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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Ex. 28–40. Lev. 1–10; 16; 21; 23; 25. Numb. 3; 4; 28; 29. Deut. 16–27]

BY God’s command Moses now prescribed what sacrifices were to be offered, together with the manner of offering them, and the times when they were to be offered. Some of these sacrifices were bloody, others unbloody. The former consisted of sheep, goats and oxen without blemish; the latter of flour, fruits, oil and wine. When the thing offered was wholly consumed on the altar, it was called a holocaust or whole-burnt offering, and represented the highest act of adoration. But when only the fat, as the most delicate part, was burned, and the rest eaten, it was called either a sacrifice of thanksgiving for benefits received, or a sacrifice of expiation for sins committed. The latter is also called a sin-offering or simply a sin.

Moses also instituted the feasts of the Lord; for the Lord had told him to establish, first, the Feast of the Pasch or Passover, in memory of the paschal lamb, eaten by the children of Israel on the night when the first-born of the Egyptians were slain, and also in memory of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. For seven days they were to eat unleavened bread while celebrating that feast.

Secondly, they were to keep holy, seven weeks after, the Feast of Pentecost, in remembrance of the law given them on Mount Sinai. On that day they were to bring the first-fruits of their harvest as an offering to the Lord. Thirdly, when the harvest was all gathered in, they were to solemnize the Feast of Tabernacles, during which they were to take branches of trees and build tents, and dwell in them, so that their descendants might learn how the Lord had made their fathers dwell in tents in the deserts. All the men of Israel were to appear on these three festivals before the Lord in the Tabernacle, and later on in the Temple.

There was also to be a day of expiation, kept as a most solemn fast. On that day the High Priest was to sacrifice a calf in atonement for his own sins, and a he-goat for the sins of the people. After the sacrifice he was to raise the veil, and enter into the Holy of Holies, taking with him the blood of the victim and the golden censer; he was then to incense the Propitiatory, or cover of the Ark, and to sprinkle it and the front of the Ark with the blood.

Finally, Moses consecrated Aaron as High Priest, his sons as priests, and the other men of the tribe of Levi as ministers of the Sanctuary. He purified Aaron with water, and clothed him with divers sacred vestments, chief of which was the ephod, a marvellous work of gold and purple and fine linen, the edges of which were ornamented with rich embroidery of gold.

He suspended from his neck the rational, on which were twelve stones, each bearing the name of one of the twelve tribes (Fig. 33); he placed upon his head the mitre, in the middle of which, in front, was a gold plate, with the inscription: “Holy to the Lord.” Finally, he poured oil upon his head, and consecrated him. After his sons and the Levites had also been consecrated, Aaron advanced to the altar, and, having offered a victim, stretched his hand over the people, and blessed them.


Fig. 33. Breast-Plate (Rational) of the High Priest.

And behold! a fire came forth from the pillar of cloud and consumed the holocaust. Seeing this, the people fell prostrate on the ground, praising the Lord.

Sacrifice is the highest and most perfect form of worship; therefore, God ordained sacrifices to be the centre of divine worship under the Old Law. What was sacrificed, was given to God, and had to be wholly consumed in His honour. Thus victims were killed and burnt, wine was poured out, and incense was burnt. These actions were meant to express on the part of him who made the offering some such thought as this: “Thou, O Lord, hast created all things! Everything comes from Thee. To Thee I owe my life and all that I possess! I have, indeed, deserved death at Thy hands, but as Thou dost not require of me my life, I offer to Thee instead the life of this lamb.” The bloody sacrifices were sacrifices of vicarious expiation, and for this reason the person who offered it laid his hand on the head of the victim, as a token that he laid his sins on it, and sacrificed it as a substitute for himself. Therefore the only animals which could be offered up were the domestic animals which are useful and valuable to man.

The ends of sacrifice. By sacrifices men were 1. taught that they depended absolutely on God, and owed Him worship and thanksgiving as their supreme Lord; 2. they were roused to a consciousness that they were sinners before God, and owed satisfaction to the divine justice; 3. they were shown that they, of themselves, could not make satisfaction, but required a mediator.

