Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us again of the fact that this particular book of the Christian Scriptures was addressed to the Jewish people who had converted to the Christian faith. Using the images which were very important for Jewish people the sacred writer offers them reassurance by showing how the Jewish form of worship was a prefigurement of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary.
Just as our Christian places of worship are important to us, the Temple of Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish way of life. Not only did it function as their place of worship, it was also the chief educational institution of Judaism, and the great cultural institution as well. He reminds them of the liturgy that they would celebrate on the Day of Atonement when goats and sheep would be sacrificed for the sins of the past year. The blood collected in large bowls during that sacrificed would be sprinkled on the people and on the Ark of the Covenant which was housed in the Holy of Holies.
As I mentioned yesterday, these Jewish rituals, an integral part of the covenant between the children of Israel and God, were good in themselves. However, it stands to reason if the ritual of sacrificing goats and sheep was efficacious in forgiving the sins of the Israelites, how much more so the blood of Jesus which was shed to save all people from their sins.
As one of the prefaces used during the Season of Easter reminds us, Jesus himself becomes the altar of sacrifice, the victim of the sacrifice and the priest who offers the sacrifice. He replaces the ritual of the Temple through his own sacrifice on the cross. Worth far more than the blood of goats and sheep, the blood of Jesus washes all believers clean and restores us to the right relationship with God and our neighbor.
Our Eucharist is our memorial of that sacrifice. The Church teaches us that the Eucharist is the first and primary sacrament of reconciliation. Each time we approach the altar we are forgiven by our merciful and compassionate God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator