The letter to the Hebrews makes mention once again of the veil of the Temple that separated the people from the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the Temple which even the priests entered only rarely. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark mention the veil only after the death of Jesus on the cross when they comment that it was torn in two from top to bottom. Tearing the veil in two is a symbolic action on God’s part to tell us that the barrier that existed between God and the human family since the time of Adam has been breached.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews knows his audience well. These are people who were brought up in the Jewish faith and had, for most of their lives, worshipped God in the Temple of Jerusalem. So in his explanation of how Jesus has replaced the high priest, he uses elaborate references to the Jewish liturgy, particularly the liturgy of the Feast that we know of as Yom Kippur.
For the many years that I lived in Chicago, I saw a Jewish doctor who treated many of the Franciscan friars from St. Peter’s. His office was in the building directly behind the Church. If we left by the back door, we simply had to cross the alley and enter that building through its back door. Because he knew that we were priests and brothers, he would enter into lively conversations with the friars about the Catholic faith. He prayed using the psalms every day in Hebrew. I should add as a footnote that the nurse in his office would always dread the days when one of us had an appointment. She told me once, “He always runs late on the days when you guys come.”
He spoke to me one day about Yom Kippur and explained that in the Jewish faith, sins were forgiven those who attended the liturgy on this feast day. However, he also said that before they went to the Temple or the synagogue to be forgiven, they had to go to the person who had been hurt by their sins and apologize to them before they could ask God’s forgiveness. As he explained, “Sin breaks up relationships. Before God can forgive those sins, we have to repair the damage they have done.” I can remember being very moved by this conversation for it is an important thing for us to remember. Our sins are not merely an infraction of the commandments. We do damage to our brothers and sisters through our sins.
By the blood of Jesus we have been washed clean of our sins. However, we need to repair our human relationships as well by asking for and extending the gift of forgiveness to one another.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator