The Sacrifice of the New Covenant

10 Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 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. ( Mal 1:10-11)

You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise, for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy, and 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. (Eucharistic Prayer III from The Roman Missal. 3rd ed, trans ICEL, 2010)

Malachi was a prophet who lived in the post-exilic period; that is, after Judah had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken into captivity in exile. Generally, we understand he lived when Judah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, after the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Yet, Malachi’s prophecy throughout his entire book implies the Jewish priests were not so observant of the ceremonial law, offering inappropriate sacrifices; God is warning them to improve their offerings.

Malachi prophecied that a pure sacrifice would be offered not in Jerusalem, where the Lord rejected their sacrifices, but in “every place,” because God’s “name is great among the Gentiles.” (Our RSVCE translates the Hebrew word for gentiles as nations.) And he used the beautiful phrase, “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Catholics understand this prophecy is fulfilled in the Eucharistic sacrifice, offered on our altars in all times and places. This is, in fact, the source of the phrase used in our liturgy, quoted above.

First, we note a basic tenant of our Faith, that the covenant has been extended to the Gentiles, to all people everywhere. This covenant still includes a sacrifice: the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. But this cosmic sacrifice extends in time and space, offered on our altars even in our own day for our own benefit. This Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus is the pure sacrifice prophesied by Malachi. The 1st century text, The Didache confirms this was believed even then:

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. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. 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 Didache, chap 14, Translated by M.B. Riddle, “Ante-Nicene Fathers,” Vol. 7, Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.)

Second, let’s pay attention to the idea of God’s name in worship. This is a very foundational idea in the covenant: if we enter into God’s family, then we take the family name. This is just as a bride takes her husband’s surname; so we, the bride of the Spirit, take our beloved’s name when we sign ourselves, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That we are privy to be on intimate terms with God and call Him by name is because we are family. In the OT, Israel knew God had a name: Yahweh; it was their special privilege to know and call upon the name of God. Malachi’s prophecy stated that the Gentiles would also know and call upon that Divine Name. We do that in the Eucharist, and His name is great among us because our sacrifice, when we call upon that name, is itself great.

Finally, let’s look at the beautiful phrase we’ve placed in our liturgy. What does “from the rising of the sun to its setting” mean? From morning till night? From east to west? Not quite. In the OT law of sacrifice, two daily sacrifices were required every day: the morning sacrifice and the evening sacrifice.

38 Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two lambs a year old day by day continually. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; 40 and with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a libation. 41 And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, and shall offer with it a cereal offering and its libation, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD. ( Ex 29:38-41)

We can immediate note that lambs were sacrificed, which is why Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God. We can also see that the morning sacrifice included flour, the stuff of bread, and wine – the sacrifice was a type of the Eucharist to come. These two sacrifices, one offered at the rising of the sun and the other offered at its setting, prefigured our Eucharist. These two daily sacrifices are the context of the phrase, “from the rising of the sun to its setting.”

One final comment: the phrase did not originate with Malachi. It was used by King David in Psalm 113:

Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD! 2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore! 3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised! 4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! 5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD! ( Ps 113:1-9)

Malachi gives this psalm context. The psalm used our poetic phrase and used it within a context of “nations” and the Lord’s “name,” just as Malachi did. But it goes further, in that it shows a God who is high above all things, i.e., transcendent. Yet he “lifts up” the poor and needy; the One who is on high lifts up, presumably up to Himself so that He is no longer transcendent – He becomes immanent. We immediately recognize this construct as referring to Jesus, God who came down to become one of us so that He could lift us up to become like Him. And He does this via the sacraments. Moreover, the psalm refers to a barren woman becoming a mother of children, the image of fruitfulness. Again, this is us, the Church, where the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is our fruitfulness, we who were formerly barren before baptism. He gives us a “home,” by making us His own home. This is the spiritual life, this is holiness, as taught by Scripture and prayed by our Eucharistic Prayer.