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Article by Avery Cardinal Dulles on the Covenant with the Jews (with reference to Salvation is from the Jews)


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Catholic Devotion to the Saints, in the light of Jewish Scripture and Tradition 

(Author's contribution to an upcoming apologetics anthology)

As a Jew who has gratefully entered the Catholic Church (which is really nothing other than the continuation of Judaism after the coming of the Messiah), I find it curious to see the objections which some non-Catholic Christians have to the Catholic devotion to the saints.  For this, too, seems an organic continuation of Judaism, well supported by the Jewish scriptures as well as tradition.  If Catholic devotion to the saints truly constituted a veiled form of idolatry, as is sometimes mistakenly suggested, than it should be more offensive to Biblical Judaism than to any other religious system, since it was the Jews who were given the honor of introducing to all of mankind the worship of the one true God, to the exclusion of all other gods or "idols", for the very first time in history.  The rejection of idolatry is at the very heart of God's revelation to the Jews.  There are over one hundred vehement prohibitions against idolatry in the Jewish scriptures, including, of course, the very first of the Ten Commandments: "I am the LORD your God;You shall have no other gods before me;" (Exodus 20:2-3). Jesus Himself names this as the most important -- the "first and greatest" -- of the commandments in Matthew 22:38. Other stringent prohibitions against idolatry also appear in Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 29 and 32, Psalms 31, 97, 106, 115, and 135, and throughout the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea, and elsewhere as well.

So obviously if anyone should object to the veneration of the saints as a form of idolatry, it is the Jews.  Yet profound veneration for saints permeates the very same scriptures in which one finds the prohibitions against idolatry.  God even identifies Himself in reference to the greatest of the Jewish saints, the three Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (later renamed Israel).  When asked by Moses who He is, He replies: "I am;the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." (Exodus 3:6).

Abraham is considered the first and greatest of the Jewish saints, rightly held by the Jews in the highest veneration, because all of the blessings which God promised for all eternity for the Jews came to the Jews solely because they were the offspring of Abraham.  God was rewarding Abraham for his fidelity by showering blessings on his posterity.   It was to reward Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his dearly beloved son Isaac, that God promised: "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." (Genesis 22:16-18).  How could the Jews not hold Abraham in the highest veneration, since he was the sole source of the extraordinary blessings which they have received ever since?  Not to do so would be the rankest ingratitude, as well as being a violation of the Fourth Commandment, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12), since the Jews are the "seed of Abraham".  From a Christian perspective, there is a striking symmetry between Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only legitimate, dearly beloved son on the top of Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2) out of obedience to God, with God's later willingness to sacrifice His dearly beloved, only-begotten Son two thousand years later on the very same mountain top, then known as Calvary. The implication is inescapable that somehow, on a deep mystical/theological level, it was Abraham's fidelity to God which was reciprocated two thousand years later in the ultimate blessing which brought about the redemption of all mankind, giving Christians their own reason to be grateful to Abraham.

The same principles can be applied in understanding the Catholic veneration of the Saints.  Let us take, as an example, the "greatest" (and most controversial) of the saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As the Jews owe Abraham veneration as the source of all of their blessings, certainly no less do all Christians owe Mary veneration as the source of all of theirs.  For as it was Abraham's pleasingness to God which brought about the Jewish blessing, so it was Mary's pleasingness to God which enabled the greatest blessing known to mankind -- the birth of God as Man, Jesus -- to come about.  Let us look at the moment when the Incarnation took place -- the moment when Jesus was conceived in the virginal womb of Mary.  When the angel appeared to her, he addressed her saying "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!;you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus."(Luke 1:28-31).  Clearly, the Incarnation of Jesus in the womb of Mary was not unrelated to her virtue, to her having  found favor with God !  As the blessings of the Jews were the result of the favor which Abraham found with God, the blessings of Christianity flow from the favor which Mary found with God.  And as God's gift to the Jews came about because of his willingness to say "yes" to the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:16), so did God's gift of His Son come about because of Mary's willingness to say "yes" to the Incarnation: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)  Mere common decency would demand that the Jews venerate Abraham, and the Christians Mary, if only out of gratitude for the blessings which they enjoy as a result of these saints' virtue.

