|Devotion to Our Lady||
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
How many people understand what the Mass really is?
Many persons no longer have a scruple about missing Sunday Mass. Today, an increasing number of people think you can be a ‘good’ Catholic without attending Mass! In fact, only a minority of baptized Catholics attend Mass. In the USA, regular Mass attendees are only 20% of the US Catholic population. In some other countries, it is even under 10%. Many attend Mass simply through force of habit, to conform to custom, for family and social reasons, or simply to avoid mortal sin. Our Greatest Treasure has become our greatest neglect!
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
If you truly knew what the Mass was, then you would live the Mass every day!
And how many people live their Mass?
No long or detailed observation of the faithful, who attend Sunday Mass, is required, to ascertain that the greater part of those present at Mass, are thinking of anything and everything else, except what is taking place at the altar. And how many—once they have left the church—ever give another thought to their morning Mass? Our Greatest Treasure has become our greatest neglect!
If we would live the Mass, we must properly participate in it.
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
And in order to properly participate in the Mass, we must understand it.
If certain Catholics attend Mass only to avoid serious sin—if they have no love for the Mass—it is because they do not understand it; do not take part in it; do not live it. The Mass for them constitutes an exterior act of religion unlinked with life, a “church service” to which they go with resignation and of which they remain the indifferent witnesses and passive spectators. Our Greatest Treasure has become our greatest neglect!
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
Toward the middle of the fifth century there lived in the City of Rome a hidden saint named Alexius. He was the son of the Roman senator Euphemian, a man of great wealth. At an early age he felt inspired by God to leave his home for a strange country. Obedient to this inner voice, he went forth from his father's house and passed seventeen years in pious pilgrimages in the East, amid many trials and dangers. At length, to show his love for God in a still more striking manner, he resolved to return to his house in the garb of a poor beggar and spend there the remainder of his days. On arriving at Rome, he met his father, Euphemian, in the street, followed by a train of attendants, as became his high rank. Clad in rags and attenuated by fasts, Alexius was not recognized by his father. So he besought him for charity to give him shelter in his house, and for food, the crumbs that fell from his table.
The nobleman, moved with pity, bade one of his servants to lodge and take care of the poor beggar. The servant con-ducted him to an obscure apartment under the staircase, where for twenty-two years he passed a life of suffering and humiliation, because the menials made him a butt for their ridicule, beat him and subjected him to many indignities, which he bore with invincible patience. Thus did the life he spent in his father's house become one long-continued prayer, fast, penance and austerity. At length, when he felt death approaching, he begged one of the servants to bring him writing materials. Then he wrote down on a sheet of paper the story of his whole life, whither he had wandered, what had happened to him, what he had suffered at home and abroad. He stated at the same time that he was Alexius, the son of the house, whom his parents had missed for so many years. This paper he held in his hands until death took him on a Sunday at the time when his parents were at Mass.
No sooner had his soul taken flight to Heaven than all the bells of the churches in Rome began to ring, and a loud voice was heard to say distinctly three times: “Go to the house of Euphemian to find the great friend of God who has just died and prays for Rome, and all he asks is granted”
Then went the people to find the Saint, and Euphemian was the first to enter his house. He went straightway to the room under the staircase, and to his surprise found that the poor beggar had just expired. Seeing the paper, he took it out of his hands, and reading its contents aloud burst into tears and embraced his holy son, hardly able to utter a word. The mother of Alexius was still more deeply affected and cried out: “O my son, why have I known thee too late!”
The story of Alexius is a good illustration of what often happens in these days to many a Christian. Alexius went back to his father's house as a beggar clad in tatters, the better to disguise his rank and wealth.
Our dear Savior acts in the same manner in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There He is, but by no outward sign does He betray His real presence; His heavenly glory and brightness He hides from us; He is there, as one may say, in a poor miserable dress, under the appearances of bread and wine.
As the parents of Alexius paid little attention to their son in his state of poverty and subjection, so, in this life, many Christians pay but little attention to Jesus Christ, because He humbly condescends to conceal His glory in the Sacrament of His love. But when this life is over and they come to see Him face to face, whom here they possessed in the Holy Eucharist, at the sight of the consolations, of the beauty and of the riches that they failed to recognize in time, they will exclaim with the mother of Alexius:
“O, Jesus! dear Saviour, why have we known Thee too late? Ah! Had we only known Thee in Thy mystery of love, when alive on earth, we would have allowed no opportunity to escape us of assisting at the celebration of Thy sacred mysteries, of receiving Thee in Holy Communion. Not an hour should have passed without a thought of Thee. Thou wouldst have been our whole delight, our whole joy, our whole happiness, the object of all our desires, thoughts and actions. O dear Lord, why have we known Thee too late!”
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
What then, is the Mass?
First and foremost, the Mass is a Sacrifice.