In what lay the efficacy of sacrifice? Could pardon and inward sanctification be obtained through the blood of beasts which themselves were not clean, but lay under the curse which Adam’s sin had brought on the earth? No! these sacrifices could only effect an outward justice, and a legal purification by which those who offered the sacrifice were made clean in the eyes of the law, and were enabled once more to take part in the public worship of God. But in so far as these sacrifices were types of the one atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and pointed to this only source of grace and pardon, they could effect sanctification and pardon, provided he who offered the sacrifice believed in the future Saviour, and repented of his sins. This faith, this hope, and this repentance were expressed and stimulated by sacrifice; and, in virtue of this intention, he who offered it received pardon and grace.


Fig. 34. Priest.

The chief significance of the Old Testament sacrifices lay in their being types of the most holy and world-redeeming Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The bloody sacrifices were typical of His bloody Sacrifice on the Cross; the unbloody sacrifices were typical of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and the meat-offerings, of Holy Communion. All the sacrifices of the Old Law found their fulfilment in the Sacrifice of our Lord, because, firstly, His was a real vicarious sacrifice, and, secondly, it had infinite efficacy to blot out all sin, and win grace for all men. It was a real vicarious sacrifice, for Jesus Christ is truly man, and took the sins of His brethren upon Him. It had infinite efficacy, because Jesus Christ is also true God, and so able to make infinite satisfaction to the divine justice. The Sacrifice of Christ was a true holocaust, because He shed all His Blood, and was consumed by the fire of infinite love in honour of His heavenly Father. It was a sin-offering, in the highest sense of the word, because it took away the sins of the world, and cancelled the debt of man. It was the greatest of peace-offerings, because it reconciled heaven to earth, and brought peace to the world. Since our Lord offered Himself as a Sacrifice, the typical sacrifices of the Old Law have lost all efficacy and all legitimate existence.

The confession of sins required for sin-offerings is typical of the holy Sacrament of Penance, without recourse to which no sinner dare partake of the “meat-offering” of Holy Communion.

Two significant facts. The entrance of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies, and his blood-offering there on the Day of Atonement, signified that reconciliation with God can only proceed from His throne; and that one day the Redeemer would rend asunder the veil of separation and open the way into the Holy of Holies. Secondly, it was foreshown that even as the goat which was the sin-offering of the people had to be burnt outside the camp, so Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, laden with the sins of the whole world, would be crucified outside the city. He is the great, the true atoning Sacrifice to whom all the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement pointed.

The immediate meaning of the Jewish feasts. The religious feasts of the Jewish people had a double meaning, a retrospective and a prospective or prophetical. The feasts served immediately to remind the people of the wonderful graces and benefits which they had received from God. The Christian feasts are also intended to remind us of, and make us grateful for the grace of sanctification and redemption.


Fig. 35. High Priest.

The typical meaning of the Jewish feasts. Their significance lies in this, that they were types of the Christian feasts, and pointed towards that manifestation of grace which is the foundation of these last. You learnt in chapters XXXIII and XXXVI the connexion between the Jewish feasts of the Pasch and Pentecost and our Easter and Pentecost. The Feast of Tabernacles corresponds with our Corpus Christi, which is solemnized in the open air, and is a Feast of thanksgiving to God, that Jesus Christ, God made Man, has given Himself to be our Leader through the wilderness of this life, feeding our souls with the true Bread from heaven. Our great day of expiation is Good Friday, on which day Jesus Christ was crucified outside the walls for the sins of the world. Even as the Jewish High Priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, to carry there the blood of the sacrifice, so Christ, “being come an High Priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle (i. e. heaven), not made with hand, that is, not of this creation, neither by the blood of goats and of calves, but by His own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebr. 9:11, 12). This means that Jesus Christ, having won for us by His death on Good Friday justification, sanctification, and salvation, entered into heaven, where He continually offers the merits of His Passion and Death to His heavenly Father. The great year of Jubilee, which began with the Day of Atonement, is a beautiful type of the Christian era, which will last till the end of times, and in which man, by the atoning Death of Jesus Christ, is freed from the slavery of sin and Satan, and is once more made heir of the kingdom of heaven.—The recurring years of Rest and Jubilee correspond with our years of jubilee, in which the Church throws open her treasuries of grace and offers to us indulgences, i. e. remission of the temporal punishment of sin, so that we may be cleansed from all guilt and made partakers of the heavenly inheritance. Thus we see that all these types find their fulfilment in the Catholic Church, and in her alone; for she alone has priest and High Priest, altar and sacrifice. It follows then that the Catholic Church alone is the true Church, founded by God, and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

The festal assemblies and pilgrimages of the people of Israel had a very beneficial effect. They served, firstly, to preserve and increase the belief in the true God, and thus to keep the people from idolatry. Secondly, they served to foster unity and a common feeling among the people, who came to look upon themselves as all members of one body, confessors of the same faith, and heirs of the same promises.

