Here are two elements you probably never put together: The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and Eucharistic Prayer No. 3. What does the third Eucharistic Prayer have to do with an event that took place in A.D. 70?
During the Mass, the priest, if he is using this prayer, will pray:
“… you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.”
If you’re Catholic, this passage sounds very familiar. But did you know this prayer quotes the Old Testament book of Malachi? The context of the passage is a bit sad. After God assures Israel of His love, He asks, “A son honors his father, and a servant fears his master; If then I am a father, where is the honor due to me? And if I am a master, where is the reverence due to me?” (Malachi 1:6).
How did Israel dishonor God? Instead of offering God the best of their flocks as sacrifices and signs of their love and fidelity to Him, they gave Him what they didn’t want for themselves. They offered cattle that were blind, sick or lame. In a sense, they treated God’s holy altar as a way to getting rid of their garbage. What’s incredible is that even though they disrespected God in such a horrible way, they still expected Him to accept their sacrifices and answer their prayers. Malachi continues by giving this prophecy:
“Oh, that one among you would shut the temple gates to keep you from kindling fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts; neither will I accept any sacrifice from your hands, For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.”
Malachi predicted that instead of one place (Jerusalem) and one nation (the Jews) offering sacrifices to God, there would come a day when the nations around the world (i.e., “from the rising of the sun, even to its setting”) would offer a pure and acceptable sacrifice.
In September of A.D. 70, the unthinkable happened. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed and the Jews would no longer offer the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Covenant. Jesus not only predicted the destruction of the temple by saying that there would not be left a “stone upon another stone” (Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2, 16:3; Luke 19:44), but that the time was coming when people would no longer worship in Jerusalem (John 4:20). This because Jesus is greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6). Unlike the Jerusalem temple that would be torn down, the temple of Jesus’ body would die and rise again (John 2:21) and the sacrifices offered in Jerusalem that could not take away sins (Hebrews 10:4) were fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
But Jesus’ sacrifice happened only once on Calvary 2,000 years ago. Why, then, did Malachi prophesy that the nations everywhere would be offering a pure sacrifice? How was this second part of the prophecy fulfilled?
One of the earliest extra-biblical Christian writings we possess is called the Didache (or The Teaching). Notice what it says:
“But every Lord’s day, gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure … For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”
The imperfect and bloody sacrifices offered in the temple that couldn’t take away sins were fulfilled in Christ’s one perfect sacrifice to the Father on the Cross. That same sacrifice is represented on the altars around the world in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.
Therefore, every time the Holy Mass is offered, we are living out the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.
Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.