Foundations of Faith|
What's so special about the number '8'?
Seven days a week is not enough to show God cares
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Remember the Beatles' hit: "Eight days a week, I lo-o-o-o-ove you?"
Well, welcome to God's eighth day of the week.
I used to think the song was a little silly -- no eight days to a week, after all. But there's nothing silly
about the eighth day when we talk about Easter.
Quoting the Byzantine Liturgy, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us: "The day of
Christ's Resurrection is both the first day of the week, the memorial of the first day of creation, and the
'eighth day,' on which Christ after his 'rest' on the great Sabbath inaugurates the 'day that the Lord has
made,' the 'day that knows no evening'" (no. 1166).
We're used to thinking of Easter as the beginning of new life, as the triumph of eternal life over death,
even -- as the scriptures say -- as the first day of the week (Mk 16:9). But how often do we think of it as
the eighth day? Since there is no such thing as an eighth day in a seven-day week -- what's going on?
Two major Church feasts are celebrated for eight days: Christmas and Easter. The celebration of the
octave of a feast goes back to at least the fourth century and started with Easter. The reasons are a little
obscure, but one is that the eighth day was simply the Sunday that followed a week of celebration by
both the newly initiated and all the church.
However, the celebration of eight-day feasts' goes back father -- into the Jewish roots of our faith.
Dedicating the Temple
The Temple of Solomon was dedicated in an eight-day ceremony (2Chr 7:8-9). After the Babylonian
Exile, the renewed Temple was again dedicated with an eight-day ceremony (1Mac 4:59). Modern
Hanukkah, lasting eight days, celebrates this rededication. For Jews, the Temple was where God most
perfectly dwelt with his people. Our Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent (Jn 2:13-25) reminded us that
Jesus' own body has become our new Temple.
The Jewish feast of Passover -- which Jesus celebrated before his death -- also lasts eight days. For the
Jews, the Passover marks their beginning as a separate nation, dedicated to God. But the Passover is
more than a memory, but a promise for the future. Rabbi Amy Scheinerman says, "Passover reminds us
that redemption is real, the liberation is on-going, and that the possibility of salvation is always here."
For Christians, Christ's Passover -- the Paschal Mystery of his death, resurrection and ascension --
brought that longed-for salvation. "The Paschal mystery of Christ's cross and Resurrection stands at the
center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world.
God's saving plan was accomplished 'once for all' by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ."
(CCC, no. 571).
A second major Jewish feast, that of Sukkoth, commemorates the 40 years in the desert and the arrival
in the Promised Land. It reminds participants of how God provided -- and continues to provide -- for his
people with food and shelter. It is a harvest festival of Thanksgiving lasting seven days. On the eighth
day (Lev 23:36, Num 29:35), there is a special feast, called Shemini Atzeret. This translates as "the
assembly of the eighth day" and is understood as a direct summons by God. Deborah Weisman of the
National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership explains it as a feast to which God calls his people
and then, when it is over, cannot bear to part with them: "We may feel exhausted after the High
Holidays and a week of Sukkot, but God is eager for a little more of our company."
As Christians, we know that God so desired our company, so loved us, that he sent his only Son to
reconcile us through his own body (CCC, nos. 457-460). And that is what Easter -- the eighth day --
celebrates: "mankind's rescue from death, its renewal and spiritual birth through the Resurrection of
Christ. The Church teaches that Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and as the first resurrected from the
dead, renewed human flesh and endowed it with the Spirit" (Russian Orthodox Archpriest V. Potapov).
In the flesh
The most important, though, of these eight day events for the Jewish people was -- and still is -- circumcision (brit milah). Jewish law (Gen. 17:10) instructs that all Abraham's male descendants, on
the eighth day of life, be circumcised as an everlasting sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. Luke tells us that Jesus himself was circumcised on the eighth day (Lk 2:21).
But why mark the covenant on the eighth day? While there is not complete agreement, many Jewish teachers believe that the eighth day signifies a new stage in creation. In Genesis, creation of the world took six days, after which God inaugurated the Sabbath, bringing a total of seven days in a week. These seven days thus pertain to a creation that "appears to 'take care of itself,'" explains Rabbi Menachem Leibtag of Irene Stein College in Jerusalem. The covenant, though, is above nature, he adds. "One could
suggest," the rabbi says, "that circumcision on the EIGHTH day relates to this elevation of man's spiritual level, ONE step about his original creation of SEVEN days... At (circumcision) Avraham is raised to a higher level. He and his offspring are chosen to represent God as His special nation. ... To take God's creation and elevate it to a higher level."
Elevating creation to a higher level is exactly what Jesus came to do. In his own earthly body, he bore
the mark of God's eternal covenant with Israel -- circumcision. In that same body -- now resurrected --
he brought about the new covenant of the new creation.
The prayer before the first reading of the Easter Vigil tells us this: "The seventh day completes the first
creation. The eighth day begins the new creation. Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater
work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation of Christ,
the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation" (Roman missal, no. 24).
And through Christ -- by sharing in his Paschal Mystery -- we are reconciled to God and part of this
new creation. As Paul tells us, "(I)f anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, The old order has passed
away; now all is new! God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, does all this (2Cor
So we need -- and thanks to Christ -- have far more than a week to "know how much he really cares." We have eternity.
Welcome to the eighth day!
(Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church; Judaism 101 web site; The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership web site; Catholic Encyclopedia; Virtual Jerusalem web site; Rabbi Amy Scheinerman homepage; web site for the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, DC; and The Jerusalem Post web site)