The Sacrifice of Christ and the Church. The Sacrifice of the Head and members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Should we seek to know what Christ’s Sacrifice really was, we would learn that our Divine Lord’s Sacrifice consisted not alone in his martyrdom of a few hours on the Cross; but in his whole life of renunciation and obedience, of which Calvary was the glorious culmination.
This precise definition of Christ’s Sacrifice is, perhaps, one of the most important that His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, has given in regard to the Mass, in his encyclical Mediator Dei et hominum, paragraph 17:
“Indeed, scarcely has `the Word been made flesh’ (John 1:14) than He manifests Himself to the world in His priestly character; by making an act of submission to God the Father, which is to be life-long. `Therefore, in coming into the world, He says, behold, I come to do Your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10: 5-7). This act is to be brought to its full perfection in a heroic manner in the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross: ‘It is in this “will” that we have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10). All Christ’s activity among men had no other purpose.
"As a Child, He is presented to the Lord in the Temple of Jerusalem. As a Youth, He visits it anew. Later on, He will often return to instruct the people and to pray. Before inaugurating His public ministry, He fasts for forty days. By word and example, He exhorts us to pray, whether by day or by night. As Master of Truth, He `enlightens every man’, (John 1:9); that mortals may recognize the true immortal God, and not be `among those who draw back unto destruction, but of those who have Faith to the saving of the soul’, (Hebrews 1:39). As Shepherd, He has charge of His flock. He leads it into living pastures, and gives it a law to be observed: in order that none may turn aside from Him, nor from the route mapped out by him; but that all may lead holy lives under His inspiration and guidance. At the Last Supper He celebrated the New Passover with pomp and solemn rite; and, thanks to the divine institution of the Eucharist, assures its permanence. The next day, uplifted between Heaven and Earth, He offers His life in sacrifice for our salvation; and from His pierced side, causes the Sacraments to flow, which distribute to men’s souls the fruits of Redemption. In so doing, He has no other aim than His Father’s glory, and man’s greater sanctity” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mediator Dei ).
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
St. Leonard of Port Maurice, in his excellent book, The Hidden Treasure of the Holy Mass, writes: “How horrible is the excessive ignorance of some Christians, who, not recognizing the immense preciousness of Holy Mass, come to treat it as a matter of vulgar purchase for filthy lucre. Thence, sometimes, the indecent language with which such persons will address a priest; as, for instance: ‘May I pay for a Mass this morning?’ Pay for Mass! And where will you find money for that? What is the equivalent for a Mass, when one unbloody sacrifice of Christ outweighs, in value, the whole of paradise itself? Such ignorance is intolerable! The trifle you give to the priest is a gift toward his daily support, is not in any sense the payment of so much purchase-money—for Holy Mass is a treasure without price!” (St. Leonard of Port Maurice).
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
“Whenever we stay away from Mass through neglect, especially on Sundays and holy-days of obligation, we thereby give to understand that we do not care to give glory to God and His saints, as little as we care to obtain the graces of God for ourselves and others by so powerful a means as that of the Mass. And do we imagine that this contempt of ours for God’s glory and His blessings will go unpunished? We cannot complain that the Almighty should treat us with similar neglect, if He bestows His choicest gifts upon others, and passes us by unnoticed. We made the choice and we must abide the issue!” (Fr. Michael Müller, C.SS.R., The Holy Mass).
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
St. Leonard of Port Maurice has some serious words to address to priests: “And for you, O priests, tremble before the justice of God if, either by excessive haste or irreverent negligence, you transgress the rules of the sacred ceremonies, if you hurry out your words, or confuse the different acts, and, in short, bustle slipshod through your Mass. Reflect that then you consecrate, you touch, you receive, the Son of the Most High; nor are you blameless in regard to each the very slightest ceremony which you either leave out, or perform more or less imperfectly. Such is the teaching of the most learned Suarez, when he treats of the question, ‘Vel unius caerimoniae omissio culpae reatum inducit’ (Vol. 5, part 3, disertation 85, lect. 2).
“Whence St. John of Avila, was always firmly of opinion that the Eternal Judge will, in the case of priests, make, before everything else, a most rigorous scrutiny into all the Masses they have celebrated. Thus when on one occasion a young priest had departed to the other world, just as he had barely finished his first Mass, the holy man, hearing of his death, heaved a sigh, and asked: ‘Had he ever offered Mass?’ And when they told of his happy fate in dying so soon as his first Mass was celebrated, ‘Ah!’ he resumed, ‘He has much to thank God for, if he has once celebrated Mass!’
“But you and I, who have celebrated so many, how shall we pass before the tribunal of God? Let us, then, make the holy resolution to re-study (at latest in our first spiritual retreat) all the rubrics of the Missal, and all the sacred ceremonial, so as to celebrate for the future with all the exactness possible. It is my hope that if we priests shall generally celebrate with serious and devout exterior composure, and, what is far more, with thorough interior fervor of soul, the laity will return to daily hearing of Holy Mass, and to hearing it with deepest devotion. Thus we shall have the joy of beholding renewed in the Christians of our time all the fervor of the first believers of God's Church, and thus will our most gracious and Almighty God be supremely honored and glorified!” (St. Leonard of Port Maurice, The Hidden Treasure of the Holy Mass).
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
This is why, in some sacristies (today a rarity), you would see a sign posted on the sacristy wall—facing the priest as he vested for Holy Mass—saying: “O Priest of God! Say this Holy Mass as though it was the first Holy Mass of your life! O Priest of God! Say this Holy Mass as though it was the last Holy Mass of your life!” Familiarity breeds contempt! That is why we are contemptuous of the Holy Mass today—whereby we never or rarely genuflect to the Holy Eucharist in the church—or genuflect hastily, automatically, routinely, distractedly, etc. That is why we follow the prayers of the Holy Mass with the same sentiments— automatically, routinely, distractedly, etc. That is why we rarely or barely prepare ourselves for Holy Mass beforehand, nor give sufficient thanks afterwards. As Our Lord said: “Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me!’” (Mark 7:6).
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
These things would not be so, if we only had a true notion and appreciation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! It is because we do not really know the gift of God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we are lukewarm, indifferent and nonchalant during our rare attendances at Mass. This lukewarm state about the Mass should terrify us—especially in view of God’s language on the matter, which states: “I know thy works—that thou art neither cold, nor hot! I would thou wert cold, or hot! But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of My Mouth!” (Apocalypse 3:15-16).
Hence the reason behind this particular webpage—the Holy Mass Explained—so that we might “ekindle in our hearts the fire of love” towards the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. However, since we cannot love what we do not know, we need to seriously—not superficially or fleetingly—study the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from all its many different aspects, in order to provide the ‘kindling wood’ for the fire of love.
“If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
After speaking of vomiting the lukewarm from His Mouth, God then says: “Thou sayest: ‘I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing!’ and knowest not, that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked! I counsel thee to buy of Me gold, fire tried, that thou mayest be made rich; and mayest be clothed in white garments, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. Such as I love, I rebuke and chastise. Be zealous therefore, and do penance! Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock! If any man shall hear My voice, and open to Me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with me in my throne!” (Apocalypse 3:17-21).
This is what we shall do in these articles—buy from God “eye-salve” to anoint our blind eyes, that we might see the beauty and grandeur and power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Then we shall beg the gold of charity from God, to be able to love the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as it should be loved. Then our spiritual life and chance of salvation shall be ‘jump-started’! Then we may well have a chance of not being among the many that are lost, but among the few that are saved! “A certain man said to Jesus: ‘Lord! Are they few that are saved?’ But he said to them: ‘Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able! But when the Master of the house shall be gone in, and shall shut the door, you shall begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying: ‘Lord! Open to us!’ And He answering, shall say to you: ‘I know you not, whence you are!’ Then you shall begin to say: ‘We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets!’ And He shall say to you: ‘I know you not, whence you are! Depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity!” ’” (Luke 13:23-27). “If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John 4:10).
“Give not that which is holy to dogs!” (Matthew 7:6).
Shocking as though it sounds, this can well be true of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But just look for a moment at those words--“Give not that which is holy to dogs!”—why not give what is holy to dogs? Because dogs cannot understand what holiness is, nor can they treat holy things holily. They are animals, not humans. Yet we are called “rational animals”—are we not? Now if cease thinking correctly—or more precisely, if we cease thinking holily—then the “rational” part of our nature and name is lacking, and, instead of being “rational animal”, we are left with the name “animal”—or rather, we become animalistic.
Is this not what happens when a person sins? He acts more like an animal than a human being! Look at the case of abortion, or murder, or physical violence, or rape, or lust, or gluttony—in these cases a person acts more like an animal than a human being made in the image and likeness of God.
Are There Any ‘Dogs’ In Your Church? Seen Any?
Perhaps you have sometimes seen a dog stray into your church at some time. What does the dog do—or, rather, what doesn’t it do? The dog is oblivious to the location that it finds itself in—its attitude is not different to what it is outside on the street, or in the house of its owner. Everything is the same to the dog.
The dog does not preen itself before coming in, nor does it wear anything special—it carries the same old dirty fur that it always does. Why? Because the dog does not think—it cannot think—it does not recognize nor distinguish a holy place from a common place.
Therefore, with this canine attitude—like a “dumb dog”—it does genuflect or make a sign of the cross. It just trots in and goes and does wherever it wants, and does whatever it wants. If it feels like barking, it will bark; if it wants to sniff at things, it will sniff; if it wants to pee somewhere, it will pee. After all—it is mindless—and it acts in a church like it would act anywhere else—and act as though it's normal—which, for a “dumb dog”, it is normal.
Heartless Hounds—Lippy Labradors
Dogs can be taught many tricks, even tricks that resemble human behavior. You can teach a parrot the Hail Mary, you can train a dog to look as though it is praying. Will the parrot or dog become holy doing this? Will the parrot or dog grow in grace? Of course not, they are both mindless creatures merely mimicking human behavior.
Yet is not the same true, to some degree, of human beings—who have descended to “animalistic” levels of action. How many persons mindlessly say hundreds of Hail Marys? How many persons—like a performing dog—go through their usual routine of ‘tricks’ during Mass? Kneel down—stand up—sit down—stand up—kneel down again—join your hands—say “Amen”—sit down again—go out for Communion—put out your tongue or hand—walk back to your place, etc.
Visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
This state of affairs was clearly shown to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, in a series of visions spanning many years, in which she was shown a time where zeal would be lost and counterfeit church must be built alongside the true Church that was being deliberately destroyed. Here are the pertinent extracts which she recounts in the following words:
Vision of September 12th, 1820
“I saw a strange church being built against every rule … No angels were supervising the building operations. In that church, nothing came from high above…There was only division and chaos. It is probably a church of human creation, following the latest fashion, as well as the new heterodox Church of Rome [one world church of the False Prophet], which seems of the same kind…”
“I saw again the strange big church that was being built there (in Rome). There was nothing holy in it. I saw this just as I saw a movement led by Ecclesiastics to which contributed angels, saints and other Christians. But there (in the strange big church) all the work was being done mechanically (i.e., according to set rules and formula). Everything was being done, according to human reason. I saw all sorts of people, things, doctrines, and opinions. There was something proud, presumptuous, and violent about it, and they seemed to be very successful. I did not see a single Angel nor a single saint helping in the work. But far away in the background, I saw the seat of a cruel people armed with spears, and I saw a laughing figure which said: ‘Do build it as solid as you can; we will put it to the ground’.”
“I saw that many of the instruments in the new Church, such as spears and darts, were meant to be used against the living Church. Everyone dragged in something different: clubs, rods, pumps, cudgels, puppets, mirrors, trumpets, horns bellows – all sorts of things. In the cave below (the sacristy) some people kneaded bread, but nothing came of it; it would not rise. The men in the little mantles brought wood to the steps of the pulpit to make a fire. They puffed and blew and labored hard, but the fire would not burn. All they produced was smoke and fumes. Then they broke a hole in the roof and ran up a pipe, but the smoke would not rise, and the whole place became black and suffocating. Some blew the horns so violently that the tears streamed from their eyes. All in this church belonged to the earth, returned to the earth. All was dead, the work of human skill, a church of the latest style, a church of man’s invention like the new heterodox church in Rome.”
Vision of September 27th, 1820
“I saw deplorable things: they were gambling, drinking, and talking in church. All sorts of abominations were perpetrated there. Priests allowed everything and said Mass with much irreverence. I saw that few of them were still godly, and only a few had sound views on things.”
Vision of October 1st, 1820
“The Church is in great danger …The Protestant doctrine and that of the schismatic Greeks are to spread everywhere. I now see that in this place (Rome) the (Catholic) Church is being so cleverly undermined, that there hardly remain a hundred or so priests who have not been deceived. They all work for destruction, even the clergy. A great devastation is now near at hand … In those days Faith will fall very low and it will be preserved in some places only … Religion is there so skillfully undermined and stifled that there are scarcely 100 faithful priests ... Everyone, even ecclesiastics, are laboring to destroy (and) ruin is at hand. The enemies of the Church are firmly resolved to destroy the pious and learned men that stand in their way.”
Vision of October 4th, 1820
“When I saw the Church of St Peter in ruins and the manner in which so many of the clergy were themselves busy at this work of destruction – none of them wishing to do it openly in front of the others – I was in such distress that I cried out to Jesus with all my might, imploring His mercy. He said that the Church would seem to be in complete decline. But she would rise again; even if there remained but one Catholic, the Church would conquer again because she does not rest on human counsels and intelligence. It was shown to me that there were almost no Christians left in the old acceptation of the word.”
