Behold the Lamb of God
St. John the Baptist called Jesus "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29), foreshadowing the Agnus Dei sung at every Mass. Although this Ordinary of the Mass is not changed in the new translations, the prayers by the priest and people which directly precede the Lamb of God are indeed more true to the ancient texts and in line with Sacred Scripture.
In Leviticus we read about the Old Testament holocaust or burnt offering, and the offering of guilt, sin, peace and bread, all of which are in present in our Liturgy of the Eucharist. The burnt offering is of an unblemished male lamb, for Christians again pointing to Jesus and symbolizing total surrender to God. The other offerings involve restoring the covenant with God through the use of an animal, food and drink as atonement and forgiveness of sin. This atonement is an important element which we can learn greatly from our Jewish ancestry. The offering and sacrifice of our lives, our joys and sorrows, goodness and sinfulness, should be given in fullness as an oblation to the Lord. Our gifts, indeed our very selves, need purification in order to worthily enter the courts of the Lord. The Lamb is this very atonement and symbol of conversion, not only in Jesus’ suffering and death, but also His life, both on earth and in Heaven.
The Book of Revelations alone contains more than 36 references to the Lamb, calling to mind Christ's passion and death in expiation for our sins, but also pointing to the Eternal Banquet of the Lamb in Heaven. The Mass is a foretaste of this Heavenly Liturgy, for “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing!”(5:12).
At Mass there are numerous references to the Lamb of God: specifically in the Gloria, the physical offering of the gifts, the kiss and sign of peace, and the Communion rite itself. The texts directly preceding Communion are some of the most important changes in the new translation. The priest, after making his own private preparation in prayer, faces the people and presents the consecrated Host, the Body and Blood of Christ, saying: “Ecce Agnus Dei…”, now translated “Behold the Lamb of God…”. Behold is the literal translation also invoking wonderment and awe, as opposed to “This is” merely a statement. Later, the pronoun ‘his’ is also replaced by the proper reference to the supper of the Lamb.
Our response to St. John’s statement is worthy of deep meditation, as this moment is our very source and summit of the Holy Mass. In the eighth chapter of his Gospel, St. Matthew recounts Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the many miracles which followed. One of which involved a centurion from Capernaum and his paralyzed servant.
Jesus said to him, "I will come and cure him."
The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another,
'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him,
"Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline
with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."
And Jesus said to the centurion, "You may go; as you have believed,
let it be done for you." And at that very hour (his) servant was healed. (Mt 8:7-13)
The centurion, in a deep expression of faith, asks Jesus to heal his servant on the strength of Christ’s authority. This is an amazing parallel to the Mass, as we ask Jesus to heal our soul and save us from the eternal punishment of Hell. It is more than the present-day healing of mind and body, it is a transformation of the soul for all eternity, if we remain in Christ in thought, deed, and word. Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity given to us in the Most Holy Eucharist is a pledge of the glory to come. We strike our breast in unworthiness, daily asking our Lord to cleanse our souls in hope to share in His glory, when every tear shall be wiped away. In a similar way, we ask our Blessed Mother in the Salve Regina: “to Thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears…that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Conversion is a necessary theme for our lives, as we know none of us are truly worthy of Heaven. We need a renewed outlook and sometimes a different way of praying. The Truth is always constant, yet our vision needs focus. This new translation—in essence the entire new Edition of the Roman Missal—guides us with greater clarity along our constant road of conversion. As St. Augustine said: “The same truths are spoken in new waysgiving us the opportunity to find delicious new flavors in what we already know, and enticing us to listen to them again with delight; for when the idiom is diversified, the ancient truth seems ever new as it is presented differently.”