Reward of faithfulness. The tribe of Levi was smaller than the others, but it had become less infected with idolatry; and on account of its faithfulness, God chose it for His special service.

The High Priest was the spiritual head of the people, the visible representative of God, and the mediator between God and the people. He had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies once a year; and, later on, of anointing the kings.

The Priests had the right and the duty to offer sacrifice, to enter the Sanctuary, to keep burning the lights of the seven-branched candlestick and the sacred fire for the burnt-offerings, to bless the people and pray for them, and instruct them in the law.

The Levites were the assistants of the priest. They might not enter the Sanctuary, but had to guard the Tabernacle, and, later on, the Temple. They assisted with the sacrifices, sacred canticles, and the instruction of the people, and purified the sacred vessels.

The Priests were to be holy. “Let them, therefore, be holy, because I am holy”, said the Lord (Lev. 21:8). Whenever they had any service to perform in the Sanctuary, they had, under pain of death, to keep away from their wives, guard against all defilement, and abstain from all intoxicating drink. This purity of life was signified by their white tunic; and purity of intention by the white turban or tiara.

The High Priest was to be most holy. The inscription on the gold plate on his mitre meant that he belonged entirely to God, and that his thoughts were to be constantly fixed on Him. The breast-plate, on which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes, implied that he was to bear the people lovingly in his heart, and be careful for their welfare. The bells on his upper tunic, which sounded at each step he took, reminded him that, by word and deed, he had to be a witness to the true faith.

Jesus, the Anointed. It was only when the priesthood was first instituted that priests were anointed; later on, this was not done. But every High Priest was anointed when he entered on his office, and every High Priest was called the Anointed. Jesus Christ, being the great and eternal High Priest who always liveth to make intercession for us (Hebr. 7:25), is especially called “Christ”, or the Anointed.

The priesthood of the Old Covenant, a type of the priesthood of the New Covenant. As there was a gradation in the former, so is there in the latter. The gradation in the Church of Christ is twofold: one of order (Bishops or High Priests, Priests and Deacons or Ministers), and one of jurisdiction, i. e. power of ruling (Pope, Patriarchs, Archbishops or Metropolitans, Bishops and Priests). As in the Old Testament there was only one High Priest, so the Christian Church considered as a whole has only one High Priest (Bishop of bishops), the Pope, who is the visible representative of our invisible High Priest, Jesus Christ. And even as the High Priest of the Old Testament was called “Holy of the Lord”, so do we call the Pope “Holy Father”, because he fills the holiest office on earth.

The Christian priesthood is far higher than the Jewish priesthood. The latter was propagated by natural descent, the former is perpetuated by a spiritual descent, i. e. by means of Holy Orders, which is one of the seven sacraments. The Jewish priests could only offer typical sacrifices; Christian priests offer up the true Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. The former partook of earthly meat-offerings; the latter receive the priceless Flesh and Blood of the Divine Saviour. The Jewish priests prayed for the people; Christian priests remember them daily in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and also, except in Masses for the dead, give their blessing to the faithful.

Holy virgins, as well as the Levites, were employed in the service of the Tabernacle and, later on, of the Temple. They attended to the linen &c., and served the Lord with prayer and fasting. Tradition tells us that Mary, the Mother of God, was dedicated to the service of the Temple at a very early age.

APPLICATION. Thank God for the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and assist regularly and devoutly at it. There you can receive priceless gifts, for the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the source of all grace.

Keep the Feasts of the Church, devoutly contemplating the sacred mysteries of our redemption, and avoid extravagant amusements on those days: “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4).

Have great reverence for the priesthood. Priests are the “ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). We should always pray that there may be good priests in the Church.

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