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I'm almost certain that the answer is no and that lamb is eaten mostly because it's available and tasty. However my attempts to Google this have met with limited success. I have found suggestions that the practice originated with the popes towards the end of the first millennium AD, and of course lots of articles suggesting a connection with Passover and with the lamb of God. However I have been unable to find any definitive statements from a reliable source.

I would be interested to if there is any religious significance to the eating of lamb, or whether it's one of those traditions that owe more to pragmatism than theology.

A footnote

Lee asks me to clarify my question. Suppose I was asking why Jews eat lamb at Passover, then the answer would be that it's mandated in the Torah. This would be a nice clear answer that is easily independently checked.

I want to know why Christians eat lamb at Easter, but I am fairly sure there is nothing in the Bible instructing them to do so. So I am anticipating that the answer might be along the lines of:

Because Pope Whoever adopted the practice in 962 and it has been a tradition ever since

or possibly:

There is no clear reason - it has just become popular due to the association of the Lamb of God with Jesus

Lesley mentions it became a tradition in the ninth century, but the linked article is very vague about who adopted the tradition and exactly when. If a more precise origin for the tradition can be identified I would be very interested to know it.

So when I ask about a theological basis I mean was there some occasion when Christians were instructed to eat lamb or when they were encouraged to eat lamb by an example set by some Christian authority? Or has the practice simply emerged without any clear origin?

  • @Marc :-) But no it's not an April's fool post, I am genuinely interested as to whether the tradition of eating lamb has a religious significance or whether it's purely secular/pragmatic. – John Rennie Apr 1 '18 at 12:34
  • Ok, I feel I have to answer this and give you a rundown. Let me see if it's answered already. – Marc Apr 1 '18 at 12:36
  • @Marc I did search the site before posting but with no luck – John Rennie Apr 1 '18 at 12:38
  • I've never heard of this tradition. We usually ate roast beef. – Matt Gutting Apr 1 '18 at 13:25
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    I'm a little uncertain exactly what you're asking. Are you asking with an awareness that the ancient Jews were commanded to eat a lamb for Passover (Exodus 12:21, and referred to many other times in the OT and NT), and that Jesus was crucified immediately after eating a Passover meal with his disciples, as well as being referred to as "the Lamb" in many places in the NT, thus making a connection between Passover and the crucifixion/resurrection? – Lee Woofenden Apr 1 '18 at 19:37
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It seems that the Catholic tradition of eating lamb at Easter was first documented in the 7th century:

“The oldest prayer for the blessing of lambs can be found in the seventh-century sacramentary (ritual book) of the Benedictine monastery, Bobbio in Italy. Two hundred years later Rome had adopted it, and thereafter the main feature of the Pope's Easter dinner for many centuries was roast lamb.” - Easter Symbols and Food (Catholic Culture)

Eating lamb at this time of the year has religious significance, not only for Christians but also for Jews. It goes back to the year 1446 B.C. on the night before Moses led his people out of Egypt. To this day the Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is the most widely celebrated Jewish festival where a lamb is roasted then eaten. It is called the Passover because the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites who had obeyed God’s commands to kill a lamb and then mark their doorposts and lintels with its blood:

“Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever.” (Exodus 12:21–24).

The theological significance for Christians is that on the night he was betrayed, Jesus and his apostles gathered together in a room in Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover. As you have mentioned, there is a connection with Passover and Jesus, who is seen by Christians as the Lamb of God who was sacrificed and his blood shed to atone for the sins of the world. That is the theology behind eating lamb on Nisan 14, which is the night Jesus was betrayed.

In Western countries, Passover is celebrated in early- to mid-April and is always close to Easter since that was the time when Jesus was crucified. Passover and the story of the exodus have great significance for Christians, as Jesus is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 5:12). He was killed at Passover time, and the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Luke 22:7–8). That is the theology behind the eating of lamb and it is traditional among Catholics and Protestants alike.