In prayer, it is typical for Jews to refer to God as the "God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel" (Jacob's name was changed to Israel in Genesis 22:38), much as God had named himself to Moses. This formula was used by the prophet Elijah ("And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, 'O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel;'"-- 1 Kings 18:36), by King David ("O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers;" -- 1 Chronicles 29:18), and by the prophet Hezekiah ("O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel" -- 2 Chronicles 30:6), and reappears constantly in the Jewish liturgy.  Such a formula serves to indirectly remind God of how pleasing the Patriarchs were to Him, and asks Him to bestow blessings on those making the prayer as their descendants.  This technique is sometimes explicit, as in the liturgy of the Jewish weekday Morning Prayer: "We are Your people, the sons of Your covenant, children of Your beloved Abraham, with whom You made a pledge on Mount Moriah.  We are the seed of Isaac, Abraham's only son, who was bound upon the altar.  We are Your firstborn people, the congregation of Jacob, whom You named Israel and Jeshurun because You loved him and delighted in him." (Weekday Prayer Book, Rabbinical Assembly of America, 1961, p.13)  In a similar way, when Catholics name and honor Jesus as the son of Mary (e.g. "blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus" in the "Hail Mary"), they are reminding Jesus of the love and filial devotion which He had for His mother Mary, and laying claim to some of that special favor as her adoptive children. For Jesus gave Mary as adoptive mother to all of his "beloved disciples" from the Cross"; standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother...and the disciple whom he loved;He said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!'" (John 19:25-27)  The Catholic who embellishes his prayers to Jesus with references to Mary thus is doing the same thing as the Jew who makes repeated reference to Abraham --  reminding God of His special love for  the named person, and laying claim to some of that love as his/her descendant.  And since Abraham is the father of the Jews, and Mary the adoptive mother of every disciple of Jesus, the respect shown to them is no more than the fulfillment of the fourth commandment "Honor your father and your mother." (Exodus 20:12)

It also undoubtedly grates on some non-Catholics when they hear of Mary referred to as the "Queen of Heaven", as in the well-known Easter prayer the Regina Coeli: "Rejoice, Queen of Heaven, Alleluia! For He whom thou didst merit to bear for us, Alleluia! Has arisen, as He promised, Alleluia !  Offer now our prayers to God, Alleluia !"  (The Blessed Virgin Mary's stature as Queen of Heaven was formally defined by Pope Pius XII in the 1954 encyclical  Ad Coeli Reginam.)  Yet here, too, the role of Abraham in Judaism provides a parallel which can shed some light.  At the time of Jesus, the Jews called their "heaven" the "bosom of Abraham" (this was, in fact, not heaven proper -- which was inaccessible to mankind until Jesus descended to the dead after dying on the Cross -- but a place of lesser happiness, bereft of the full blessedness which consists of the vision of God, and known in Catholic theology as the "Limbo of the Fathers"). It was to this "bosom of Abraham" that Jesus made reference in his parable about Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16.  If the blessedness of the "Jewish heaven" flowed from intimacy with the greatest of the Patriarchs, Abraham, how logical that the joys of the ultimate Heaven should flow, in part, from intimacy with the most perfect human being ever created, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There is also another, more mysterious, way in which it is natural for me as a Jew to see the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "Queen of Heaven".  In Judaism the Sabbath is the summit of pre-Messianic life on earth, a kind of antechamber of Heaven, a foretaste of the life to come. And the Sabbath itself is seen, mystically, as a Virgin (i.e. bride) Queen -- the Sabbath Queen.  Each Friday evening the oncoming Sabbath is greeted with the following song/prayer:

"Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days.

Come, let us all greet Sabbath, Queen sublime,
Fountain of blessings in every clime.
Annointed and regal since earliest time,
In thought she preceded Creation's six days.

Arise and shake off the dust of the earth.
Wear glorious garments reflecting your worth.
Messiah will lead us all soon to rebirth.
My soul now senses redemption's warm rays.

Awake and arise to greet the new light
For in your radiance the world will be bright.
Sing out, for darkness is hidden from sight.
The Lord through you His glory displays.

Then your destroyers will themselves be destroyed;
Ravagers, at great distance, will live in a void.
Your God then will celebrate you, overjoyed,
As a groom with his bride when his eyes meet her gaze.

Come in peace, soul mate, sweet gift of the Lord,
Greeted with joy and in song so adored
Amidst God's people, in faith in accord.
Come, Bride Sabbath; come, crown of the days.

Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days."

