Author Mike Aquilina wasn’t kidding when he described the prophecy of Malachi as “lost.” When considering foreshadowings of Christ and Old Testament prophecies reaching fruition in the New, the three-chapter book of the Bible attributed to the minor prophet Malachi generally does not come to mind. When compared to Isaiah’s references to the virgin birth of the Messiah and the Suffering Servant songs, Malachi’s prophecy goes largely unnoticed, and yet it is quite possibly one of the most compelling Old Testament prophecies pertaining to the Eucharist. Malachi 1:11 reads, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” This is the offering of the Eucharist, a reference to the Mass, which is celebrated in Catholic Churches around the world, from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Mike Aquilina begins his book by painting a very beautiful picture of this prophecy as it has come to be: Eucharistic celebrations occurring on altars in a variety of countries, in a variety of tongues, at all times of the day. The nations, in all their variety, are united by this singular sacrifice, the offering of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself. Despite its largely unobtrusive existence in the modern world, this particular prophecy of Malachi was pivotal to the early Catholic Church’s understanding of the Christian faith, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the Eucharistic celebration, and Christianity’s relationship with its mother faith, Judaism. While the modern worshiper might easily overlook the significance of this verse, it held a place of central importance in the early Church.
From Justin Martyr to Ignatius of Antioch to Augustine, Aquilina delves into the writings of multiple Church Fathers and theologians to explore common interpretations of this Scripture passage in the history of the Catholic Church. There is no doubt that the early Church held up this particular passage as proof positive of the rightness of Christianity, the sacrifice of the Mass, and fulfillment of the Jewish faith in the person of Jesus Christ. While Church teaching has evolved and become more nuanced with the passing of time, the Church’s understanding of Malachi’s prophecy has remained unchanged. Theologians like Justin Martyr and Augustine considered the prophecy to be a means of demonstrating the rightness of Christianity to nonbelievers, since Malachi was able to describe the worship of the Christian Church centuries before the first Mass was celebrated at the first altar of our Lord, before the Messiah offered Himself up as a sacrifice to God for the salvation of the whole world, drawing Gentiles and Jews together beneath the banner of Jesus Christ.
In addition to being a tool for evangelization, the Church Fathers considered the prophecy of Malachi to be a call for interior conversion. A prophet’s primary vocation was not making predictions of the future, but rather calling the Jewish people to repentance. Malachi was no different. Even as he is describing this pure sacrifice that will be made in all all places and at all times, he is warning the Jewish people that their offerings will be found wanting because they have forsaken the Lord through their corruption, idolatry, and sacrilege. The early Church extended this warning to Christian believers, who were invited to unite the offering of themselves with the sacrifice of Christ. The faithful were meant to make a pure offering, a contrite heart that would not be spurned. We are all meant to make of ourselves a pure offering to God, and through the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, this sinless offering is made possible. We are able to offer ourselves as a living tabernacle for God, and He is invited to rest on the altar of our hearts, because Christ first offered Himself for us.
Aquilina concludes his book by reflecting on Christianity’s relationship to Judaism. They are mother and daughter, Christianity having been born from the Jewish faith, just as surely as Christ was born of a Jewish virgin maid. Mary and Joseph were Jewish; Jesus Christ Himself was raised a Jew and surrounded Himself with twelve Jewish men as His closest friends. The earliest Christians considered themselves to be Jews; many attended synagogue services on Saturday and the Christian Mass on Sunday in the first months and years following the resurrection. Eventually though, ties needed to be cut. Christians were not Jews; pagan converts did not need to follow Jewish customs such as avoiding unclean foods and being circumcised. They only needed to be baptized.
Christianity does not abolish Judaism; it does not undo anything. Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith. The New Testament completes the Old. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the final, perfect, and pure sacrifice that will be offered on all altars, all over the world, at all times. As Aquilina writes, “Christians don’t reject the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament; they believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ fulfilled all the sacrifices and the feasts in the Law of Moses. And the Eucharist is that sacrifice, offered throughout time and space” (48). How can the sacrifices of animals compare to the body and blood of the Son of God, offered on behalf of all nations? And why should man continue to sacrifice animals, when he has been invited to unite the offering of himself and his contrite heart with the offering of the perfect, divine High Priest?
The prophecy of Malachi was probably lost when it ceased to be a tool of conversion. We live in a world that largely rejects miracles. Prophecies are not a means to convince the modern pagan; they are laughed at and rejected. In the process of searching for the “historical Jesus,” we have abandoned prophecies and miracles as “unhistorical.” The early Church Fathers considered the prophecy of Malachi to be a way of converting Jews and pagans, as well as a means to strengthening the faith of believers in the pews. Our modern culture doesn’t hold prophecies in high esteem, and it especially is not good at debating logically and charitably with those with whom they disagree, but the lost prophecy of Malachi, with its beautiful description of the Christian Eucharistic celebration, still deserved to be found, and I am grateful that Mike Aquilina was able to unearth this beautiful prophecy and unpack its depths for the modern believer.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!
This post originally appeared here.