  • In response to John's footnotes: In the Bible, the only people instructed to eat lamb during Passover are Jews. During the First Century Jewish Christians would have observed Passover and the eating of lamb during the festival. Gentile Christians would almost certainly have eaten lamb (at any time) because it was not prohibited. But there is no biblical instruction for any Christian to eat lamb during the Passover festival. The custom of Christians eating lamb during “Holy Week” or “Easter” (which is not the same thing as the Jewish Passover festival) is a man-made Christian tradition. – Lesley Apr 3 '18 at 11:36
  • However, Catholics are not allowed to eat any meat on “Good Friday” or on any Friday during the 40 days of Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday). The length of the Lenten fast was established in the Fourth Century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). The rule is based on the authority of the Church, not on the authority of Scripture. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church had a law that forbade consuming meat on all Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Later, this rule was relaxed to remove meat from the diet on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays. – Lesley Apr 3 '18 at 11:38
  • Nowadays, meat is only prohibited on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays of the Lenten season. If the Pope now eats lamb for his “Easter dinner” that might be on the Monday following “Good Friday.” To conclude, the earliest rules regarding the Catholic fast at Lent originated in the Fourth Century, and the only information I could find on the Pope having lamb for his Easter dinner is from the Seventh Century. – Lesley Apr 3 '18 at 11:39
  • Tradition holds that the eating of lamb is done on Easter Sunday, not Monday, even for the pope! Canon 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ken Graham Apr 19 at 4:28
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Aside from the Easter eggs and Easter bread, the most traditional Easter foods are those made with all the things once forbidden or restricted during Lent (meats, butter, etc.), but the Easter food of all Easter foods is, of course, lamb, in honor of the Paschal lambs slain by the Israelites and whose blood was painted over their doors so death would pass them by, all prefiguring the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

The Lamb is the symbol of Christ as the Paschal Lamb and also a symbol for Christians (as Christ is our Shepherd and Peter was told to feed His sheep). The lamb is also a symbol for St. Agnes (Feast Day 21 January), virgin martyr of the early Church.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432)

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432)

The oldest prayer for the blessing of lambs can be found in the seventh-century sacramentary (ritual book) of the Benedictine monastery, Bobbio in Italy. Two hundred years later Rome had adopted it, and thereafter the main feature of the Pope's Easter dinner for many centuries was roast lamb. After the tenth century, in place of the whole lamb, smaller pieces of meat were used. In some Benedictine monasteries, however, even today whole lambs are still blessed with the ancient prayers.

The ancient tradition of the Pasch lamb also inspired among the Christians the use of lamb meat as a popular food at Easter time, and at the present time it is eaten as the main meal on Easter Sunday in many parts of eastern Europe. Frequently, however, little figures of a lamb made of butter, pastry, or sugar have been substituted for the meat, forming Easter table centerpieces. - Easter Symbols and Food (Catholic Culture)

Blessing of the Easter Lamb

In days gone by it was customary to eat lamb on Easter Sunday at the main meal of the day. Most of the faithful in North America have the tradition of serving turkey or ham or perhaps roast beef on Easter Sunday. Holy Mother Church has a magnificent prayer for the Blessing of Lamb on the Solemnity of Easter at mealtime, which is offered here for the use of those who would like to possibly use it, if a priest or deacon is invited over. This beautiful prayer is still used in some of the more traditional religious communities around the world.

V. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.

R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.

V. Dominus vobiscum.

R. Et cum spiritu tuo.

Oremus.

Deus, qui per famulum tuum Moysen, in liberation populi tui de AEgypto, agnum occidi jussisti in similitudinem Domini nostri Jesu Christi, etutrosque postes domorum de sanguine ejusdem agni perungi praecepisti: tu benedicere, et sanctificare dignerishanc creaturam carnis, quam nos family tui ad laudem tuam sumere desideramus, per ressurectionem ejusdem Domini nostri Jesu Christi: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in saecula saeculorum.

