of the Mes siah is awaited « on that day », according to the prophetic expression. The Christian meal, yesterday and today, recalls an event already begun that awaits only its conclusion. Both Jewish and Christian meals are messianic and both are dynamically orientated to the future. However, the objects of their expectation and hope are different; in the one, the realization of an event is awaited; in the other, an event is remembered that has already begun and is only awaiting its completion.

We will now give an outline of the similarities and differences already noticed between the Passover meal and the Eucharistic meal.

Jewish Passover

1) Praise to God for the creation of the people of Israel at the time of Abraham.
2) Praise to God for the redemption of Israel through Moses.
3) Re-enactment of the salvation of Israel in the person of every Jew who shares in the meal.
4) Expectation of the coming of the Messiah.
5) Psalms of Praise.

Christian Eucharist

1) Praise to God for the creation of the world.
2) Praise to God for the redemption of humanity through Christ.
3) Re-enactment of salvation — the Eucharist.
4) Expectation of the return of the Messiah.
5) Final doxology.

If the similarities between the Passover meal and the Christian Eucharist had been merely accidental they would have been limited to particular instances only, but they appear in such numerous and diverse contexts that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are connected by similar theological conceptions viewed from two different perspectives: 1) the conception of a God who personally directs the history of his people, and who continually intervenes in this history in a particular way at critical moments, and 2) the conception of a God who guides history towards a predetermined goal, towards the day on which the knowledge of the Lord will fill the whole earth « as the waters fill the sea », that day on which there will be « one Lord, and his name one ».

Such a similarity of fundamental theological conception could not have failed to influence the forms of worship. It is of great interest for the Christian to see how all the essential events of his Christian life are rooted in Jewish religious life. A link is thus forged which is certainly determined by a common heritage of the Old Testament and by an affinity of liturgical practice persisting throughout the centuries.


The religious life of both Jew and Christian follows annual calendars whose developments are similar, and it is centered round various feasts which themselves possess many points of resemblance.


It must be borne in mind that for Christians the day consecrated to the Lord is Sunday; for the Jews it is the Sabbath (Saturday). At first glance this may seem to be a sharp divergence of liturgical practice, but when we consider the matter carefully we find elements that would indicate quite the contrary. Some of the earliest Fathers of the Church, e.g. St. Ignatius of Antioch, hint with seeming disapproval at the eastern custom, followed by many Christians, of observing the Sabbath. On the other hand, we know that the Eastern Churches, with the exception of that of Alexandria, kept the Sabbath as the day of liturgical assembly. Some Western Churches fasted on the Sabbath, but the East went so far as to excommunicate those who did this. The Synagogue also forbade Jews to profane the Sabbath by penance. The Constitutiones Apostolicae (VII, 23,3,4) consider the Sabbath as a festal day like Sunday, the first commemorating creation and the second the resurrection. Holy Saturday alone was not a feast since creation should not rejoice on the day when the Son of the Creator descended into hell. All these elements which in Christian practice distinguish the Sabbath from the other days of the week suggest Jewish influence.24

Some very ancient texts make it clear that Christians solemnized Sunday as a kind of « weekly Easter », a weekly commemoration of the Resurrection. However, notable liturgists such as Duchesne and Cabrol consider the Christian service of Sunday worship to have developed as a sequel and a conclusion of the Sabbath synagogue worship. At the close of the synagogue service (by the time it was over there would be no fear of infringing the law limiting travel on the Sabbath) the faithful gathered together to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice. If this is so the continuity of liturgical life between Synagogue and Church is clear: the celebration of the Sacrifice by which salvation is accomplished became the fulfilment of the liturgy in which salvation is announced.

This explains why the most ancient texts state that the Christians « broke bread » during the night. There is an example of this in the Acts of the Apostles where, at Traos, Paul continued speaking far into the night. A boy called Eutyches, who was sitting on a window-ledge listening, was so overcome by sleep that he fell three storeys to the ground and died. Paul went down, clasped the boy to himself and brought him back to life. Afterwards he returned to the assembly and « broke bread ». At dawn he left Traos (Acts 20 : 7ff). It was probably only later that Christians noticed the coincidence between the celebration of the Sunday liturgy and the Resurrection of the Lord.

From their Jewish background Christians would have retained an understanding of what the Sabbath meant, and this would have led them to remain faithful to its observances. It is a figure of the world to come, and is thus associated with messianic times, « the day that will be all Sabbath and rest for life everlasting ».25

Sunday is for Christians a « weekly Easter », a day on which they live in a special way the great mystery of the Resurrection; but such is the richness and complexity of this mystery that the festivals of the liturgical year are needed to present its various aspects. These aspects are thrown into relief and high-lighted by the daily Scripture readings. Here we must remember that the

Synagogue also has a liturgical year, with noteworthy resemblances to that of the Church.
The liturgical year of the Church begins in late autumn, on the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas; as Cabrol says, « In the Church, everything begins with the coming of Christ. » However, this has not always been so; there exist clear traces of another inauguration of the year connected with Easter. The oldest lectionary of the Roman Church presumes a cycle of readings beginning on Easter night and ending on Holy Saturday; moreover, Ambrose alludes to Easter as the beginning of the year. This two-fold aspect of the beginning of the year is found not only in Jewish tradition but also very clearly in Semitic tradition in general.

In Jewish tradition the beginning of the year was connected with creation of which it was, in a sense, a re-enactment. Some of the ancient rabbis held that the world was created in the spring, in the month of Nisan (Rabbi Joshua, first century); others, that it was created in the autumn, in the month of Tishri (Rabbi Eliezer, first century).

However this may be, both the Jewish and the Christian liturgical years have two great festal cycles: autumn and spring in the Jewish, Christmas and Easter in the Christian. The Jewish autumn cycle is complex, comprising three great festivals: New Year, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. The New Year is seen as the time when the Lord judges men and fixes their destinies for the year that is beginning. Some see it as the day when the world was conceived and on which the coming of the Messiah is awaited. When he comes the « great trumpet » will be sounded to reassemble all the dispersed tribes of Israel who will prostrate themselves before the holy mountain of Jerusalem; but already the Day of Atonement, and hence the consciousness of human guilt, casts its shadow. On the vigil of the New Year, before day-break, Israel begins to call on God for pardon. Hence the New Year is essentially a feast of renewal; between the two great moments in the world's history, the beginning of time and the end of time, comes moral renewal through the forgiveness of sins. Christmas also marks a new beginning for the world, and already Jerome had associated it with the Jewish New Year because both celebrate renewal.

There are resemblances also between the periods of preparation for the Jewish New Year and for Christmas. On the ninth day of the month of Av (July-August), Jews recall the destruction of the Temple. The seven « Sabbaths of consolation » follow. Some scholars maintain that there was originally only one « Sabbath of consolation » which followed the ninth day of Av just as a « Sabbath of mourning » had preceded it, and then came six Sabbaths of preparation for the New Year. This last practice coincides with that of the early Church. Documents anterior to Gregory the Great prove that the period of preparation for Christmas (Advent) also lasted six weeks, as it still does in the Ambrosian rite.

In the « Sabbaths of consolation » we can already distinguish the two trends, penitential and messianic, which form the background of the Jewish autumnal cycle. For four weeks, a period corresponding with the duration of the present Roman Advent, special prayers called prayers « for pardon » are interwoven with the readings. These readings are full of messianic hope. « Console my people, console them » (Isaiah 40: 1-26): in this text the prophet beseeches the Lord to remove all obstacles and to make the way straight for the coming of the Messiah. « Arise, shine out, ( Jerusalem) » (Isaiah 60 : 1-22): here the prophet already sees the splendor of the Lord shining over the Holy City.

For the Church, the term « Advent » had a particularly messianic significance; originally it meant, not a period of preparation for the birth of Jesus, but the expectation of his second coming at the end of time. This is evident from the readings, which correspond with those of the synagogue indicated above. On the feast of the Epiphany Christians read the same passage from Isaiah (60 : 1-6) that the Jews read on the penultimate « Sabbath of consolation » before the New Year. Originally Advent was not a penitential season, and the latest reform of the Roman liturgy, desiring to stress the aspect of messianic expectation, has relegated to the background the penitential element that had subsequently developed. This element is now to be found either in the September Ember Days or completely removed to Lent.

One last comparison: on the day after Christmas the Church celebrates the death of her first martyr, St. Stephen, and on the day after their New Year, the Jews fast in memory of the murder of Gedaliah. Created governor of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar, he fell victim to the Ammonite king, Baalis, and is venerated by the Jews as one of their chief martyrs.

This complex of elements common to the celebration of Christmas and to the Jewish New Year cannot be explained as the result of chance. Such an explanation becomes even less possible when we consider the similarities between two other festivals of the same cycle: the Epiphany and Tabernacles. The Pharisees attached great importance to the feast of Tabernacles and were severely criticized by the Sadducees for introducing into it some popular elements of a spectacular and festive nature. There were processions with waving palm and willow branches; flutes were played and giant candelabra lighted in the Court of the Women in the Temple. So great was the display of light that, according to the Mishna," it overflowed into the city until every courtyard in Jerusalem was illuminated by it. Dignitaries danced around the candelabra while the Levites played zithers and horns. A very important element of this feast was the « water libation » which was poured over the altar to obtain rain. It was a celebration of water and light, elements which are to be found in the liturgical tradition of the Eastern Church on the feast of the Epiphany.

In the East it was the custom to call the Epiphany the « day of lights ». The pilgrim Etheria (fourth century), who has left us a record of the earliest pilgrimage itinerary in Palestine, describes the custom in Jerusalem of celebrating the feast of the Epiphany with a great abundance of light. She is amazed at the splendor of the vestments and of the general adornment of the great Constantinian basilicas on that day. She stresses particularly the « luminaria » which shone with indescribable splendor in the rotunda of the Basilica of the Resurrection where the pilgrims came from Bethlehem before daybreak. We see from their homilies that the Fathers of the Church were fascinated by the refulgence of light on the feast of the Epiphany.

In the Eastern liturgy the feast is celebrated with water as well as with light. The custom of blessing the baptismal water on this day originated in Palestine where the Christians used to draw water from the Jordan at the traditional place of Jesus' baptism. They poured large quantities of balsam into this water, and the mixture was used for the baptism of catechumens. Hence the Epiphany is linked to baptism, which explains the convergence in this feast of the celebration of various manifestations of Jesus. The West concentrates on the visit of the Magi, which was the manifestation of Christ as King of all nations. The East concentrates on the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, where his divinity is manifested through the solemn testimony of his Father. The custom of the « luminaria » made it easy to pass from the baptism of Christ to that of the catechumens. This custom led naturally to the association of this feast called « day of light » with baptism, which Paul had already referred to as « illumination ».

It is significant that the elements of water and light which converge in baptismal symbolism are both found in the Eastern liturgy of the Epiphany, while in the West the custom of conferring baptism on this occasion is completely disapproved. It is clear that the influence of Jewish custom was stronger in the East. Perhaps the lights that had filled Etheria with such wonder owed their origin to the temple lights which the rabbis had called « the great innovation of the Pharisees ».


The Jewish spring festivals are the Passover and Pentecost. Both had their origins in primitive nature observances, and at a later date were given a clearly Jewish historic character. Passover commemorates the liberation from Egypt and Pentecost the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Mystical texts speak of the « betrothal » of Israel to God at the Passover and of their « wedding » at Pentecost.

The Jewish Pentecost, according to the Bible, was a feast of thanksgiving for the harvest, at that time of year in its final stages. This characteristic was even more obvious in the liturgy of the ancient synagogue, but it was gradually superseded by the commemoration of the gift of the Law. The liberation or redemption of Israel, begun with the Exodus and commemorated at the Passover meal, came to be understood as completed only when God gave the Law, since the Law made Israel truly his people. It is impossible to establish with certainty the exact time when the commemoration of the giving of the Law was substituted for the harvest thanksgiving. However, in a very old pre-talmudic document v dating from the two first centuries after Christ, there are references to the tradition of reading the scriptural account of the giving of the Law (Exodus 19) and also to the contemporaneous tradition mentioned in Deuteronomy 16 : 9. « You are to count seven weeks... from the time (Passover) you begin to put your sickle into the standing corn. You must then celebrate the feast of weeks (Pentecost) for the Lord your God » (Deut. 16 : 9). This text proves the agricultural character of the feast. Many scholars hold that the change was due to the influence of the Church. At Pentecost she commemorated the miraculous effusion of the Holy Spirit who, as proof positive that the messianic era had come, had set his seal upon her. This feast marked the promulgation to the world of the renewed Law, and it is conceivable that the Synagogue would have wished to reaffirm God's manifestation to Israel. Hence the choice of those prophetic readings which stress the theophanic aspect of the feast. In Ezekiel's vision of the chariot (1 : 1 ff), the prophet describes how the « glory of the Lord » appeared to him:

Above the vault ... was something that looked like a sapphire; it was shaped like a throne and high up on this throne was a being that looked like a man. ... all around him from what seemed his loins upwards was what looked like fire, and a light all round like a bow in the clouds on rainy days ...

