A few months back I had spent some time going through Leviticus for the first time. Most folks will tell you to skip through Leviticus as it is primarily concerned with the practices and rituals of the priests of Levi but also discusses the role of the high priest, the priest, the people and on some particular sins to avoid. It is very interesting to see how the Lord had to define what sins the children of Israel needed to avoid, such as incest, which for us today we completely understand to be wrong without much thought. The Lord makes it clear to the children of Israel that he did not want them to commit such sins that were being done elsewhere but it makes you wonder whether such evil practices would be present here today without the intercession of our Lord. At any rate, this is not the focus of this talk but I am trying to entice you to go through Leviticus. Today I want to highlight a thought that came to me regarding the old priesthood and the new priesthood established by Christ. Let us start off with a passage from scripture of course:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill – Matthew 5:17
This is really the crux of the post today. I found that as I was going through Leviticus, this passage from our Lord Jesus Christ made it self all the more apparent and meaningful. If the Lord did not come to abolish the law of the prophets but rather came to fulfill it, what does this mean for the priesthood in the old testament? I would say that this is also something that he didn’t come to destroy but rather to fulfill. Let us take this passage from the letters to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin – Hebrews 4:14-15
The author makes it clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is the new high priest, taking over the role that was previously done by an earthly high priest. This is very good for us of course because we now have a high priest who intercedes on our behalf to the Lord God who was human, perfect and spotless.
So I think most can agree that our Lord is the new high priest, permanently. So what happens to the priests who are not high priests? If we look at Leviticus, we see that there is a hierarchy here: the high priest, the priest and the people. The high priest and priest were from the tribe of Levi specifically chosen by God to have the priestly role, with their being only one high priest. The people in this case were the children from the twelve tribes of Israel. With all this being said, and with the passage we read from Matthew, after our Lord became the high priest on high, what about the role of the priest? Did Jesus destroy that role of the law…or did he just fulfill it?
Like with anything, the old testament can be seen as a mere shadow that was ultimately brought to light and fulfilled by Jesus Christ. I believe this includes even the role of the priesthood. While it was no longer to be done by the tribe of Levi, the role was still required here today. Why? To do the work of the high priest in administering the sacraments to the people. Let us look at an example of this in Leviticus:
When the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or a turtledove for a purification offering. The priest shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and thus she will be clean again after her flow of blood. Such is the ritual for the woman who gives birth to a child, male or female – Leviticus 12:6-7
In Leviticus we see that after a woman gave birth she would be defined as unclean for a fixed amount of days, after which, she would go to the priest with an offering who would than perform the proper ritual. Therefore, in supporting the high priest, our Lord established that these priests would perform this and other similar tasks in order to aid the children of Israel if they were unclean. One of the most important roles of the high priest was on the Day of Atonement, when he alone would enter the Holy of Holies (and only him) during this time when he give an offering for the atonement of all the sin of Israel.
The relationship to the new priest? Still required but the means by which purification is done is different. We understand that in the Catholic church this is paralleled by the sacrament of reconciliation, which is also administered by a priest in order to purify the people. Priest still require but his role is different. Not abolished but fulfilled.
Is there a case to be made that the Lord did in fact abolish a few things? What about divorce, did he not abolish that? Let us look at that passage:
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so – Matthew 19:7-1
Seems like Jesus fulfilled that. How about circumcision?
Again, if an uncircumcised man keeps the precepts of the law, will he not be considered circumcised? Indeed, those who are physically uncircumcised but carry out the law will pass judgment on you, with your written law and circumcision, who break the law. One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God – Romans 2:26-29
Thank you for clarifying that requirement St. Paul, I thought the Lord had abolished circumcision but rather it seems He fulfilled it by giving us the true requirement. What about the 10 commandments?
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments – Matthew 22:26-40
Not even the commandments were abolished! Our Lord is true to His word. I think there are more examples of this but this where I as a Catholic stop and think that, well, if all these things were not abolished by our Lord, it seems to me that the priesthood itself was not abolished either but rather it was fulfilled and given a new order and meaning. Jesus is now the high priest but he still uses priests to administer his sacraments to the people! That has not been abolished, well, not in the Catholic church at least.
That’s all for today. Let us pray for Pope Francis, all bishops and priests! They need our prayers desperately in this time and we need to pray that they strive for holiness everyday. Let us pray for those that are struggling with their vocation and living lives of sin, that they be converted back to the Lord through the sacrament of reconciliation. Blessed Mother pray for them all!