Dear Parishioners & Visitors,
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents to us this Sunday the deep reasons why Christ has been instituted the only and true mediator between God and humankind. The author, whose name we ignored, was most probably a member of the priestly class. His knowledge of the liturgical life at the temple in Jerusalem is amazing.
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, Yam Kippur, a lamb without blemish was ritually slaughtered at the temple by the High Priest. It was a complicated ritual which only the High Priest could fulfill after repeated purification baths and changes of vestments. The blood of the lamb was ritually collected and placed in a special bowl.
At the core of the Jerusalem temple was its main liturgical building, the Holy of Holies. This building, which was divided by a hanging partition of ornate cloth, was supposed to be an earthly representation of the celestial dwelling place, the heavenly sanctuary. Daily offerings of bread and incense were presented inside of the first part twice a day by some designated priest. But beyond the curtain, only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year. Carrying the blood of the sacrificed lamb, which had been slaughtered for the forgiveness of his sins and those of the people, he would spray the inside area of the Holy of Holies. Later he would spray himself and the gathered people with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, reminding them that for that year their sins were forgiven. This ritual was to be repeated year after year.
Using this background of the liturgical life in the temple, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents to us the role of Jesus' death in order to achieve the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation once and for all. First of all he reminds us that Jesus, through his death, did not enter into a sanctuary made by hand s... but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf He makes also very clear that Jesus' sacrifice is a once and for all sacrifice. Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary; with blood that is not his own. Jesus on the other hand enters into the heavenly presence bringing the sacrifice of his own blood. In Jesus we have the unblemished lamb who shed his blood for our salvation. It is through his blood that we have received forgiveness of our sins. Humankind has been reconciled with the eternal Father through the freely shed blood of this incarnated Son.
The once and for all sacrifice of Jesus had put an end to the world of the bloody sacrifices of the Old Testament. Out of the pierced heart of Jesus a new reality is born, the realm of those justified by the blood of the cross.
-fr. Alberto Rodriguez, O.P.