Habbakuk (3 : 3ff) also speaks of the Lord who « comes », whose majesty veils the heavens and whose glory fills the earth.

On the other hand, at a later period there is the prescribed reading from the Book of Ruth at Pentecost. A relationship was evidently seen between the feast of Pentecost and the agricultural background of David's grandmother. However, a later midrash attempted to gloss over the agricultural aspect by stating that the sufferings of Ruth were recalled at Pentecost to teach Israel that to obtain the gift of the Law she too must suffer. The aim of such an interpretation was to stress an unessential element of the book of Ruth so that it could be adapted to a celebration of Pentecost centered rather on the Law than upon an agricultural festival.

Until its latest reform, the lectionary of the Roman Church had retained the reading of those passages of Scripture which reflect the agricultural element of Pentecost: « When you enter the land that I give you, and gather in the harvest there... » (Lev. 23 : 9-22); « Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them: ...if you live according to my laws, if you keep my commandments and put them into practice, I will give you the rain you need at the right time; the earth shall give its produce and the trees of the countryside their fruits' » (Lev. 26 : 3-12); « When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance... you must set aside the first-fruits of all the produce of the soil... you must put them in a pannier and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to give his name a home » (Dt. 26 : 1-11). Such readings no longer had a place in the daily liturgy of the synagogue, but here the Church was conserving intact the most genuine Jewish liturgical tradition. This is an interesting example of exchange between the Church and Synagogue, each giving and at the same time receiving.

The links between the Christian and the Jewish paschal liturgies are somewhat different. There are so many similarities that only the principal examples can be mentioned here. For Christians as for Jews the Pasch is the feast of liberation, and the typological connection between it and the Exodus from Egypt is one of the most frequent themes in the writings of the Fathers. In the West, baptism was conferred upon the catechumens on the vigil of Easter to signify that as Christ passed from death to life on that night, so is the neophyte born to new life. Israel had become the freed people of God by miraculously passing through the waters of the Red Sea, so the Fathers considered that the catechumen was freed by baptism from the slavery of sin to become a member of the renewed people of God. As the Israelites had been saved from death in Egypt by the blood of the lamb, which caused the destroying angel of God to pass by their homes, so do Christians receive eternal life through the blood of the Lamb of God. These constant traditions of the Church are particularly stressed in the liturgy of the Easter cycle.

The Roman lectionary, before its most recent reform, and the order of synagogue readings had many points of similarity. The following example is somewhat polemic in spirit.

On the third Sabbath of preparation for the Passover, Numbers 19 : 1-22 is read in the synagogue. This passage gives prescriptions for the preparation of the lustral water used to purify those sons of Israel who had in some way contracted ritual impurity. The reading which follows is from Ezekiel (36 : 18-38). It speaks of the « pure water » which the Lord will pour down upon the people in the messianic age and which will cleanse them from every defilement. The theme of this Sabbath is therefore water, beginning with the purification of Israel then being effected, and ending with the eschatological purification.

The theme of water is also present in the Roman liturgy in many of the readings for the third week of Lent. On Monday the account of the healing of Naaman the Syrian in the Jordanis read; on Friday that of Moses bringing forth water from the rock. This latter is followed by the New Testament account of the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus tells her that he can give « living water ». Wednesday's gospel reading begins with the question: « Why do your disciples break away from the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat food » (Mt. 15 : 2). The polemical character of the question about legal purification is thrown into higher relief if we admit the possibility of its having been chosen in response to the synagogue reading on the subject of legal purification. The gospel passage for Tuesday is perhaps even more polemical; it quotes the words of Jesus when he conferred upon the apostles the power to forgive sins. Perhaps this passage was chosen by the Church to affirm the belief that it is not ritual purification by water that remits sin, but the pardon given by God through the ministry of his priests. Here there is no direct correspondence between the readings of the Synagogue and those of the Church; instead, the synagogue readings are a kind of polemical incitement which determines the choice of the Church. The reading from Ezekiel about the « pure water » of the eschatological purification is used by the Church but it is transposed to the Wednesday of the following week.