R. Amen.

I know of several monastic communities that eat Easter lamb a their main meal of the day and the superior will pray this blessing over the Easter lamb itself. It is, by the way, our own personal tradition in our home.

Święconka is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions on Holy Saturday. Święconka is the Polish tradition for "the blessing of the Easter baskets," and is observed in Poland as well observed by Poles in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and other Polish Parish communities. The tradition of blessing food at Easter has early-medieval roots in Christian society and dates back to the 7th century in its basic form. The more modern form containing bread and eggs (symbols of resurrection and Christ) are said to date from the 12th century.

This tradition is popular in other cultures also such as Czechs, Croatians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Russians, Rusyns, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians. As to what goes into a food basket depends on the region one is from, the family's preferences, and financial means.

Popular items in the traditional Easter Basket are butter, bread, horseradish, hard boiled eggs (coloured egg; pysanky), sausages, ham or lamb, smoked bacon, cheese, wine, salt and sweets.

Some traditional blessings can be found here: Święcone - Blessing of Easter Food. Simply follow the links for the Latin prayers if so desired.

Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

-1

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”

The very first interaction early in the Gospel of John is this proclamation by John the Baptist as he sees Christ approaching.

It is a very unusual thing to call someone the Lamb of God wouldn’t you think?

Though out the Scriptures we see that God talks to us through various means. He speaks directly to some, through prophets to others, and through the actions of many. All of these events, as they unfold in the Old Testament are made new and fulfilled in the New Testament. This method of Gods teaching is referred to as Typology where things that happen in the earliest periods of salvation history are made known in the History of salvation in the fullness of time. Yeah, yeah, but what did the Pope have to do with it? Well, Pope means basically “Father” and one significant father in salvation history was Abraham.

Part 1: Genesis 22 it the recalling of the story referred to as the “Sacrifice Of Isaac”

There are some distinct parts of this story, and I can’t address them, the typology here is deep.

Abraham having previously not “Trusting God” implicitly has learned his lesson and learned that God keeps his promises. Especially concerning his One and Only Son.

  1. He is asked to offer his Son Isaac up as a Holocaust on a mountain in the land of Mori’ah. A Mountain, in what is later to be called Jerusalem.

  2. Isaac carries the wood for the Sacrifice up the mountain, asking, “Where is the Lamb” for the burnt offering. Abraham says, “ God will provide himself the Lamb”

  3. Isaac is bound to the wood. Abraham fulfills his promise to God, but God stays his hand.

  4. A Ram, is found caught in the thicket by its horns and Abraham takes the Ram and offers that to God.

This is where the traditions of men and Popes and stuff come in. Typological references. There is so much here, but here goes

Isaac is a “Type” of Christ, being offered to the Lord as a sacrifice, the ancient Rabbi’s believed that Isaac was, based on the text indicating that he carried the wood for the burnt offering up the hill, between the ages of 25 and 37. Remembering also that the very same hill that Isaac is carrying the wood up, Is the very same hill Christ was crucified on, I’m leaning on the age of Isaac to be more around 33, because this seems to be the way God works. The age of Isaac however is not disclosed. The important thing to remember is that Isaac is young and strong enough to climb up a hill in Jerusalem with enough wood on his back to burn at least a boy, but most likely a man. He is Strong. Abraham on the other hand is over 100 years old and not in his prime. It is the tradition of the Rabbi’s again that Isaac was a willing victim (like Christ) obedient to his father. The account we call “The Sacrifice of Isaac” was referred to for this reason by the Rabbi’s as “Aqedah”, or in English “Binding”.

The other typological references here is that of the Abraham saying “God will provide the Lamb” it is interesting that he calls the place “Yhwh Yir’eh” which translates “the Lord will see” but is understood as meaning, “ the lord will provide”. Provide what, he will provide the “Lamb” in answer to Isaac’s question. The lord did provide a Ram, which was put to death, a Ram stuck in the thickets by its horns. (Think crown of thorns). The understanding of those Popes, is that God would eventually provide the Lamb.