Vision of October 7th, 1820
“As I was going through Rome, I saw a great palace engulfed in flames from top to bottom ... The Church is completely isolated and as if completely deserted. It seems that everyone is running away. Everywhere I see great misery, hatred, treason, rancor, confusion and utter blindness. O city! O city! What is threatening thee? The storm is coming, do be watchful!…”
Vision of June 1st, 1821
“Among the strangest things that I saw, were long processions of bishops. Their thoughts and utterances were made known to me through images issuing from their mouths. Their faults towards religion were shown by external deformities. A few had only a body, with a dark cloud of fog instead of a head. Others had only a head, their bodies and hearts were like thick vapors. Some were lame; others were paralytics; others were asleep or staggering. I saw what I believe to be nearly all the bishops of the world, but only a small number were perfectly sound … I saw a number of people looking quickly right and left, that is, in the direction of the world… Then I saw that everything pertaining to Protestantism was gradually gaining the upper hand, and the Catholic religion fell into complete decadence. Most priests contributed to the work of destruction. In those days, Faith will fall very low, and it will be preserved in some places only, in a few cottages and in a few families which God has protected from disasters and wars…”
Vision of April 22nd, 1823
“I saw that many pastors allowed themselves to be taken up with ideas that were dangerous to the Church. They were building a great, strange, and extravagant Church. Everyone was to be admitted in it in order to be united and have equal rights: Evangelicals, Catholics sects of every description. Such was to be the new Church … They built a large, singular, extravagant church which was to embrace all creeds with equal rights: Evangelicals, Catholics, and all denominations, a true communion of the unholy with one shepherd and one flock. All was made ready, many things finished; but, in place of an altar, were only abomination and desolation. Such was the new church to be, and it was for it that he had set fire to the old one … I saw the fatal consequences of this counterfeit church: I saw it increase; I saw heretics of all kinds flocking to the city. I saw the ever-increasing tepidity of the clergy, the circle of darkness ever widening…”
Advertised and Promised From the Beginning of Time!
When something ‘great’ comes onto the market, you can bet your “bottom dollar” that it will be heavily advertised in order to draw attention to the product and increase the likelihood of sales. God is not different. He could “keep under wraps” the great things that He was about unleash on to the world. The following persons and events of the Old Testament times prefigure or symbolize the two great Gifts that God intended to give to us from all eternity—namely, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist, which is born of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There are a number of ways in which God has foreshadowed the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross of Calvary and Christ’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. He has done this through the various signs or “types” or “shadows” that would symbolize or prefigure the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist.
Types or Shadows of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary and the Mass
As regards the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—which is essentially the same thing as the bloody slaughter of Christ in His Sacrifice on Calvary, but in an unbloody manner—we have the following chief types or symbols prefiguring the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross of Calvary and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There are more, but covering more will take much more time. These alone will cover quite a few articles:
(1) The slaughter of Abel by Cain
(2) The Ark of Salvation of Noe
(3) The Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham on the Mountain
(4) The Attempted Killing and Selling into Slavery of Joseph
(5) The Paschal Lamb before the Exodus from Egypt
(6) The Water spring miraculously from the Rock during the Exodus
(7) The Fiery Presence of God upon Mt. Sinai during the Exodus
(8) The Jewish Scapegoat
(9) The Sacrifices of the Temple
(10) The Design of the Temple in Relation to a Catholic Church
(11) The Last Supper from a Sacrificial Viewpoint
(12) The Sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross on Mt. Calvary
Types or Shadows of the Holy Eucharist
As regards the Holy Eucharist—which is Our Spiritual nourishment by the Body and Blood of Our Lord Himself—we have many types or shadows that prefigure this incredibly great Sacrament. In addition to the chief types found in the Old Testament, we will add several from the New Testament, which cannot be ignored.
(1) The Fruits of the Trees in Paradise and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
(2) The Sacrifice of Melchisedech of Bread and Wine
(3) The Manna and Quail that fell in the desert for the Chosen People
(4) The Bread of the Presence revealed to Moses
(5) The Ark of the Covenant
(6) The Roles of Bread, Wine and Blood in the Old Testament
(7) The Eating of the Paschal Meal
(8) The Prophet Elias fed with Bread by Ravens in the Desert
(9) Our Lord’s Birth in Bethlehem—the “Town of Bread”
(10) The Wedding Feast at Cana
(11) The Miraculous Feeding of the Four and the Five Thousand by Jesus
(12) Jesus claims to the Bread of Heaven
(13) The Last Supper from a Sacramental Viewpoint
The Latin adjective “salvus” or “salva” means “alive, safe, saved, well, unharmed, sound.” The Latin verb “salvare” means to “to save.” This “saving” can be natural or physical or it can be supernatural or spiritual. We get our word “salvation” from these Latin roots, which is why the dictionary defines “salvation” as “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss.”
This preservation, deliverance from harm, ruin, loss to be kept alive, safe, well, unharmed and sound, was at root of the Old Testament sacrifices. Even the pagans sacrificed to false gods in the hope of getting the same benefits. Yet there is only one God and His Providence provides for those needs—if we keep on the “good side” of Him. For a clear statement by God on what He expects of us, if we are to be on His “good side”, read chapter 26 of the Book of Leviticus—where God shows the two options in a way that cannot be misunderstood.
The Old Testament Israelites—the once Chosen People of God—were told what they had to do for physical and spiritual “salvation”. On the one hand, they had to keep the Commandments of God and walk in His ways. On the other hand, they had to sacrifice to God in a variety and for a variety of reasons. If this was done, then God’s physical and material ‘salvation’ would be theirs, as well God’s supernatural and spiritual salvation. Let us then take a look at the notion, types, kinds, varieties of sacrifice and see what their purposes were.
