According to Father John Harding, scriptural types exist when “a biblical person, thing, action, or event foreshadow new truths, new actions or new events . . . A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype but the latter is always greater. Both are independent of each other.” These types can be seen in various stories and situations throughout the Old and New testaments. While much attention has been given to Old Testament people who fill typological roles, little attention has been paid to Ancient Jewish liturgy and how it was a preparation for the Catholic Mass.
One could argue that Ancient Judaism formally began with Moses on Mount Sinai. Almost immediately, the nomadic Jewish people began to develop a highly ritualized liturgy that was meant to teach the Jewish people who their creator God was, how to worship this creator God, and how to remain in communion with Him.
The Jewish people, unlike all other ancient people, were taught that man was “very good” and that life was sacred. This nomadic people learned that worship was to be communal and always done within the framework of a community–under the guidance of a sacred priesthood. Their creator God would provide this chosen nomadic people a food that is not merely “lehem” (the Hebrew word for bread) but something other than bread: “manna” (literally in Hebrew meaning, “What is it?”). Here’s the parallel: We your pilgrim church on earth today also eat something that is “other than bread,” provided by a Personal God with a sacred priesthood in a communal worship.
To worship this newly revealed “I AM,” the Hebrew people had to set up their tents and then eventually their sacred Temple according to very specific instructions. There were seven items that were intrinsic to the Jewish liturgy that still find significance in our own Catholic Mass:
- 1. The Ark of the Covenant. This was the special box, made of acacia wood covered in gold, meant to house the three sacred items of the Jewish Law: The Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, and a jar of manna. Every Catholic Church contains an “Ark of the Covenant”–the Tabernacle. Christ Himself in the Blessed Sacrament is present: truly, really, substantially. He is the New Law, the High Priest, and the Bread of Life.
- The Mercy Seat. In Ancient Judaism, the Kapporeth, or the top of the Ark of the Covenant, sometimes also called the seat of atonement, was a place where the high priest on the High Feast of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) would sacrifice a heifer for the sins of the whole world. It was on this day, and this day alone, that he would pronounce the unpronounceable name, the Sacred Tetragrammaton: YHWH. When the temple was destroyed and there was no longer an ark, synagogues would still retain a chair representing authority. This became known as Moses’ chair. This has two meanings: authority sees its continuity in the word “cathedra” (cathedral of a bishop and ex cathedra of the pope) meaning “chair”; and there is a special chair where the celebrant of every Mass sits. This chair is called the Presider’s chair.
- The Altar. In Ancient Judaism, there were different tables/altars for different purposes. The bronze altar was the main altar for sacrifice. It was not made of gold because bronze was stronger and would hold up against the sharp knife used in sacrifice. Although on our main altar the priest offers an unbloodied sacrifice, we still have an altar for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
- Ritual Offerings. The bronze altar was an altar of continual prayers and offerings. We, too, have an “Offertory Table.” While ours is not made of acacia wood covered in bronze, we utilize a special table on which the gifts of bread and wine are placed before being brought to the altar during the offertory procession.
- Incense. The golden altar of incense was used throughout the day as a symbolic reminder of the prayers of the people rising up to Yahweh. Today we use incense in the liturgy as a symbolic act of purification and sanctification. The smoke still symbolizes the prayers of the faithful drifting up to heaven. The use of incense adds a sense of solemnity and mystery to the Mass. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell remind us of the transcendence of the Mass which links heaven with earth, and allows us to enter into the presence of God.
- A Water Basin. The bronze basin was also called the copper laver and was made up of the mirrors of the Hebrew women. The bronze basin would hold the holy water for ritual purification, not unlike the blessed water in our baptismal fonts and holy water fonts.
- A Sanctuary Light. The golden menorah lamp stand was originally a seven-branched candled lamp stand symbolizing the seven days of creation. The Chanukah menorah commemorates the eight days of the miracle of light found in the Book of Maccabees, and that is why it has more branches. But both menorahs were made to resemble the burning bush of Exodus, when God uniquely appeared to Moses. Jesus, the light of the world, also appears to us. We acknowledge his unique presence in the Blessed Sacrament with a Sanctuary Candle that is always lit, as long as the consecrated host is in the tabernacle.
Regina Hiney has been a catechist in the Diocese of Arlington for the last 17 years but has been teaching religious education for 22. Currently she is teaching at Saint William of York school in the diocese of Arlington. She attended Molloy College in Rockville Centre New York where she double-majored in English and Education. Regina has a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in medieval church history from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. She is married to Jason Hiney for 20 years and a mom to six great kids.