I thought we'd be jumping in with sacrifices. Cain and Abel. Melchizedek. Isaac. Those are all sacrifices that prefigure the ultimate sacrifice of Christ's death on the cross. Sure. That's what we'll start talking about.
Did you see any sacrifices in chapters 2 and 3? I didn't. What I did see hit me with all the subtlety of a cement block to the face. By skipping those two chapters and jumping straight to Cain and Abel's sacrifices in chapter 4, I'm skipping the essentials of what every Catholic needs to know about the Mass! The beginning. Not the beginning as I had perceived it, but the real beginning: Who God is. Who we are. Why we need the Mass.
The first thing that we need to know is that God is our Creator. Keep in mind that these stories told in Genesis are true stories about actual events. However, they may not be quite as literal as what we are used to. We expect our true stories to be prose, kind of like newspaper accounts. The ancient people told true stories about actual events, but they often used certain symbolism. Their stories are more like poetry. Never think that the events of Genesis didn't happen, but keep in mind that when it says that God created us from the dust, it doesn't necessarily mean that used His hands and sculpted out a person from the clay in the ground and then turned it into a living breathing person. It could mean that He started the process of evolution from one tiny cell that He gave life to. It's fine to believe either thing. Just know that God created us. However it happened, ultimately He is the one that caused it.
We need to know that God is the Creator, and we are the creatures. God gave man life, and then everything else that he needed. Genesis 2:9 talks about the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Notice that God commanded man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That means that they were not forbidden to eat from the tree of life. (Special note on 2:25: there is a whole theology of the body world waiting for you in that little verse. Can't get into now, though.)
All is good, right? Man and woman have each other. They tend the garden and brings forth fruit. Enter the serpent. The saddest part of this whole section is when the serpent calls God a liar, and Adam and Eve believe him. He tells Adam and Eve that God is not looking out for their best interests, but that God wants to keep something important from them. I think Nash puts it best: "Adam and Eve had a basic choice: listen to the devil and become 'like God' (Gen 3:5), or listen to God and partake of his very life." (p. 23).
If the tree of the knowledge of good and evil promised death, why did they eat from that tree and not eat from the tree of life instead? Nash reports that's a bit of a mystery, but that the root of their sin and all our sins remains in a lack of trust in God's goodness and providence.
Catholics call this sin "original sin". It is a sin that stains all our souls and affects everything that we do, but it is not through our personal fault or guilty. Think of it this way. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God said they would die. Notice that they were still very much alive when they had to meet God in the garden later. Was God a liar? Definitely not. Certainly it meant eventual death for them, but I also believe that there was a very important part of them that died in the moment that they ate the fruit: the life of God in their souls. That life, that union with God, was dead. They were no more capable of bringing that back to life than they were capable of bringing their bodies back to life once they did die physically. Someone that is physically dead cannot pass on life to a new generation. Someone that is spiritually dead cannot pass on spiritual life to the next generation. Spiritual death is our inheritance, and we are quick to follow Adam and add our own sins to the mix.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22: "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Praise God!
Back to the tree of life. Nash notes that after sinning, Adam and Eve are barred from the Garden, specifically the tree of life, which they could have eaten from and lived forever (Gen 3:22). By sinning, they have excluded themselves from this fruit of this tree. This will not be the last time that God offers us food that will give us life forever.