The prophet who foretold Christianity
Last year, when I read the texts of some of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s old audio recordings, I was struck by his insistence that any person claiming to be the revelation of God in history would have to have three characteristics in his favor: (1) Miracles that attest to Divine ratification; (2) Teachings in which nothing is contrary to reason; and (3) Prophecies of his coming before the event. Even though I’ve done a good deal of work in apologetics, including the work of citing the Jewish prophets about the Messiah as identifying Christ, I had never stopped to consider such prophecies as a necessary proof.
Now perhaps that is overstating the case, but on reflection it does make sense that if God Himself is orchestrating this “coming” into our history, then He would give us advance pointers to help us in identifying the “chosen one” when he at length appeared. But that is not all I had overlooked in my own presentations. Next, along comes one Mike Aquilina to tell me that the Jewish prophets did not stop at foretelling the Christ. They also foretold Christian worship itself, as a worldwide religion for all peoples.
I like to think I am not alone in taking a fresh look at things. As a prolific writer and presenter, Mike has the (occasionally disconcerting) habit of enlightening many proud Christians about Catholic realities, not least in the Way of the Fathers podcast he hosts for CatholicCulture.org. As it turns out, this podcast is highly relevant here, for the Fathers of the Church repeatedly emphasized a particular prophecy of Malachi as proof—in the very Scriptures received and revered by the Jews—that the universal Church is the ultimate expression of the will of God in history.
So let me get right to it. The prophet Malachi was active in the latter part of the fifth century before Christ. The book of his prophecies is very short. The overwhelming message is that God will no longer accept the empty sacrifices of the Jews, whose hearts are so far from Him. Thus Malachi looks forward to the future when God will change all this. And fairly early in the Book we find this stunning passage:
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. 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]
To what does this vision refer? The answer is found in Christianity, which—in stark contrast with Judaism—was explicitly and decisively missionary, intended for all peoples. Thus the Gospel of St. Matthew:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. [Mt 28:18-20]
In fact, the Apostles themselves went all over the world from the beginning, for as St. Luke wrote in the Acts of the Apostles: “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28). Or as another common translation expresses it: “You must know that God is offering his salvation to the whole world.” Moreover, the pure offering of all the nations is none other than the offering of Christ at Mass in the Eucharist.
When you stop to think about it, just as the prophecies of the Messiah help us to identify Jesus Christ, so too is this prophecy of Malachi a stunning confirmation of the Divine character of Christianity, and of the Catholic Church.
The Eucharist Foretold
We tend not to pay close attention to Malachi’s prophecy today, for the simple reason that we are not primarily focused on the conversion of Jews to Christianity, or (as was often the case in the early centuries) on preventing Christians from slipping back into Judaism. But in the first centuries, many Christians had been raised as Jews, and there was a strong “Judaizing” tendency within Christianity which had to be resisted and rooted out—a tendency to require the old Jewish customs, forms of worship, and details of the covenant, as part of Christian faith and practice. These were essentially ritual bodily practices which deflected attention from and undermined the spiritual transformation called for by the Gospel.
In his recent book The Eucharist Foretold: The Lost Prophecy of Malachi, Mike Aquilina puts everything in context. He explains how important this prophecy was to the Fathers of the Church. It was in fact a mainstay of Christian understanding and argument from St. Justin Martyr, who was born around the year 100 AD, to St. Augustine, arguably the greatest of the Church Fathers, who died in 430 AD, and including such luminaries as St. Ignatius of Antioch, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyril of Alexandria.
Mike’s very readable exploration of the use and importance of Malachi’s prophecy opens a fascinating window on how the earliest Christians saw themselves and how they argued with their Jewish brothers and sisters about the meaning of the New Covenant—using Scriptures accepted as Divinely inspired by both groups. This in turn sheds considerable light on the nature of Christian-Jewish relations in the early centuries of the Church. Most importantly, every page of The Eucharist Foretold reveals the vibrancy of the Christian faith—the conviction that Christ and the Church are the very core of the Father’s merciful plan for the whole world.
Any tour through the Fathers of the Church helps the Faith come alive for us today, in an age when we tend to ignore the stunning claims of Christ while we busy ourselves with worldly cares. Mike Aquilina’s presentation, though grounded in his thorough study of the Fathers, succeeds where a more academic approach would fail. His book expands our vision, teaching us once again to take Malachi seriously—in other words, to recognize an eternity already present on earth, in which we are called to participate ever more fully: “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.”
Mike Aquilina, The Eucharist Foretold: The Lost Prophecy of Malachi. Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019. Hardcover, 176 pp., $24.95 (eBook $18.95).
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Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Sep. 11, 2020 6:20 AM ET USA
Along with the book of Genesis, Malachi 1:11 is the text I have most cited when asked about how to identify the _anno-Domini_ religion established by God through Christ. The 4 marks reveal the essence and nature of the true religion (one, holy, catholic, apostolic), while James 1:27 describes the corporate and individual responsibilities of the members of this religion (to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one's self unspotted from this world). The Fathers knew.