Repeatedly thoughout this prayer there are parallels between the images of the Sabbath Queen and the Catholic understanding of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven. It is Mary who is the "fountain of blessings" -- that is, the channel though which all of the graces won by Christ flow (source).  In thought she preceded Creation, which is the justification for the Catholic identification of Mary with the personification of Wisdom in the deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom and in Sirach.  Through her the Lord's glory of God is displayed, as sunlight through a flawless crystal. The destruction of her enemies was foretold in Genesis 3:15, a passage known as the "protoevangelium" precisely because in it Eve foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And so forth, throughout the prayer.  And just as the Sabbath is the precursor and foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for Jews, so is the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary a precursor and foretaste of the perfection of virtue of the God-Man.

Another aspect of Catholic devotion to the saints which sometimes draws criticism is the typical attention Catholics pay to the bodies of "dead" saints.  Yet this form of devotion is also familiar to Jews and to the Jewish scriptures.  The burial site of the three Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has been venerated continually by Jews since their deaths about four thousand years ago.  As Catholics make pilgrimages to the tombs of "dead" saints (sometimes enclosed in churches) to pray, so do Jews, both in Biblical times and still today. Today it is sometimes at the risk of their very lives, as a number have been killed praying there in recent years, yet they continue.  Other tombs of Old Testament saints to which Jews go to pray include those of Joseph, Rachel, King David, and of the prophets Haggai, Malachi, and Samuel, all of which have been venerated for millenia.  We know that the tombs were held in great respect at the time of Jesus, for he himself mentioned that the Jews "build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous" (Matthew 23:29).

Jews make also pilgrimage to, and pray at, the tombs of many post-Biblical Jewish "saints", too.  These are typically the great Jewish rabbis of the past two thousand years, such as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai (credited with composing the great Jewish mystical work the Zohar in the 2nd century A.D.), Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel (who dying young and unmarried in the first century A.D., promised that whoever would pray on his tomb for a match would marry within the year), Rabbi Akiva  (killed in the Bar Kochba rebellion of 132 A.D.), the great medieval Jewish scholar and rabbi Maimonides (d. 1205 A.D.), and on and on. Thousands of Jews from around the world visit these sites, year after year, to pray, make petitions, and pay their respects.  No, although there were many new aspects which I had to get used to when I embraced the Catholic faith, praying at the tombs of saints was not one of them!

The Catholic use of relics, too, is sometimes accused of being "idolatrous" and "non-Biblical", but again it is well substantiated in the Old as well as the New (which I'll leave to another contributor) Testament.  How can one accuse a Catholic as being superstitous when he applies a relic of a saint to a sick person in the hopes of obtaining, with prayer, a healing, when in the Old Testament mere contact with the bones of the great prophet Elisha -- without any prayer -- brought a dead man back to life?: "So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet." (2 Kings 13:20-21)

Catholics are also sometimes criticised for praying to "dead" saints for their intercession; that is, praying for them to ask God for some special favor, relying on their relationship with God to obtain something which He might not grant the petitioner without such intercession.  Yet the Old Testament is full of cases in which God granted special favors through the intercession of saints which He would not have granted the petitioner directly.  Well known examples include Abraham petitioning for God to spare Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found (Genesis 18), Moses interceding with God not to destroy the Jews for their worship of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), and Elijah praying to bring a dead child back to life (1 Kings 17).  In fact, Elijah is a particularly interesting example, because according to Scriptures, he never died, but went up to Heaven alive (2 Kings 2), from whence he will return just before the end of the world (Malachi 4).   So the question is:  If Elijah was willing to intercede on behalf of a petitioner before he was taken up to Heaven, and his prayer was particularly effective, would he not be equally willing, and even more able to, now that he is in heaven in the presence of God ? He is not even dead! And it cannot be that he no longer has any interest in affairs on earth, because we know that he will return in the last days to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers,  lest [God] come and smite the land with a curse" (Malachi 4:5).  Of course, there is no reason why being dead should prevent any other saint from being able to do the same thing;

We know that the Blessed Virgin Mary is both interested in, and effective in, asking her Son for special favors for others -- remember that at the wedding at Cana, it was she who got Jesus to turn water into wine for the wedding feast, even though he was initially unwilling to, and had not yet begun his public ministry!:

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

As we began with the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is with her that we conclude. As she led others to Jesus at Cana when she pointed to him and said: "Do whatever he tells you", so it was she who led me to her Son Jesus, even before I had any interest in, or sympathy with, the claims of Christianity.  Although the story of my conversion is too long to go into here, the conversion began with an unintended visit to a Marian shrine, and culminated with Mary's appearance in a dream.  Thus it would be the rankest ingratitude for me not to acknowledge the role she played, to thank her for her intercession, and to pray, in the spirit of the Old Testament reliance on the intercession of the special friends of God, the saints, that she, the greatest of all the saints, make use of her unique relationship with God and the resultant intercessory power to bring us all -- Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew -- closer to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Kolbe's Gift to the Jews

 (from Kolbe, Saint of the Immaculata, ed. Bro. Francis Mary Kalvelage, F.I.)

