Tag Archives: atonement

Leviticus 16:

The Day of Atonement / Yom Kippur:
This is perhaps the most important chapter in Leviticus.  It is the most solemn day of the year in the Jewish calendar.  It is the only day mandated by Jewish law to fast.  The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur is the “reset button” for the Jewish liturgical year.  Yom Kippur is the day to remove and destroy impurity for the nation for the year.  It is the reset button to get the Israelites back to square one in terms of ritual purity. This is the day to restore everyone and everything (people, priests and Tabernacle) to the original sanctification. It is the day when Yahweh allows the Israelites to, in effect, start over again.  This is the New Testament equivalent to the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation.  Once the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple, and then later, the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, Yom Kippur morphed from ritual purification to the atonement of sins of the people. Yom Kippur became became associated with the forgiveness of sins rather than ritual purifications.  This is the only day of the year when someone could enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle.  In this case, is was the High Priest who could enter the Holy of Holies.  The blood of the sacrifice was applied to the people just as in the Theophany from Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19) to re-enact the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 24).  Yom Kippur was the yearly renewal of the Sinai Covenant.  The blood was applied to the people and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

God Appears in Human Form?:
On Yom Kippur, Yahweh would “ra’ah” or appear in a cloud over the Mercy Seat.  Other instances of this Hebrew word (Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; etc.) that God would appear in human form on the Mercy Seat; that is, the High Priest Aaron would see God in human form echoing each year the face to face meeting on Mt. Sinai in the Theophany.

Ark of the Covenant / the Mercy Seat / God’s Throne Room:
The Ark of the Covenant had two cherubim with folded wings that acted as God’s footstool.  This is the Mercy Seat or the Purging Seat where God dwelt with Israel in the Meeting Tent.  On Yom Kippur, the one day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, he would sprinkle blood seven times on the Mercy Seat.  This was a means of expiation and purgation; originally for making Israel ritually pure, but later, for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus’ blood and His Cross, of course, are the ultimate fulfillment of Yom Kippur and the Day of Atonement, and the forgiveness of sins. With God in, visible form, sitting on His throne seat, this, in fact, is a kind of “throne room scene” of God here on earth. The Throne-room of God from Heaven is now making an appearance on earth; “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Reset Button:
Once a year, God would remove all impurities from the Israelites, but later, it is seen as forgiving all sin.  It is the true “reset button” to make all things new.  Each year, no matter what happened, Israel could start over again on Yom Kippur.  The merciful God from His “Mercy Seat,” or “purgation seat”, forgives all of Israel’s sins.  Everything would be restored to its original condition. This is a “statute forever,” perhaps foreshadowing Baptism and Reconciliation (which continued it into the New Covenant times).  In Levitical terms, the Day of Atonement restored equilibrium to the Israel nation and made them new again in ritualistic purity and cleanliness.  [In Baptism, Christians are washed clean of original sin and made anew in the Blood of Christ, new creations; similarly, in Reconciliation, we are forgiven our sins, and made anew in the forgiveness of Christ.]

The Two Goats / Azazel and the Sacrifice Goat:
On Yom Kippur, two goats were chosen: one would be sacrificed, and one would be sent off into the wilderness bearing the sins of the nation, this is the Azazel goat.  The Azazel goat is where the notion of a “scapegoat” comes from, ie, the goat that bears the sins of someone else.  The first goat is a sin offering for the Lord and is slain.  The second goat, the Azazel goat, is an expiation, a purging of the impurities, or later, the sins, of the nation of Israel. The High Priest, the representative of the nation, laid his hands on the goat, a symbolic transfer of impurities and guilt, and then, the Azazel goat was sent off into the wilderness, presumably to its death.  The wilderness and the desert were the place of the demonic, wildness chaos, sin and death. It was the opposite of the Tabernacle, God’s place, the new Eden.  Everything outside the Tabernacle was wilderness, desert, chaos, sin, and death. [When Jesus is about to begin His ministry, He immediately heads out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted by the devil.]  Here, the Azazel goat is banished into the desert to take away Israel’s impurities and sins from the camp of Yahweh and the nation.  The Azazel goat removes impurities out of the sacred space of the Temple into the place it belongs, the demonic geography of the wilderness.  The goat is the vehicle for the removal of those impurities.