The Old Law Sacrifices were Figures of the Sacrifice of Christ
All the sacrifices of the old law were figures of the sacrifice of our divine Redeemer, and there were four kinds of these sacrifices; namely, (1) the sacrifices of peace, (2) of thanksgiving, (3) of expiation, and of (4) impetration (“impetration” means “requesting” or “begging”).
These four kinds of sacrifices are combined together in the New Testament Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by what the Church calls “The Four Ends of the Mass”—namely: (1) adoration, (2) thanksgiving, (3) reparation, and (4) impetration.
In the Old Testament…
1. The Sacrifices of Peace were instituted to render to God the worship of adoration that is due to him as the sovereign Master of all things. Of this kind were the holocausts. The duty of adoration—giving glory to God—is our first and foremost duty. How few people actually adore God—most just ask things from Him, and some make reparation (saying: “I’m sorry” an doing some penance). But these are all secondary obligations to that of adoration.
2. The Sacrifices of Thanksgiving were destined to give thanks to the Lord for all his benefits. We are quick to ask God for things, but very remiss and lukewarm in giving thanks for any things we might get! This reminds us of the Ten Lepers that Our Lord cured—and only one came back to give thanks! The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word “Eucharistia” meaning “Thanksgiving”. Is that our spirit? Do we really give thanks from the heart, or the lips? Do we give sufficient thanks, or merely a ‘microwaved’ version of thanksgiving: 2 minutes on the high setting?
3. The Sacrifices of Expiation were established to obtain the pardon of sin. This kind of sacrifice was specially represented in the Feast of the Expiation by the emissary-goat (scapegoat), which, having been laden with all the sins of the people, was led forth out of the camp of the Hebrews, and afterwards abandoned in the desert to be there devoured by ferocious beasts. This sacrifice was the most expressive figure of the Sacrifice of the Cross. Jesus Christ was laden with all the sins of men, as Isaias had foretold: “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaias 53:6). He was afterwards shamefully led outside the walls of Jerusalem to Calvary, to where the Apostle invites us to follow Him, by sharing in His shame and sufferings: “Let us go forth therefore to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach”! (Hebrews 13:13). He was abandoned to ferocious beasts; that is to say, to the Gentiles, who crucified Him. Let the ferocious worldly people turn on us if they wish, as we willingly lead ourselves outside the walls of the world to be with Christ on Calvary.
4. The Sacrifices of Impetration (meaning “Request”) had for their object to obtain from God His aid and His grace. There is probably nobody who fails in this regard—for all we ever seem to do is ask God for this, for that, for everything.
Now, all these sacrifices were abolished by the coming of the Redeemer, because only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which was a perfect sacrifice, while all the ancient sacrifices were imperfect―being merely types or figures of the future sacrifice of Christ—which was to be perfect and sufficient to expiate all the sins, and merit for man every grace.
Thus these sacrifices, by pleasing God, getting on His "good side" brought about a wide ranging salvation: a preservation, deliverance from harm, ruin and loss, in order to be kept alive, safe, well, unharmed and sound.
The Requirements of the Sacrificial Victim
When we go out to buy something, we have a check-list of points that we expect to be met before we commit to buying an object. The same is true of God. There are certain conditions He expects to see in a sacrifice before He will accept it. The Old Law required five conditions with regard to the victims which were to be offered to God, so as to make them agreeable to him. These five conditions were (1) sanctification, (2) oblation or offering, (3) immolation or destruction, (4) consumption, and (5) participation.
The victim had to be sanctified, or consecrated to God, so that there might not be offered to him anything that was not holy, nor unworthy, of his majesty. Hence, the animal destined for sacrifice had to be without stain, without defect; it was not to be blind, lame, weak, nor deformed, according to what was prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy (15:21). This condition indicated that such would be the Lamb of God, the victim promised for the salvation of the world; that is to say, that he would be holy, and exempt from every defect. We are thereby instructed that our prayers and our other good works are not worthy of being offered to God, or at least can never be fully agreeable to him, if they are in any way defective. Moreover, the animal thus sanctified could no longer be employed for any profane usage, and was regarded as a thing consecrated to God in such a manner that only a priest was permitted to touch it.
This shows us how displeasing it is to God if persons consecrated to him busy themselves, without real necessity, with the things of the world, and thus live in distraction and in neglect of what concerns the glory of God. Sanctification is our target and goal in life—yet many neglect it, scorn it, mock it and pay little or no attention to obtaining it. Woe to those people, for God says in Holy Scripture: “I am the Lord your God! Be holy because I am holy! Defile not your souls … You shall be holy, because I am holy!” (Leviticus 11:44-46). Our Lord echoes this in the New Testament, saying: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect!” (Matthew 5:48).
