– Vol. IX, No. 2: April 2003
Common Ground and New Wineskins
by Father Jerry Pokorsky
It is usually worth the effort to establish "common ground" with neighbors. In politics, the search for common ground is the stuff of coalitions to win elections. In negotiations among nations, the search for common ground establishes mutual interest and progress. In inter-religious dialog, the identification of common ground is a refuge of goodwill. But even when common ground among competing interests is identified, there still remain thorny questions and conflicts that only the pursuit of the truth can resolve.
Christ makes this point in the Gospel when He teaches that "no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins ruined". While there remains an essential common ground with the Old Covenant, with the coming of Christ everything has changed. The Book of Revelation puts it succinctly: "Behold, I [Christ] make all things new". Even the common ground between the Old Testament and the New Testament must be viewed within the context of the teaching of Christ.
The structure of the Mass should be familiar to pious Jews upon close inspection. Synagogues are buildings that house Jewish worship. They were dispersed throughout ancient Israel, forming the center of the Jewish communities. On the Sabbath, rabbis read and explained the word of God in synagogues. Saint Luke reports that Jesus "taught in their synagogues". On one occasion, after reading from the prophecies of Isaiah, Christ teaches them that "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing". The Jews respond to His homily with goodwill: "And all spoke well of Him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth". Worship and the proclamation of the Word in synagogues clearly foreshadow the Liturgy of the Word of the Mass.
Like the Liturgy of the Word, worship in synagogues did not exhaust the religious responsibilities of the Jews. Several times a year it was necessary for them to journey to Jerusalem to offer the prescribed sacrifices in accordance with the Law of Moses. The integrity of Jewish worship depended upon the completion of the proclamation of the word with Temple sacrifice.
The Mass of the New Covenant has common ground with Jewish worship at synagogues and the Temple. Just as Temple sacrifice completes the proclamation of the Word in synagogues, the Liturgy of the Eucharist completes the Liturgy of the Word. But there are limits to the common ground. In Christ, there is no longer a need to journey to Jerusalem to repeatedly offer lesser sacrifices for the atonement of sins. The one sacrifice of Christ for the remission of sin replaces the sacrifices of the Temple for all time.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the heart of the Mass, re-presenting the one sacrifice of Christ and mystically placing each Catholic at the foot of the Cross. Were you there when they crucified the Lord? Yes, whenever you attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His glorious resurrection, which took place once and for all more than 2,000 years ago, is the summit of man’s history and the promise of his salvation. And only the Mass can bring us to that summit and promise in this life.
The old covenant forms the cradle for the coming of Christ.
To this extent, there is common ground between the old and new covenants. But in the sacrifice of Christ, man’s redemption has been won for all time. Christ alone, "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", has fulfilled God’s Old Testament promise. It is a promise re-presented to us in the celebration of the Mass. For Christ Himself is the "new wine poured into the fresh wineskins" of the Mass.
Father Pokorsky, a priest of the diocese of Arlington, is a founder of CREDO and a member of the Adoremus executive committee.