As a matter of note, the term Azazel appears also in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q180), where Azazel is a demon; in fact, the leader of the fallen angels that sinned in Genesis 6:1-4 and 1 Enoch.  Thus, once a year, the High Priest would lay hands on the Azazel goat, and confess all the sins of the nation of Israel, symbolically transferring the sins of the nation to the Azazel goat.  The Azazel goat would then bear the sins (impurities) of Israel away from Yahweh’s sacred space of Israel and the Tabernacle, off into the godforsaken land of the desert wilderness.  The wilderness imagery is one of supernatural evil, non-holy ground; non-sacred space outside the Tabernacle.  It was a place spiritually sinister with forces of chaos and death, where the pagans offered sacrifice to goat-demons.  The Azazel goat would possibly be driven off a cliff too, in effect, the impurities and sins of the nation would never make it back.

Christianity and the Cross:
The first sacrificed goat would in the New Testament make Christians fit for God’s presence.  The second goat, the Azazel goat, would remove sins from Christians. In the New Testament, Christ fulfills the type of each goat.  Christ makes us fit to be in God’s presence, and removes sins from our lives.  Christ is the goat sacrificed for our sins on the Cross.  He is also the goat where our sins are laid upon His body and He bears them away from us. Christ becomes sin for us, by bearing our sins.  Azazel is the ultimate embodiment of evil, as the leader of the fallen angels/demons, who led the world astray.  This is reminiscent of Christ being foreshadowed by the bronze serpent raised upon the pole. The serpent (as the serpent from the Garden of Eden, who led mankind astray into Original Sin) was raised upon the pole, and all who looked upon it were healed.  Similarly, the demonic Azazel goat has the sins of the nation cast upon it.  It is Christ, who takes on sin for our sake, who is sacrificed and carried sin away from us.  This is the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, who is pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, and by His “stripes” we are made whole.  Christ’s atoning death on the Cross is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. The goats of the Day of Atonement are just prefigurements of the real atoning death of the Messiah, the Son of God, to come.  Jesus is the true, sacrificial atonement.  Good Friday is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which was just a prefigurement of the Cross. Jesus’ death on the Cross is the true “Reset Button” for all Christians and believers.  We are made new creations in Christ and His Cross. His sanctifying grace flowed forth as blood and water from His side, and perpetuated in perpetuity in through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Leviticus 1-5:

The Tabernacle:
Leviticus means pertaining to the Levites, that is, the book is primarily about the cultic regulations of the Levitical priesthood.  Yahweh will now have moved from Mt. Sinai to the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle is in effect a portable Mount Sinai.  Just as Mt. Sinai was a successor to the Garden of Eden, now the Tabernacle is a new kind of Eden.  The Tabernacle is sacred space.  It is the dwelling place of God, where man can interact again with God, as in the original blueprint of Eden.  But, sacred space requires sacred actions, sacred objects, sacred vocations, and sacred procedures.  All of this would require consecration and sanctification to be ritually fit in order to be in the presence of God.  To be ritually impure in the presence of God is a death sentence.  The presence of God is a dangerous thing.  We are to have a holy fear of being in the presence of God. It is something awesome and something sacred. Leviticus introduces the sacrificial system and the notion of sacrificial atonement, thus preparing the way for the idea later ultimately, of Christ’s sacrificial atoning death.

The Five Offerings:
To prepare the priests and the people, five different ritualized sacrificial offerings can be made at the Tabernacle, as a means of atonement: (1) the Burnt Offering (2) the Grain Offering (3) The Peace Offering (4) The Sin Offering (5) the Guilt Offering.

(1) The Burnt Offering: (“holocaust”) was offered by someone seeking access, fellowship, and communion with God.  This is not about sin, but about ritual purity.  The hands were laid on the animal’s head to signify the transferal of a symbolic identity as the offerer.  It was a way to approach God and be protected from His divine wrath. Proximity to God is dangerous and fearful thing. [contrast this with the “go boldly” before God in the New Testament, ie, Heb. 4:16.  No gift necessary to access sacred space; we are the temple of God now.  That is why it is so necessary to live a holy life. We are “set apart” sacred space and temples of God.]  Nothing of the burnt offering is ever eaten, but is entirely consumed in fire and “goes up” as smoke to God.  The entire animal is given to God as a representation of the offeror’s complete self-donation to God.