The Synagogue recalls the sacrifice of Isaac on the feast of the New Year, since it was through that sacrifice that so many favors were given to Israel. The Church recalls the great test of the Patriarch Abraham at the Easter vigil, seeing in this incomplete sacrifice the prefiguration of that sacrifice to come in which blood would indeed be shed for the redemption of mankind.

Recent studies," on the other hand, encourage the theory that at an early date the account of the sacrifice of Isaac formed part of the Passover liturgy of the Synagogue, and that only later was it transposed to the festal cycle of autumn. If this theory is accurate we have a similar situation to that suggested for Pentecost: the Church conserved the older tradition while the Synagogue, for polemical reasons, modified its lectionary.

When we compare the liturgical readings of the Synagogue with those of the Church, we cannot but perceive that they are connected. At times the Synagogue would seem to influence the Church, at others, the contrary seems to be the case. On certain occasions there is evidence of a true continuity of worship; on others a certain controversial opposition is felt.

This paper has touched upon some of the more obvious and important points of comparison between the Jewish and the Christian liturgies, without going into great detail. It would seem, however, that enough has been said to justify the assumptions that there are elements of relationship between the Synagogue and the Church; that these elements point to the existence of a certain community of life; and finally, that throughout the centuries down to our own times the Christian liturgy has never forgotten that it originates at some time in the remote past within the framework of the Jewish liturgy.


1 The Authorised Prayer Book, revised edition, commentary and notes by Dr. Joseph H. Hertz (New York: Bloch, 1948), p. 423.
2 A. GUILDING, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship
(Oxford, 1960); R. HOUSTON SMITH, « Exodus Ty
pology in the Fourth Gospel, » Journal de littêrature biblique, 1962, pp. 329 ff.
3 Tosefta Sukkah 3, 3-18.
4 M. RIGHETTI, Storia liturgica, III, p. 62.
5 The Works Now Extant of Saint Justin the Martyr, translated, with notes and indices (Oxford: Parker, 1861), pp. 51-52.
Berakhot, 39b, 46.
8 Mahzor Vitry, p. 294, v. 96.
' Pesahim, 10,4.
10 Jerusalem Talmud, Pesahim, 10, 4, 37d.
11 G. VON RAD, Thêologie de l'Ancien Testament (Geneve, 1963), pp. 112 ff.
12 The Passover Haggadah, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, revised edition (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 51.
13 Ibid., pp. 53, 55. The formula of Rabbi Akiba has been preserved practically unchanged throughout the centuries; see MAIMONIDES, Mishna Torah, Hilkoth hames u-masah, end.
14 Berakhot, 48a.
15 Pesahim, 118a. See RABBENU SHLOMO BAR YITZHAK in Mahzor Vitry, p. 282.
16 The Passover Haggadah, pp. 79, 81.
17 E.R. GOODENOUGH, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, Vol. VI (New York: Princeton University Press, 1953-1968), p. 182.
18 RASH', Ad Pesahim, 119b.
16 Enciclopedia Talmudith, I, 134.5.
20 Some scholars would like to see in Mt. 26:29 a proof that Jesus, waiting for the fulfilment of the redemption, did not bless and consecrate this cup; but the matter is not clear.
21 G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1945), pp. 157-158.
22 F.E. BRIGHTMAN, Liturgies Eastern and Western, Vol. I Eastern Liturgies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), pp. 87-88.
23 Dix, op. cit., pp. 190-1.
24 RIGHETTI, op. cit., II, 18ff., 29f.
25 Tamid, 7,4.
26 Sukkah, 5,3.
27 Tosefta Megillah, 4.
28 R. LE DEAULT, La nuit pascale (Rome: Institut Biblique Pontifical, 1963), pp. 133 ff.

Dr. Cavalletti, residing in Rome, is an expert in catechetical and Jewish-Christian questions.

The editors are grateful to Editrice Studium in Rome for authorization to translate and publish these excerpts from the book Ebraismo e spirituality cristiana, 1966.


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