Time-Transcending Mass and the Hebrew “Remember”

Jesus' Sacrifice is eternally present and “now”

Jaume Huguet, “The Last Supper”, c. 1470
Jaume Huguet, “The Last Supper”, c. 1470 (photo: Public Domain)

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. 

The Hebrew word zecher(in Strong's Concordancezakaror zeker: words #2142-2145), is usually translated asrememberor 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. (cf. 6:5; Gen 9:15-16; Ps 106:45; Ezek 16:60; 1 Mac 4:10; Lk 1:54, 72)

God “remembering” the covenant “made” it present insofar as it was still in force, thus enabling the Jews to win a battle. Of course, God knows everything at all times, so “remembers” in His case cannot be taken literally. If it were, this would imply a limitation of God's knowledge. 

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 solelya thing of the past.

It’s 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; . . . [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” was 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 (Num 15:39-40; Ps 103:18; 119:55). There was a spiritual, moral aspect to remembering, with regard to present conduct (Dt 9:7; 15:15; 16:12; 24: 18, 22), which was carried over into the New Testament:

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. (cf. 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:17; Rev 3:3)

God “remembers” our acts of worship and prayers:

Acts 10:31 saying, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.’ (cf. Ex 28:29; 30:16; Ps 20:3)

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

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. (cf. 6:5; Jon 2:7; Ps 6:5; Is 17:10; Tob 1:12)

Given this background, the institution of the Holy Eucharist comes 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.” (cf. 1 Cor 11:24-25)

These fascinating aspects of the Jewish self-understanding of Passover have obvious implications relative to the Catholic Mass. 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. . . . 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 related 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)