Just before the assembly comes forward to receive Holy Communion, a very bold statement is made about whom we are receiving and under what form.
The priest elevates the Host and chalice and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world! Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb!”
In the beginning of John’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist insists that he is not the messiah. Jesus comes walking along and John the Baptist points to Him saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
Referring to this somewhat obscure carpenter as the Lamb of God makes a bold statement about whom the Baptist believed Jesus to be.
In Exodus 12 God gives Moses and Aaron the prescriptions for how to annually represent their Passover from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. He tells them that in the middle of the first month of their year, Abib, each faithful Israelite household should procure for itself a male lamb which has no blemish.
The lamb symbolized the innocent offered on behalf of the guilty. In His innocence, God so loved the Israelites that He helped them escape their captors in Egypt, where they had been taken due to their disobedience.
To manifest this and show their gratitude, the Israelites were to sacrifice the best they had to offer — a lamb.
They then had to spread the blood of the Lamb on their doorposts so that God would know they were following His prescriptions and therefore leave their homes in peace.
In his prophecy, Isaiah 53 compares the coming messiah as one who will be “like a lamb led to slaughter,” who, though silent in the face of such treatment, will be victorious over His enemies.
Then, in his vision of the heavenly kingdom, St. John the Evangelist sees that it is a slain lamb that is the only one worthy to open up the scrolls on which are written the secrets of God.
After John sees the Lamb defeat all of His enemies, as Isaiah prophesied, an angel says to him, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
For Christians the Lamb is Jesus Christ. He was led away to the Cross as the innocent victim for the guilty so that His Blood could be sprinkled not on the doorposts, but on the souls of His faithful people.
He also asked us to perpetuate this event by using new signs of bread and wine.
For Catholics, the wedding feast is the Mass since it perpetuates the marriage between God and humanity in Jesus Christ and His Church.
Interestingly the meaning of the word used for the month in which God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice the paschal lamb in the old covenant (Abib) is “first grain.”
In the new and eternal covenant of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice is now the fruit of the first grain, the uncreated God Himself.
It is so appropriate that we use the fruit of grain (bread) and grape (wine) to symbolize this sacrifice. To behold the Lamb of God is indeed an honor.
Each time we hear it at Mass we should keep in mind that we are perpetuating the fulfillment of God’s promises of old.