(2) The Grain Offering:  also called the “Cereal Offering”.  It was an unbloody sacrifice consisting of some form of grain, possibly baked as a cake or not.  The “minhah” expressed a sort of communion between the offerer and God in the form of a “meal” presented to God.  It was made of “fine flour” with frankincense. Unleavened and with no honey. Leaven is puffed up with pride and sin. Honey is associated with pagan sacrifices. Thus, the grain offering should be unleavened and without honey, disassociating it from pride and paganism. It should contain salt. The grain offering with salt (Lev. 2:13) is like a “covenant of salt” (Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5), which is a binding covenant.  It absorbs more blood of the animal, and more importantly, breaking the covenant is like a land plowed over with salt, that is, no grain will grow. The land becomes unusable.  Thus, the covenant of salt is binding and forever.

(3) The Peace Offering:  This was an offering of “thanksgiving” or being personally thankful to God.  It represented a state of communion between God and the worshipper, a joyful sacrifice. The fat of the animal was offered to God, but the priest and the people ate the rest of the animal in a celebratory feast, accompanied with grain offerings with it.  It was a communal meal with God.  There existed a state of well-being between the offerer and God.

(4) Sin Offering:  (“hattat”) This is a sacrifice to restore communion with God through the forgiveness of sins; a “purification offering.”  The sin offering serves to cleanse the worshipper from ritual uncleanness, by inadvertent moral or ritual violations. This is for unintentional violations. This was offered on behalf of the congregation’s sins on whole.  Blood was applied to the sanctuary to maintain ritual purity against defilement. The priest ate the fatty offering. The sin offering did not cover all sins, only a purification offering for inadvertent transgressions and retain ritual purity.  This did not apply to immorality, or willful sins.  “Purification offering” would be a better title.  The offering is to “cleanse” “purify” and “to decontaminate.”  The blood is applied to decontaminate the sacred space; ritual purity.  The Virgin Mary’s sin offering (Lk. 2:24) is for ritual purity, not immorality or culpability as some Protestants argue.  Decontamination for inadvertent ritual violations.  Deliberate sin, on the other hand, there was no remedy or sacrificial offering; the sinner would be “cut off” or killed.  The blood was sprinkled seven times on the Holy of Holies and Mercy Seat (once a year on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest) and on the “horns” of the Altar and outside the Tabernacle. [Again, this is in contrast to Jesus and the New Covenant, where all is cleansed; all is forgiven; all sacred space is cleansed; made into new creations – something totally foreign to the Levitical old covenant system.  Christianity is radical: can be cleansed of all sins, even deliberate grave sins; No restrictions. God sees the perfection of the Messiah, not your sins.]

(5) Guilt Offering:  (“asham”) This could also be called a “Reparation” or “Restitution” Offering.  The guilt offering makes reparation or restitution to God for the damage done by sin. Whereas the sin offering deals with forgiveness of sin, the guilt offering deals with reparation for sin; forgiveness and reparation respectively.  In the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, we deal with these notions too: forgiveness and absolution, but also, penance and making amends.  The two ideas go together in the Old covenant system too.  This is “compensation” for something, such as a breach of faith unintentionally (ie, like misusing sanctuary property by accident).  The guilt offering would be “a ram without blemish” foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ, who was without sin. Guilt/Restitution offering was done by someone who was repentant, but it did not absolve a person of immorality. Rather, it gave the person a chance to make amends.  Knowingly, defiant sin is not addressed by the sacrificial system of the Levites. For those (murder, rape, breaking the Ten Commandments), no restitution was possible, only banishment or death penalty. [We have it much better in the New Covenant, where we are truly forgiven in Christ by His Cross.  His blood covers our sins; God the Father only sees His son, not our sins; a radical notion to the Old Covenant Israelite.]

Purgatory and the Communion of Saints – November 11, 2017

“No man is an island,” so Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”). We are each bound to one another “through innumerable interactions” so that: “No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.” Pope Benedict exhorts us to ask, “what can I do in order that others may be saved? . . . Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.” Salvation is a social reality. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the community of believers coming together in a city. Heaven, as a city full of people, is a place of communal salvation. Sin, on the other hand, introduced the “destruction of the unity of the human race.” While man’s original unity was torn apart by sin, the work of redemption aims to heal that disintegration, as Benedict discerns, “redemption appears as the reestablishment of unity.”