This holiness is stressed in the very title of the sacrifice that Christ left behind for us—the HOLY Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the PERFECT Sacrifice, and which is meant to make us HOLY and PERFECT. Is that how we see the Mass? Do we seek to fulfill this condition of HOLINESS and SANCTIFICATION?
2. Oblation or Offering
The victim had to be offered to God; this was done by certain words that the Lord himself had prescribed. The sacrifice was to be totally God’s, with nothing held back. We all make a morning offering as a part of our prayers, but is it true offering, a true oblation? Or do we hold something back? “Jesus, I give you this, but I cannot bear to give you that!”
This reminds of the offering Jesus requested of the rich young man: “And behold one came and said to Jesus: ‘Good master! What good shall I do that I may have life everlasting?’ Who said to him: ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments!’ The young man saith to Him: ‘All these I have kept from my youth, what is yet wanting to me?’ Jesus said to him: ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven: and come follow Me!’ And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:16-22).
He was prepared to give up some things, but not everything—yet everything he had, was ultimately given to him by God! God was the real owner of the young man’s great possessions! Alas, are we not of the same type? God wants all and that is why the first Commandment is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy WHOLE heart, and with thy WHOLE soul, and with thy WHOLE mind, and with thy WHOLE strength. This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). Whole means total—total offering, total sacrifice!
3. Immolation or Destruction
It had to be immolated, or put to death; but this immolation was not always brought about by death, properly so called; for the sacrifice of the loaves of proposition, or show-bread, was accomplished, for example, without using iron or fire, but only by means of the natural heat of those who ate of them.
Our Lord seems to ask for this immolation or destruction from us, as reported by all of the Evangelists in one form or another, when He says: “For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matthew 16:25) … “For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel, shall save it” (Mark 8:35) … “For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it” (Luke 9:24) … “Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose it, shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33) … “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die,  Itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal” (John 12:24-25). “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall put you to death: and you shall be hated by all nations for My Name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).
Is that how we see our life? Is that how we are prepared to live our Faith? A total immolation for Christ’s sake? Few there are who do this—but few there are who are saved! Is there a connection? Most probably!
The victim had to be consumed. This was done by fire. The sacrifice in which the victim was entirely consumed by fire was called holocaust. The latter was thus entirely annihilated in order to indicate by this destruction the unlimited power that God has over all his creatures, and that as he created them out of nothing, so he can reduce them to the nothingness from which they came. In fact, the principal end of the sacrifice is to acknowledge God as a sovereign being, so superior to all things that everything before him is purely nothing; for all things are nothing in presence of him who possesses all things in himself. The smoke that came from this sacrifice and arose in the air signified that God received it as a sweet odor, that is to say, with pleasure, as is written of the sacrifice of Noe : “Noe ... offered holocausts upon the altar; and the Lord smelled a sweet savor” (Genesis 8:20).
Our spiritual consumption is a consumption by a fire of a different kind—the fire of love! God is love—“God is charity” (1 John 4:8)—and we are told: “Love the Lord thy God, with thy WHOLE heart, and with thy WHOLE soul, and with thy WHOLE mind, and with thy WHOLE strength!” (Mark 12:30). God has often chosen fire to symbolize Himself: the fire of the burning bush that Moses saw; the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert by night; the fire that set the mountain top ablaze in those desert wanderings; the fire that ignites the sacrifice of Elias on Carmel; the tongues of fire manifesting the Holy Ghost at the first Pentecost; the fire emanating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, etc. We even ask to set ablaze when we pray to the Holy Ghost: “Come O Holy Ghost and enkindle in us the fire of Thy love!” But do we really mean it? Do we want to be consumed with love, by love, for love?
All the people, together with the priest, had to be partakers of the victim. Hence, in the sacrifices, excepting the holocaust, the victim was divided into three parts, one part of which was destined for the priest, one for the people, and one for the fire. This last part was regarded as belonging to God, who by this means communicated in some manner with those who were partakers of the victim.
Do we participate properly, not only in the Sacrifice of the Mass, but in all our sacrifices? The Mass has three essential parts—the Offertory (Oblation), the Consecration (Immolation) and Communion (Consumption). Do we participate fully in the Mass so that it really can bring about our sanctification? Or are we just there in body, but not really in spirit. Do we just go through the motions? The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass screams out “Salvation” every time it is offered—yet it seems that those screams are not loud enough to wake up most people to the purpose of the Mass.