So in summery, what we have is Isaac age 33 or so carrying the wood of the sacrifice up the same hill Christ was sacrificed on where by Abraham and through him Isaac receive the promise of God. Typology.

Part 2: The Passover Instituted

The last of the 10 plagues, the angel of death and the institution of the Passover meal. The sacrifice of the lamb, the sharing and eating of the Lamb, and the marking of the doorway with the blood of the lamb in order that the sons of Israel be saved from death.

We must not three things especially important here

  1. A lamb must be sacrificed; its blood must be spread on the lintel and doorposts of each house. And the Lamb must be eaten.

  2. Nothing of the lamb must remain after the Passover, if there is it must be offered up to god in a burnt offering. It is sacred.

  3. The Jews must be ready to leave after eating the lamb.

  4. This ordinance will be observed forever.

There is a Christian tradition that the marking on the door, above and to the sides of the doorpost, is an image of the Cross-, and how the blood from the wounds of Christ would have fallen at Calvary (popes again). It is also important to note that the Lamb must be eaten (Not just until Calvary, but forever). The question to the Israel believer would be, if you do not eat the lamb, would you have been passed over? The typology here, the wounds of the Cross-, the eating of the Lamb, the Sacrifice, the sacredness of the Lamb, how it should be revered as sacred and not simply discarded, how the Jews must be ready to exit after the offering is complete. That this offering must be done forever.

Part 3 The Passover Sacrifice, the Tamid, the fulfillment of the Sacrifice of the Lamb.

In Leviticus, the Passover celebration is explained in detail. I will point out a few typological comparisons.

All the Jews would come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, offering a Lamb at the temple. The blood would be drained from the lamb and sprinkled on the alter. From the side of the temple, after Passover, after lambs from millions of sacrifices was over, the temple would have to be cleaned, water would wash, mix with the blood and flow from the temple into the kidron valley. Water and lambs blood flowed from the side of the temple. Water and blood, flowed from the side of Christ. There is more typology here than I can mentions, the lambs being sacrifice over a railing, the Catholic tradition of receiving the Eucharist over a railing. The way the thousands of lambs were carried through Jerusalem on spits which looked like Crosses. The necessity of eating the Lamb, (John 6). Then we get to the TAMID.

The Tamid is the daily offering at the Jewish Temple of Bread and wine and a lamb, the offering was done morning, and evening (9am and 3Pm). The bread and wine are the bread and wine that was offered in Exodus 25. It is understood that the meal that Moses and the Elders ate was a meal of bread and wine (to much) Just think table of Presence. Every day at the temple, the offering of bread wine and lamb was made, typology of the Lamb of God, who comes to us in the form of Bread and wine, who was nailed to the Cross at 9am and gave up his spirit at 3pm. Year after year, day after day, Lamb, bread & wine. This was done all the way to 70AD when the temple was destroyed. The offering, the ordinance, which was forever, continues in the celebration of the Catholic mass, the offering of Bread and wine and Lamb (of God) each and every day. Each and Every Easter at Mass, the Lamb is eaten, the True Lamb, the True Bread that came down from heaven. So yeah, the Popes are responsible, not is a pragmatic way, but in a real theological way, Gods way.

Now, I rushed this so I will need to tweak it. I was in a hurry because it is Easter and I think it’s important that you get your Lamb. Or at least work towards it. There is so much more to this. The deeper you get into the mystery of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian Faith, the more and more you have an understanding of Christ and the Beauty of his Church.

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    When you tweak it, please add some quotes or references from authoritative sources. – curiousdannii Apr 1 '18 at 15:19
  • Part 1: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship." (Rom 12:1). Part 2 & 3: Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and the Sabbath is the crossday of crossdays. – Constantthin Apr 2 '18 at 9:33
  • @Constantthin Amen Brother, It truly is great how those passages of scripture work hand and hand with Catholic Worship, God is Truly Great. – Marc Apr 2 '18 at 11:24

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