Each believer is an interconnected cell in the Mystical Body of Christ. We are a band of brothers and sisters, bound together in hope and love, in a confraternal exchange of supernatural charity. Even now, the saints of Church Militant on earth, are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” – Church Penitent (or Church Suffering) in purgatory and Church Triumphant in heaven. The Communion of Saints live in a symbiotic relationship: the saints in heaven and purgatory interceding for those on the earth, while the believers on the earth ask for their heavenly intercession. And, in this month of November, dedicated to the souls in purgatory, we recall our special role in this symbiotic relationship while still alive: to pray, sacrifice and intercede for the dearly departed souls in purgatory.

Those in purgatory have died in God’s grace and friendship and are “assured of their eternal salvation,” however, they are “still imperfectly purified” and must necessarily “undergo purification” to enter into heaven (CCC 1030), for nothing unclean enters into it. (Rev. 21:27) Jesus spoke of purgatory, alluding to it as a “prison,” in which we pay for our sins down to “the very last penny”:

“Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (Lk. 12:58-59)

St. Paul similarly tells the Corinthians that we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and are subject to a “purifying fire;” they “will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:15) The encounter with Christ is one of grace and judgment. Benedict describes this eloquently:

“Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. . . . Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.” (Spe Salvi, 44) Even after Confession, we must still make penance.

The departed faithful souls in purgatory do have to make recompense for their sins to satisfy the perfect justice of God. We can, however, assist them in that. The Catechism (CCC 1032) quotes an example from Scripture saying, “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc. 12:45) And so, how do we as Christians make atonement for the dead? The Catechism clarifies this:

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

We are called to be intercessors, for both the living and the dead. We can offer up our prayers, sacrifices and sufferings on behalf of the poor souls in purgatory, for they can no longer merit for themselves. But, God has deigned through the Communion of the Saints that we can make up for others what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. For, we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), contributing to the salvation of souls. We can do this through our prayers, such as praying the rosary for those in purgatory. We can offer penances, and sacrifices. We can give alms, and do acts of charity on behalf of the deceased person.

Benedict also recommends a particular devotion for everyday life, that is, “offering up” all the minor daily hardships of the day. We can “insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great ‘com-passion’ so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race.” We can offer up those petty annoyances throughout the day whatever they might be, slow traffic, the heat, the pestering co-worker, etc. “In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning.” (Spe Salvi, 40) We can be assured that our efforts, prayers and sacrifices are efficacious and capable of mitigating the suffering of those in purgatory. (CCC 958)

Most importantly, we can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, and indulgences granted by the Church, for souls in purgatory. You can contact your Church and have a mass offered for your beloved deceased. Another beautiful gift is the tradition going back to Pope Gregory the Great of offering “Gregorian Masses” for deceased persons on thirty consecutive days. These are generally not done now in parishes, but in monasteries, seminaries, and other religious institutions.

The efficaciousness of intercession for those in purgatory has received mystical confirmation too. One such mystic was St. Faustina. She wrote in her Divine Mercy diary about a soul, a recently deceased nun, who visited her from purgatory requesting her prayers. Upon first visiting her, the sister was in “terrible condition,” but after some undisclosed amount of time of praying for her, the nun eventually returned and “her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy.” She would soon be released from purgatory and conveyed to her that many souls had “profited from my prayers.” Similarly, in the Divine Mercy Novena, dictated to St. Faustina by Jesus, He asks us to offer the eighth day for the souls in purgatory. He told St. Faustina, “It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.” (Diary, 1226) Memorializing a person is nice, but prayer for the deceased may be what they truly need.

Thus, it is within our power as members of the Communion of Saints to assist the poor souls in purgatory in the process of their purification and sanctification. Our prayers and sacrifices can help pay off their debts. In turn, in gratefulness for the merit we win for them, they will surely pray and intercede for us, until, at last, in heaven we will meet all those who we have helped, undoubtedly to our surprise. Also, lest we put our earthly time limits upon God, we should remember to pray even for those who have died long ago. God, who exists outside of time in eternity, receives all of our prayers and sacrifices in the eternal present, and can merit a soul whether long since dead or in purgatory. So, out of love for our family and friends, let us do our part in supernatural charity for the souls in purgatory, who may be most in need of our help.