As a Jew, albeit one who has received the grace to recognize the Catholic Church as the fulfillment of the promise God made to the Jews,  and as the son of German-Jewish holocaust refugees, I find it particularly offensive that St. Maximilian Kolbe -- who has done so incalculably much to aid the Jews -- is the object of calumnies accusing him of anti-Semitism.  I would like to take this opportunity to address this unfounded libel.

    The accusations against Kolbe seem to fall into two categories -- that he held to an "anti-Semitic" personal theology, and that anti-Semitic writings were published in his Knight of the Immaculata.  Addressing the first category first, a Catholic cannot be accused of being an "anti-Semite" simply for adhering to the revealed truths of the Catholic faith!  Catholics know as an incontrovertible fact that Jesus was, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah promised to the Jews, and was in His person the fulfillment of the promise of the Old Covenant.  Therefore, Jews who do not accept Him are in error, although not necessarily through their own personal fault, and the tenets of the religion to which they adhere -- the necessity of adhering to the Mosaic covenant, and the awaiting of the (first-coming of) the Messiah -- are no longer valid.  This is not to say that there is no merit in their fidelity to the one true God and to the divinely-revealed faith to which they remain loyal.  Nonetheless, either the Catholic faith is true or it isn't.  If the Catholic faith is true, then there is something fundamentally flawed in the theology of a Jew who rejects Jesus as the Messiah of Judaism.  Kolbe should not be accused of being an anti-Semite simply for believing in the fullness of Catholic doctrine!

Then there is the issue of Kolbe's attitude towards Jews who actively engaged in what he saw as destructive social movements.  There is no doubt that he considered that the Jews who were actively promoting Communism and freemasonry were working for the forces of evil.  Again, Kolbe cannot be accused of anti-Semitism for being strongly morally opposed to what they were doing.  And when he made reference to these individuals, it is true that his description at times mentioned the fact that they were Jewish.  Although this may appear distasteful to us, it does not reflect anti-Semitism on Kolbe's part.  It was merely an accurate description of the individuals and events being described, and if there was a particularly visible presence of Jews involved in the emergence of Communism, is that not more a matter of shame for us Jews, than a cause for "shooting the messenger of bad tidings."?  And yet, rather than admitting the fault and perhaps expressing the sort of corporate contrition which the Holy Father John Paul II recently did with respect to sins committed by his fellow Catholics, the chairman of the American Section of the World Jewish Congress in the middle of the 20th century, Rabbi Israel Goldstein of New York City, named Leon Trotsky --  who played a key role in afflicting the world with the horror of atheistic communism -- as one of the "Ten Greatest Jews of the Last Fifty Years."  On which side is the religious chauvinism?  And Kolbe cannot be faulted if he felt that it was not entirely irrelevant that many of the key players in the Communist revolution were Jewish.  For having discarded the possibility of the Messiah-hood of Jesus Christ, their rightful desire for a betterment for mankind's condition -- a "messianic" impulse, if you will, which might be particularly pronounced among Jews given their God-given role to pray for the coming of the Messiah -- had to search for other outlets, sometimes tragically falling on ones diametrically opposed to all that was truly good for the future of man.

It is also true that Kolbe mistakenly put credence in the anti-Semitic libel of the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion -- a fictional anti-Semitic work which had recently appeared, purporting to be a secret insiders' account of a plot among a group of Jews to take over the world.  Although Kolbe fell for the scurrilous anti-Semitic hoax,  so did almost the entire non-Jewish world at the time.  And in the era of world-shaking conspiracies in which Kolbe lived -- that of freemasonry, which had brought about the French revolution and tried to destroy the Christian faith causing tens of thousands of martyrdoms in the process, and that of communism, which brought about the Bolshevik revolution and untold millions of deaths -- was it absurd for him to put credence in yet another "secret-society" based conspiracy behind world events?

