The Roman Missal: Ecce Agnus Dei

So this next part has to do with one of my favorite parts of the new translation, “Behold the Lamb of God.”   I mean, I love it all, but this is one of my favorites, and part of that is because of the word “behold.”  Think about it.  This is certainly a better translation of the Latin word “ecce” than “this is”.

The previous translation of “this is” sounds pretty bland, and could really point out anything.  You could say, “This is my pet ferret, Gladys.”  Or you could say, “This is where I got sick last week.”  But “behold” has a special connotation.  Instead of the previous things, you would say, “Behold!  Gladys!  The ferret of the ages!” or “Behold!  The site of my holy regurgitation!”  Behold is a word that means more than simply to look at something, but it is to look with awe and respect.  To behold something is to be placed in the presence of something or someone extraordinary, and to soak in their glory.

If we look at the context of the word “behold” in scripture and in the Mass, we can really gain an understanding of what the Church is trying to show us here.  John the Baptist invites his followers to “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29), pointing out to them that Jesus is the one!  He’s the one that God had promised all the way back in the Book of Genesis that would save his people from their sins, and who would rescue them.  In a sense, we’re being invited to “behold the Lamb of God” as well.

The word “behold” also evokes the imagery from the passion of Jesus.  “Behold the Man” are the terrible words that we hear from Pontius Pilate after Jesus has been scourged and mocked (Jn 19:5).  Think of the horrible scourging scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and how Pilate then presents the horribly beaten savior to the crowd.  So when we hear this at Mass, it reminds us of the connection to the Passion, and the fact that the Mass is a re-presentation (not a representation, but a presenting again) of the sacrifice of Christ.  That same beaten and bruised man is presented again to us in the Eucharist – beaten, bruised, scourged, and crucified for you, and for the salvation of your soul!

The second half of the invitation for communion is from the Book of Revelation: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” (Rev 19:9)  Revelations is a vision of heaven and of the end times, and although it’s probably more popular for the Horsemen and the end of the world, it’s specifically a vision of the heavenly liturgy.  In fact, lots of parts in the Mass can be compared to parts in the Book of Revelation (although despite how boring our homilies are, we priests are not the Horsemen).  That’s because here on earth, in this Mass we’re celebrating, we’re sort of touching the heavenly liturgy, experiencing an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres for that great feast in heaven – all to give us hope!

My old composition teacher used to say that a summary was supposed to sum up all the main points of your argument, so in a sense, this short part of the Mass sums up the argument of the Mass: The Eucharist is the re-presentation of Christ, who suffered for our sake, and who is both God and Man, the Savior of the world.  And our partaking in this is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Whew!  Lots to think about next time you’re at Mass!

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