The Jewish Roots of the Catholic Church

last supper

Let’s consider for a moment who the early Christians, Apostles, and Disciples were.  In the early days of the Church, all of those who were attracted to, followed, and devoted themselves to Jesus were trained, devout Jews. They identified themselves as Jewish. Their training, language, rituals, and ceremonies were handed down from generation to generation from Abraham, through the Torah and into their daily lives. These Jewish traditions shaped the rituals and liturgies of the Catholic Church:

For both Jews and Christians Sacred Scripture is an essential part of their respective liturgies: in the proclamation of the Word of God, the response to this word, prayer of praise and intercession for the living and the dead, invocation of God’s mercy. In its characteristic structure the Liturgy of the Word originates in Jewish prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical texts and formularies, as well as those of our most venerable prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, have parallels in Jewish prayer. The Eucharistic Prayers also draw their inspiration from the Jewish tradition. The relationship between Jewish liturgy and Christian liturgy, but also their differences in content, are particularly evident in the great feasts of the liturgical year, such as Passover. Christians and Jews both celebrate the Passover. For Jews, it is the Passover of history, tending toward the future; for Christians, it is the Passover fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Christ, though always in expectation of its definitive consummation.( CCC 1096)

A Common Language of Faith

Vernacular Jewish language was a relatively vocabulary-poor language. Many of the Glory and Praise songs of our Protestant brothers, as well as Catholic hymns, contain the words, “Holy, holy, holy”. Why? Looking at the lack of comparative adjectives, if something was “holy” it was sacred, and to be held aside for religious ceremonies, etc. If it was “holy, holy,” that meant that it was holier than something that is only “Holy.” “Holy, holy, holy” meant the holiest.

The Temple contained the “Holy of Holies,” that is, no matter what or where you might be, this was the holiest of all the holy places.

When Christ was with His band at the Last Supper, He told His followers to, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This was not Him saying, “When you guys get together and have some wine and croutons, look around, and use the time as a way to tell stories about me and keep me in mind.” Rather, He and they were at the Passover, a meal, ceremony and ritual of such significance to the people of the time, that they were able to “remember it” in such a way as to make it real. Look at the Jewish Passover ceremony, the questions of the children, the meal, and the prayers; they are essentially unchanged over the course of hundreds of generations. The Passover is remembered in such a way as to make it real.

The Jewish Passover appears in the Catholic Mass in several places and is significant. Consider the point of the Offering, prior to the Consecration, the priest thanks God for the bread and wine. At the Jewish Passover meal, the following blessing is offered, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” A blessing over the bread is also offered.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

A better knowledge of the Jewish people’s faith and religious life as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy. (CCC 1096)

“The Church’s liturgy and “sacramental economy”—is“prefigured in the Old Covenant” (CCC 1093). To
understand “Christian liturgy,” we must first understand “Jewish liturgy” (CCC 1096). Many ancient Jewish practices and beliefs lie at the roots of the present-day Catholic Mass.

There are many parallels between ancient Jewish liturgy and the Mass, especially the Jewish Passover and the Jewish hope for the new manna of the Messiah. Both these aspects of ancient Jewish practice and belief can shed light on Catholic eucharistic practice and belief, revealing that there is much more in common between ancient Judaism and present-day Catholicism than there might seem at first glance. (The Jewish Roots of the Mass, Brant Pitre, PhD, Notre Dame Seminary)

Catholics broke with a tradition of language, and then returned to it, regarding the use of God’s revealed Name. The Jewish High Priest was permitted to say the Name of God one time a year. The rest of the year, God’s Name was YHWH, not spelled correctly, or completely, and not used in any trivial manner.

In the 1960s, part of the abuses which flooded the church after Vatican II was a rush towards a near hootenanny with folk songs, tambourines, etc. During this phase, one of the folk songs that was used rather extensively was “God of My Salvation”:

Yahweh is the God of my salvation: 

I trust in him and have no fear.

I believe it may have been Benedict XVI who reminded the Church that we need to show respect to our Jewish brothers and not use the full name in our songs or services.

The Ark and Tabernacle

Walk into a Catholic church, and there will be a candle burning near the Tabernacle. Why? The Ark of the Covenant was always accompanied by a candle. Why is this important? What was in the Ark? The stone tablets were there, and a sample of the manna from the desert.

What is in a Catholic Tabernacle? The Bread of Life, Christ Himself. How do we know this to be true? Go back to John chapter 6: Jesus tells the people around Him, “You know the bread from heaven that your ancestors ate in the desert? Well, they still died. I am the Bread of Life, my body is real food, whoever eats of my Flesh will never die.” The Tabernacle contains the Bread of Life.

The Jewish Passover is marked by several cups of wine. When Christ blessed the wine, He told the group that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them again new. But He drank it when it was offered to Him at the Crucifixionwhat does this mean? He was still correct, the last drink of wine was the completion of the Passover meal, the completion or His Sacrifice, and the completion of His purpose.

When He and the Apostles left the table, the Apostles may have thought that they were simply going out to sing some hymns and come back and finish the last cup of wine. They did not get to finish Passover, but Christ did.

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3 thoughts on “The Jewish Roots of the Catholic Church”

  1. Thank you Dan. Fine article! As a convert from secular Judaism, I have recognized the Jewish roots of Catholicism, the parallels between the Mass and the Seder, celebrating Passover. And it is true that salvation was offered to the Jews first and then to the gentiles (Romans 1:16).

  2. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  3. Thank you Dan. Though a Catholic myself, I have a deep interest in and respect for Judaism as it has strong links with our own faith. You have drawn attention to those links -some of which I previously knew little about- so, again, sincere thanks.

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