As to the claim that anti-Semitic writings were published in Kolbe's Knight of the Immaculata, much of the furor stems from an article in an April 1982 issue of the anti-Catholic Austrian periodical,  Wiener Tagebuch.  That article makes reference to a particular issue of the Knight, one which was in fact produced during a period in which Kolbe was in Asia.  Kolbe therefore could have had no prior knowledge of it nor any part in approving it.  Could it, in fact, have been the very same issue which prompted the following reprimand from Kolbe to the acting editor? (letter written by Father Kolbe in Nagasaki to Father Marion on July 12, 1935, acting editor of the Knight back in Poland, reproving him for some of his editorial decisions):

"When speaking of the Jews, I would be very careful not to arouse by accident nor add to the hatred for them, which some readers already entertain, for many people are already ill-disposed in their regard, or are even actually hostile towards them.  ... our main purpose is, as always, the conversion and sanctification of souls, winning them over to the Immaculate through love for all souls, including those of Jews..." (The Kolbe Reader, Fr. Romb Editor)

That Kolbe felt a special love and concern for the Jews, and for their conversion,  is reflected by the fact that he chose to celebrate his very first Mass at the "St. Michael" altar in the church of San Andrea della Fratte in Rome -- the very spot where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the agnostic Jew Alphonse Ratisbonne, resulting in his instantaneous conversion.  Ratisbonne went on to become a Carmelite priest, and started a religious community in the Holy Land to pray that the Jewish people, too, would come to know the Messiah for whom they had waited so long -- Jesus.  (this miraculous conversion is recounted in more detail in the book Marian Shrines in France, published by the Franciscans of the Immaculate.)

The fact that Kolbe looked after the temporal needs of Jews as well is documented elsewhere in this book.  Many stirring accounts are also narrated in Patricia Reese's excellent biography of Kolbe, A Man for Others.  While head of the friary in Poland Kolbe fed, clothed and sheltered thousands of Jews who had nowhere else to turn -- often at the expense of adequate resources for his own monks.  And in Auschwitz he gave love and hope, and much of his meager ration of bread,  to Jewish as well as non-Jewish fellow prisoners.

    But as important as it is to relieve the suffering of our brothers while on earth, it pales in insignificance in comparison to assuring their eternal salvation.  And Kolbe never stopped for a moment -- either before or after his internment in Auschwitz -- to pray, suffer and work for the salvation of Jews as well as atheists and fellow-Christians.  And by being present at Auschwitz -- a fate which Kolbe willingly took on, declining at least one opportunity to avoid it -- and in voluntarily taking on his own intentional execution, Kolbe perhaps performed one of the greatest services to the Jewish people in the history of the world.  Because through his own identification with the suffering Christ, and his presence and his prayers and his love for his fellow-prisoners, he was perhaps able to serve as an intermediary in uniting the suffering of even his fellow-prisoners who did not know Christ with those of our Savior and Redeemer, and thereby ensure that their sufferings and deaths too would have redemptive value, for themselves, for their co-religionists, and for the world.

A Response to "Reflections on Covenant and Mission"

The following letter appeared in a recent issue of Inside the Vatican magazine (slightly edited) in response to the magazine's coverage of the "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" document, addressing the relationship between Judaism and the Catholic Faith,  put out in August 2002 by a subcommittee of the U.S.  Conference of  Catholic Bishops. The original document along with a number of thoughtful responses, many by Jewish converts to the Faith, appeared in the Summer-Fall 2002 issue of the Journal of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, available here.)

