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Day of Atonement Sacrifices: Text: Leviticus 16 Essay Sample

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Day of Atonement Sacrifices: Text: Leviticus 16 Essay Sample

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a disputed issue not only among the non-Catholics but also among the Catholics. Why should we go to a priest to have our sins forgiven? Don’t we receive forgiveness when we turn to the Lord directly with repentance? I see a lot of Catholics not approaching to this Sacrament because they don’t believe in the media of the priest to get absolution. Reflecting on Zohar’s “Repentance and Purfication”, and Fretheim’s “The Book of Leviticus” I see certain connection between the present Sacrament of Reconciliation and the sin offerings in the Old Testament. This connection springs out of the relationship between repentance and the ritual of sin offering which are part of the sacrament of Confession to some degree. We shall reflect on their connection in the light of the given sources.

Leviticus speaks of various types of offerings. Chapters 1 -7 speaks of fifteen different types of offerings. Besides offerings with expiatory significance there were offerings of thanksgiving, freewill offerings, etc. Not all of them were animal sacrifices. There were offerings of grain, wine, olive oil, etc. (Fretheim, p. 127). We deal with what these authors talk about purification brought about by the ritual of the Day of Atonement and the sacrifice of sin-offering.

Zohar presents very systematically how the blood ritual purifies the sanctuary as well as the guilty, and what the pre-requisite is to attain that purification. He talks about the priestly legislators’ view on repentance as a precondition for the efficacy of sacrifice. In trying to explain how the sinner’s personal purification is one of the effects of the ritual Zohar analyzes two basic issues, namely, the efficacy of blood in achieving atonement, and the transference of contamination form the contaminated object to the sacrificial animal. (Zohar, p. 610)

He presents Milgrom’s view that the blood of the sacrificed animal somehow has the power to remove the contamination caused by sin. (Zohar, p.610). To justify this statement Zohar quotes Lev. 17: 11, which says, “For the life fo the flesh is in the blood , and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is blood, as life, that effects expiation”. Thus as Fretheim comments, it is not the blood as blood that is expiatory, but the fact that it bears life, and the life in the blood is given by God. God is the giver of life that is the key element in the sacrifice. Thus we realize that God is involved in the ritual and the blood receives its power from God himself. (Fretheim, p. 130). This explains what Christ did for humanity. By shedding his blood he gave his life as an expiation for the sins of the world. Jesus being the Son of God, his blood must have had such a great power to expiate the sins of the whole world.

Zohar also explains how the transference of contamination from the sinner to the sacrificial animal takes place. I happens when the priest lays hands upon the head of the goat, thus placing on it all the sins of the people. (Zohar, p. 612). Leviticus 16: 21 admonishes, “He ( Aaron) shall put both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the evils, sins, and rebellions of the people of Israel, and so transfer them to the goat’s head”. Laying on of hands on someone seems to be a mode of transference according the Old Testament as we find in the Joshua who was filled with the spirit of wisdom since Moses had laid hands on him, thus transferring his power to Joshua.(Deut. 34:9). The same gesture is found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where the priest lays his hand the sinner while giving the absolution.

There seems to be a transferring of the sinners guilt. But this poses a question: Where are the sins transferred to? Jesus was the lamb that was slaughtered at the altar of Calvary. His sacrifice was done once and for all for the sins of the whole human race, the past, the present and the future. Isaiah 53: 4 -6 talks about the Lord taking upon himself the guilt of us all. Therefore the guilt of the sinner at the confessional is transferred to the blood of Jesus Christ that was pour out once and for all, for the forgiveness of the whole humanity. The case of Joshua also shows the transferring of the spiritual essence, namely, God’s grace, healing, power, blessings, etc. by the laying on of hands. Thus the Bishop lays hands on the priest at this Ordination, transferring God’s grace on the candidate; and the priest lays hands on the sick, transferring God’s healing upon them.

The effect of the ritual is obviously purification, forgiveness of sins. According to Fretheim, all including the deliberate sins except the most heinous sins could be forgiven by the ritual.( Fretheim, p. 130). Once the sins are transferred from a person he/she becomes free from the guilt and it becomes a salvific act. The person is made whole. This is the experience of a penitent at the confessional. There through the laying on the hand by the priest the penitent’s sins are transferred and the penitent is made whole, free from the guilt of his sins. The laying on of hands work also as a transferring of God’s forgiveness to the sinner. But does the laying on of hands alone grants forgiveness for the penitent?

Zohar writes about the close relationship between the sinner’s personal experience of repentance and its symbolic expression in ritual. According to him the act of bringing before God the disowned sin-contamination, invested in the blood of the sin offering, is an expression of one’s regret and dissociation from the sin, seeking forgiveness. Thus the author clarifies one truth that the blood ritual does not in itself have the power to purify the guilty. It is to be accompanied by true repentance.

What God cannot tolerate is people clinging to their sins. Even an unintentional sinner can be a rebel and thus be denied of forgiveness if he refuses to seek atonement. (Zohar, p. 614-615). Jesus talks about the sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven.(Luke 12:10). In fact this sin is the state of such stubbornness where one does not want to change one’s way of life even when one is aware of the need to change. Such a sin or state of life cannot be forgiven.

This is very crucial when we discuss the question of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There is the external act of laying on of hand by the priest. But complementing to that act is the internal disposition of the penitent who is to approach the sacrament with true repentance. Contrition is the most important aspect of this sacrament. Confession without contrition is a meaningless action. True contrition involves one’s readiness to change the evil way of life. If such a contrition is not present in the Confession one’s sins cannot be transferred and forgiven. Jesus died for all those who will accept him with an open heart and sincere contrition.

Thus in the sacrament of Reconciliation one is first of all making an act of contrition. Secondly one accepts the God’s power to forgive sins through the mediation of the priests who through his laying on of hands transfers the sins of the repentant to the blood of Christ and the transfers God’s forgiveness to the repentant sinner. This reflection becomes a great tool in my ministry where I am challenged with questions and clarifications on the need and the effects of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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