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Memorial and Typology in Jewish and Christian Liturgy

This month, you can get Letter and Spirit, vol. 1: Reading Salvation: Word, Worship, and the Mysteries for free, plus two more volumes from the Letter and Spirit collection for less than $5! Throughout May, we’re sharing excerpts from Letter and Spirit, vol. 1, to give you a preview of thoughtful and thought-provoking scholarship you can expect from this month’s free book.

Today’s excerpt comes from the essay “Memorial and Typology in Jewish and Christian Liturgy,” by venerated author and educator Dr. Sofia Cavalletti.

We can see an ideological connection between the synagogue and the church: the essential element in the world of the synagogue is the proclamation of the Word of God, and the first part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Word. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that when Jews speak about “redemption” either they are referring to the liberation from Egypt or to the eschatological redemption. Christians believe that redemption has already reached its climax in the person of Jesus the Nazarene and are expecting its completion at the end of history, when “God will be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). This means that we are looking together at the same moment in the future, but from different points of view.

The synagogue originated in the exile. The Jews, deprived of the Temple, sought for a means of replacing the animal sacrifices offered there. The Lord had associated his presence in a very special way with the Temple, and after its destruction he himself was, in a sense, in exile. Yet he continued to speak to his people through his Law (Torah). This was the principal means of communicating with him and of answering his presence among them.

But the origins of the synagogue were not merely contingent and due to historical situations; when the Jews returned to the land of their fathers and reconstructed the Temple, the use of the synagogue increased rather than diminished, thus proving its vitality. It was rooted in a religious need which became deeper and more widespread as time went on, a desire that religion should penetrate more deeply into daily life and that the non-priestly classes should have a more lively participation in its activities.

During the earthly life of Jesus, the synagogue for the Jew was perhaps the truest expression of spirituality. Jesus himself and his apostles frequently chose to teach in the synagogue. “Jesus went about teaching in their synagogues,” says Matthew (6:23). He was often in the synagogues of Capernaum and Nazareth (Matt. 12:9, 13:54; Mark 1:21, etc.). He himself, summarizing his life’s work, says before the Sanhedrin: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in your synagogues and in the Temple” (John 18:20).


Get the complete essay and more like it in Letter and Spirit, vol. 1, free through May 31! And add volume 2 and volume 3 from the Letter and Spirit collection for less than $5.

And don’t miss your chance to get the entire collection—the remaining eight volumes—for 23% off. With the combined steep discounts on the free book, plus one, and plus two, and dynamic pricing you’ll get on the collection, the savings really add up!

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