Dear Editor,
As a Jew who has gratefully entered the Catholic Church, I thank you for your thoughtful coverage of the recent USCCB "Reflections" document (Inside the Vatican,"A Troubling Document," January 2003). An intelligent response to it could fill a book -- in fact, the book I just wrote, Salvation is from the Jews (forthcoming later this year from Ignatius Press), is in many ways such a response.  Yet I would nonetheless like to make a few comments.
            The 'dual covenant' theory which has emerged from the US Bishops-sponsored Jewish/Catholic dialogue portrays Christianity as a modified version of Judaism, one appropriate for the Gentiles (non-Jews), enabling them to worship the one true God and share the moral and ethical truths of Judaism without being part of the special covenant which God made with the 'seed of Abraham'.  Since this both confirms the objective validity of Judaism and establishes the inappropriateness of Jewish conversion to Christianity, it is naturally very appealing to the Jewish side of the dialogue, which is willing, in return, to acknowledge the value and virtue of the Christian religion and of its founder, the Jew Jesus.  It is an ideal solution to eliminate any tension between the two sides and enable them to be mutually supportive of each others' faiths.  It is, unfortunately, entirely incompatible with the truths of Christianity.   For the Gospel makes abundantly clear that Jesus came first for the Jews, for instance, Matthew 15:24 --  "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  It was to Jews that He said "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God"(John 2:5) and to Jews that He said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53).  Jesus spent his entire life and ministry evangelizing Jews, not Gentiles; He was crucifed for evangelizing Jews, not Gentiles (cf. Luke 20:14, John 11:47-53).  If God did not intend the new covenant for the Jews, then Jesus got it wrong; St. Peter, the first Pope and the "apostle to the Jews" got it wrong; St. Paul, the premier theologian for all of Christianity got it wrong, not only in his epistles but in his own conversion and in his repeated sufferings for evangelizing Jews; St. Stephen, the very first Christian martyr, stoned for evangelizing the Jews, got it wrong (cf. Acts 6-7); all twelve Apostles, all 'converted' Jews, got it wrong; and on and on and on.
            The theology presented by Reflections is a tragedy for both Catholics and for Jews.  It is a tragedy for Catholics because it not only sells out the fundamentals of the faith, but it deprives them of seeing the incomparable beauty of God's plan for salvation over its entire span; a plan that begins mysteriously at the fall of Adam; which develops through the preparation of the Jewish people culminating in the only perfect human being ever (the Jewish Virgin Mary), and which is fulfilled in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus and the Church, the Catholic Church, which He left behind.  It also does a disservice to God, for it denies the words of His son Jesus; it denies the truths He revealed, and it denies Him the joy He has in receiving His especially beloved  Jewish people in the intimacy available only thorough His Church and its sacraments. But it is most of all a tragedy for the Jews, for it deprives them of the opportunity of knowing the fullness of the truth of revelation; it deprives them of the incomparable joy and consolation of the intimacy with God achieved only though the sacraments; it deprives them of the eternal salvific benefits which flow from the Church and the sacraments.  And most ironically, it deprives them of the true honor and glory of their own religion, of their own identity - of being part of the people and the religion which brought about the salvation of all mankind, the people through whom God became man, the people related to God in the flesh.
"Reflections" was presumably motivated by charity, however misplaced.  I beg the Bishops and all other Catholics to prayerfully consider where true charity to their Jewish "elder brethren" (in the words of John Paul II) lies and reach out to them with the truth, the full truth, of the glory, the beauty, the importance of being Jewish -- a glory which is found in the truths of the Catholic Faith.

Notes on the Relationship between Christ and Passover

Background:  "God Himself will Provide the Sacrifice"

One can think of salvation history as beginning with God's choice of Abraham to be the father of the "Chosen People"; chosen to be especially close to him, and chosen to bring about mankind's redemption by bringing forth the Messiah.  And the process began, in large part, with the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah.  We read the history in (Genesis 22):

1 After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 2 He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you."  6  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.    7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.   9   When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."  13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide;  as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."  15  And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16  and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18  and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice." (Genesis 22, RSV, except v.18 NKJV)

It was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac which inspired God to reciprocate, two thousand years later, with the sacrifice of His only-begotten son, born also from Abraham's seed, on yet another mount, that of Calvary.  And so we see that Abraham's utterance "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son"(v. 8) was prophetic far beyond anything he knew, referring not only to the provision of the ram "provided" by the Lord, but referring far more profoundly to the only truly acceptable sacrifice, that of God's Son Himself on the altar of Calvary.  Jesus was the true Paschal Lamb, sacrificed on Calvary to bring us true freedom, freedom from our sins, freedom to be sons and daughters of God through participation in the sacrifice of His Son the Messiah. 

Since the first Christians, Jesus has been seen as the true Paschal lamb. St. Paul, St. Peter,  and the author of the letter to the Hebrews make the connection:

1 Corinthians 5 :

 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.

