In the ✠ Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a regular catholic churchgoer, you likely are familiar with the general outline of the holy mass. Shortly after we boldly join in reciting our Lord’s prayer, the celebrant will fraction the consecrated host, confer a sign of peace, turn to us, holding the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ in their hands while firmly proclaiming: “Behold the Lamb of God: behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.” If you speak liturgicalese, you know this to be called the Agnus Dei, where we give reverence to the Son’s title: “Lamb of God”. In most catholic masses, the celebrant may then go on to say: “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb”, which is in reference to a passage from Revelation.
The word “behold” appears over 1200 times in most english translations of the Bible, and, in the New Testament, is derived from the Greek word “eido” which is often translated as a command to see, or, to look intently. It is translated most literally as, “be sure to see”.
We can assume this is the sentiment John the Baptist carries in today’s Holy Gospel when he says to the disciples “behold”. In the presence of our Lord, he calls the disciples to take notice, to look carefully.
But that’s not all he says, isn’t it? He says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Now the language here is especially important and worth paying attention to. When John says “takes away”, he doesn’t just mean get rid of, nullify, or set aside, like when a mother might take away a child’s toy for misbehaving. In this context, John says “airōn”, which in ancient Greek is closer to meaning “bearing up what was laid down”.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the mass, we celebrate in tremendous awe the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and remember through Christ’s passion the forgiveness of our sins. We remember in adoration that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, so that we may be forgiven. The catholic faith has historically been incredibly adamant about the remission of sins through consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ, that the Holy See ex cathedra has declared absolutions of venial sins for all those who rightfully partake in communion.
The breaking of bread isn’t the first time the people of the Church see the consecrated Host in the order of the holy mass, however. In fact, it occurs when the priest lifts up the Host in what we call, the elevation. Most times, the elevation is accompanied by three bell chimes, followed by a genuflection by the presiding clergy. The most important role played during the elevation is not by the clergy, but actually, the people! The priest lifts up the Body and Blood of Christ in view of everyone for the purpose of solemn adoration. When the priest raises the elements, they acclaim with their whole heart, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!”.
So the next time you find yourself at mass, I encourage you to lift your head high when you hear the sound of the bells, and intentionally look at the raised Body and Blood of Christ that was shed just for you, out of the abundance of love from our Almighty God.
Lastly, I’ll end with the prayer I usually say before the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if you find it helpful for your own devotion. “Be present, be present, O Jesus our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples in the upper room, and be known to us in the breaking of bread through Christ our Lord. Amen.”