1 Peter 13:

18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Hebrews 9-10:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.
 18 Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

10:   1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. 4 For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,' as it is written of me in the roll of the book." 8 When he said above, "Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, "Lo, I have come to do thy will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," 17 then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more." 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

The first time that Jesus, prophetically, is refereed to as the lamb of God is when the Messiah to come is spoken of in Isaiah 53:

3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

The fact that these verses referred to Jesus was made explicit in Acts 8:

26 But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert road. 27 And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: "As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth." 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the "lamb of God" on several occasions, including in John 1:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

And finally, the scenes in Heaven in the Book of Revelation consistently show Jesus as the Lamb who was slain.  An example is in Revelation 7:

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" 11 And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen." 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" 14 I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

The Exodus from Egypt

The Exodus from Egypt has always been seen by the Jews as a foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah; that's one reason why the celebration of Passover is so central to the Jewish faith.  The Messianic significance of the Passover is evident in several aspects of the Passover Seder.  One is the eager waiting for Elijah.  A place is set for him and late in the service the door is opened to see if he is there, for the Jews know that Elijah will come before the Messiah to prepare the way for him.  Another is the fact that every Seder ends in the shout "Next Year in Jerusalem!"; for when the Messiah comes all of Judaism will be reunited in Jerusalem.

In this understanding of the Passover as being "Messianic" the Jews are absolutely right; perhaps even more right than they realize.  For the Church has always seen Messianic significance to every aspect of the Exodus and the Passover celebration -- in fact, the entire Passover event was a "foreshadowing" of the New Covenant, of the Redemption of Man through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  In the words of   St. Augustine, (Contra Faustum Manichaeum)  

When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feast of the paschal lamb, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, my reply is, that he does not keep it precisely because what was thus prefigured has been fulfilled in the sufferings of Christ, the Lamb without spot. ... In the gospel we have the true Lamb, not in shadow, but in substance; and instead of prefiguring the death, we commemorate it daily, and especially in the yearly festival.

And of Clemens Alexandrinus, one of the post-Nicene Church Fathers:,

... in the years gone by, Jesus went to eat the passover sacrificed by the Jews, keeping the feast. But ... he was the Passover, the Lamb of God, led as a sheep to the slaughter...

Each event in the Passover narrative is seen as a prefigurement of an aspect of our redemption through Christ.  As an example, let me quote St. Cyril of Jerusalem, another of the post-Nicene Church Fathers, in his First Lecture On The Mysteries.
1. I have long been wishing, O true-born and dearly beloved children of the Church, to discourse to you concerning these spiritual and heavenly Mysteries; but since I well knew that seeing is far more persuasive than hearing, I waited for the present season; that finding you more open to the influence of my words from your present experience, I might lead you by the hand into the brighter and more fragrant meadow of the Paradise before us; especially as ye have been made fit to receive the more sacred Mysteries, after having been found worthy of divine and life-giving Baptism  . Since therefore it remains to set before you a table of the more perfect instructions, let us now teach you these things exactly, that ye may know the effect   wrought upon you on that evening of your baptism.
    2. First ye entered into the vestibule   of the Baptistery, and there facing towards the West ye listened to the command to stretch forth your hand, and as in the presence of Satan ye renounced him. Now ye must know that this figure is found in ancient history. For when Pharaoh, that most bitter and cruel tyrant, was oppressing the free and high-born people of the Hebrews, God sent Moses to bring them out of the evil bondage of the Egyptians. Then the door posts were anointed with the blood of a lamb, that the destroyer might flee from the houses which had the sign of the blood; and the Hebrew people was marvelously delivered. The enemy, however, after their rescue, pursued after them  , and saw the sea wondrously parted for them; nevertheless he went on, following close in their footsteps, and was all at once overwhelmed and engulphed in the Red Sea.

    3. Now turn from the old to the new, from the figure to the reality. There we have Moses sent from God to Egypt; here, Christ, sent forth from His Father into the world: there, that Moses might lead forth an afflicted people out of Egypt; here, that Christ might rescue those who are oppressed in the world under sin: there, the blood of a lamb was the spell against   the destroyer; here, the blood of the Lamb without blemish Jesus Christ is made the charm to scare evil spirits: there, the tyrant was pursuing that ancient people even to the sea; and here the daring and shameless spirit, the author of evil, was following thee even to the very streams of salvation. The tyrant of old was drowned in the sea; and this present one disappears in the water of salvation.

Briefly, the crossing of the Red Sea, passing from slavery to freedom, was seen as a prefigurement of Baptism freeing us from original sin; the Blood of the Lamb on the doorpost turning away the avenging angel and sparing the Jews from death was seen as prefiguring the Blood of Christ on the Cross turning away God's rightful judgment, sparing us from eternal death; the forty years journey in the wilderness until reaching the "promised Land" and Jerusalem was seen as a "type" of our lifetime here on earth until we reach our eternal home the "Heavenly Jerusalem"; and the manna with which God miraculously fed the Jews in the desert was seen as prefiguring the true read of life, the Eucharist, with which God feeds us with heavenly food during our pilgrimage on earth.

The identification of Passover with the most sacred mysteries of the Church is not dependent just on the writing of the Church Fathers -- it is evident in the circumstances of Christ's life, and is made explicit in the New Testament itself.  The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves (always seen as representing the Eucharist) and the subsequent "Bread of Life" discourse both, as John is careful to point out, took place at Passover time (John 6):

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" 6 This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" 10 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself....

24 So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal." 28 Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30 So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." 34 They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst....
 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."

So here we see not only that Jesus Himself made clear the parallel between the Eucharist and the manna in the wilderness, but he did so at Passover time!  And of course, as we all know, the Passion and Death of Jesus itself took place at Passover, (see, Luke 22) and the Last Supper, which was the first Mass, not only took place at Passover but was itself a Passover ritual meal (a Seder).  Exodus 12 makes it clear that no Jew can claim membership with the Jewish people if he doesn't participate in eating the Passover lamb; similarly, Jesus makes clear that one cannot participate in the redemption He offers without eating the true Passover lamb; his flesh and blood in the Eucharist.  The Old Covenant was a foreshadowing in symbols of the New Covenant.

The final stage in the Exodus was, of course, the entry of the Jews into the Promised Land.  As mentioned, the Church Fathers saw this as a figure of the entry of man into Heaven after his earthly pilgrimage is over, and here, too, Jesus, and Jesus as the sacrifice which makes it possible, appears in veiled form.  The Jews' entry into the Promised Land was barred by the walled city of Jericho, and it was by blowing the Shofar, the ram's horn, that the walls fell (Joshua 6).  But the Shofar, the ram's horn, is a reminder of the ram who was caught by its horn in the thicket, and which substituted for Isaac in Abraham's sacrifice on Mount Moriah.  But that ram itself was only a "place-holder" for the true sacrifice which the Lord Himself would provide in the place of Abraham's son; that is, God's own only-begotten Son Jesus.  And so it was the evocation of God's promise of the "sacrifice the Lord Himself would provide", Jesus, which caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.  And, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, it was Joshua -- that is, Jesus -- who led the Jews in that battle and in their entry into the Promised Land...

The Death of Jesus

The most powerful "equation" between the death of Our Lord and the Passover offering is made by the circumstance itself of the crucifixion occurring on the eve of Passover, even at the very hour --  noon --  that the Passover offerings were being slaughtered in the temple (John 19):

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" 15 They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. 17 So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

John 19 explicitly considers the Crucifixion to be the Passover offering:

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.  32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; 33 but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness -- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth -- that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him shall be broken."

This is clearly a reference to the rules for the Passover sacrifice found in Exodus 12:

43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it;  44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him.  45 No sojourner or hired servant may eat of it.  46 In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of it.  47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.

The role of Elijah in the Passover celebration, most particularly at the seder itself, is an  additional poignant reminder of the relationship between Jesus and the Passover.  A prominent theme during the Passover Seder is the eager awaiting of the return of the prophet Elijah, for Jewish prophecy foretold that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah  (Malachi 4):

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse."

We know from the New Testament that John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy, in his coming in the "spirit and power" of Elijah.  This was already announced when the birth of John the Baptist was foretold to his father Zachariah (Luke 1):

11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth;  15 for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,  17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.":

We also know this from the words of Jesus himself, for instance in Matthew 11:

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, `Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

And again after John the Baptist was killed by Herod (Matthew 17; also recounted in Mark 9):

10 And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" 11 He replied, "Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands." 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

So the "presence" of Elijah at the Seder table reminds us again that Jesus was the true fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice.

Postscript: Other Events in Jesus' Life which Occurred during Passover

For further meditation it is worthwhile to consider that other significant events in Jesus' life also took place at Passover time.  Jesus' first "entry" into public life may be thought of as being when he was "lost" in the Temple for three days, disputing with the rabbis.  This occurred during Passover (Luke 2):

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; 43 and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; 47 and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." 49 And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

Jesus' first public miracle, at the wedding at Cana, seems to have been shortly before Passover, and the next public action of Jesus, chasing the money-changers out of the Temple, during Passover itself.  This is particularly significant because it was the first occasion when Jesus publicly, although somewhat cryptically, announced his death and resurrection (John 2):

11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and there they stayed for a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he spoke of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did...