The Paschal Lamb
These five above conditions ― sanctification, oblation, immolation, consumption and participation ― are found reunited in the Old Testament Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, which was a prefiguration of the Holy Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and in the Mass. The Lord had commanded Moses (Exodus 40:3) that, on the tenth day of the month on which the Jews had been delivered from the slavery of Egypt, a lamb of one year and without blemish should be taken and separated from the flock; and thus were verified the conditions enumerated above, namely:
1. The separation of the lamb signified that it was a victim consecrated to God;
2. This consecration was succeeded by the oblation, which took place in the Temple, where the lamb was presented;
3. On the fourteenth day of the month the immolation took place, or the lamb was killed;
4. Then the lamb was roasted and divided among those present; and this was the partaking of it, or communion;
5. Finally, the lamb having been eaten, what remained of it was consumed by fire, and thus was the sacrifice consummated.
Not Enough Said About the Holy Mass
The Catholic Church, speaking through the Council of Trent, as through a mouthpiece, commands her preachers, and all others having the care of souls, to explain the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to their people carefully and frequently. Our good Mother, the Church, has made this law, my dear Christians, to the end that we may all know what a great treasure God has left to us in this sublime Sacrifice of the Altar, and what great advantages we may derive from a faithful and devout attendance thereat. The same sweet love for men which pressed our Lord Jesus Christ, in the first instance, to institute this adorable Sacrifice of the New Law, presses Him, also, to desire that its transcendent nature and effects should be made known to the whole world as fully and as clearly as possible. The Sacrifice of the Mass is by far the richest treasure which Christ has left to His Church. Yet, there are many persons who treat it with indifference, and take little or no pains to rightly understand its value, or the manifold graces and blessings which it contains. Strange to say, among the few Catholics who frequently meditate upon the infinite love of Jesus Christ in instituting the Blessed Eucharist as a Sacrament, few of those few ever reflect upon His equally infinite love in the Sacrifice.
By sacrifice is meant: the external offering to God alone, of some sensible or visible thing, made by a priest, or lawful minister; the partial destruction or total annihilation of the victim being the acknowledgment of Almighty God’s supreme dominion over us, and our total dependence on Him. Christian sacrifice cannot be offered to any one but to God alone.
What is a Sacrifice?
A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, and the destruction of it in some way to acknowledge that He is the Creator of all things. The strongest instincts of human nature prompt us to offer sacrifice to the Deity as an essential and acceptable act of religion. By his very nature man wants to adore and thank his Creator. Hence, from the commencement of the world, all nations, even the most barbarous and illiterate, have offered sacrifice of one kind or another to the divinities they worshiped. Men mistaken at times about the nature of the true God have offered false worship; but they have always recognized the obligation of adoring the Supreme Being. As far back as the history of man is recorded, there is evidence that men acknowledged their dependence on the Supreme Being by offering sacrifices to Him.
Old Testament Sacrifices
Before the coming of Christ, in the Old Testament Law, sacrifices of different kinds were frequently offered to God.
The patriarchs and Jewish priests at the command of God offered fruits, wine, or animals as victims. Cain, for example, offered fruits; Abel offered some sheep of his flock; Melchisedech offered bread and wine. The destruction of these offerings, removed them from man’s use, they were destroyed and offered to God and thereby signified that God is the Supreme Lord and Master of the entire created universe and that man is wholly dependent upon Him for everything. Sacrifice, therefore, is the most perfect way for man to worship God.
Yet all these different sacrifices of the Old Law were only figures of the sacrifice which Christ was to make of Himself. His offering of Himself on the cross was the greatest sacrifice ever offered to God. All the sacrifices of the Old Law derived their efficacy, or value, from the sacrifice which Christ was to offer on the cross.
● Abel offered sacrifice of “the firstlings of his flock” (Genesis 4:4). Abel is shown to be a type of Christ in that he was the first one to suffer for righteousness sake: “Behold I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes―and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:34-35). The hostility that Cain directed toward his brother was ultimately meant for God. Abel died because he worshiped God rightly. Jesus died because He always did the will of His Father in Heaven. Abel was the first martyr. Jesus is the anti-typical martyr. St. Paul tells us that “the blood of Jesus speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 11:4; 12:24). So Abel was a type of Christ by way of comparison and contrast. He is compared with Christ in that he was martyred for righteousness; he is contrasted with Christ in that his blood cried out for vengeance while Christ’s blood cries out for mercy.
● Noe building his ark was a symbol of both the Temple of Old Testament and the Tabernacle in the New Testament. God dwelt in the Temple (and the Holy of Holies) and Christ dwells Eucharistically in the tabernacle of the new temple, the church. Noe also built an altar of sacrifice after the Great Flood: “And Noe built an altar unto the Lord: and taking of all cattle and fowls that were clean, offered holocausts upon the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savor” (Genesis 8:20-21).
● The priest and king, Melchisedech, sacrifices bread and wine, symbols of the future Eucharist: “Melchisedech the king of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God” (Genesis 14:18). Melchisedech was both king and priest, as we know Christ to be. He was the king of Salem (later to be called Jerusalem) and also a priest of God most high, who offered bread and wine and blessed Abram (later to be renamed Abraham) when he was returning from having rescued Lot from captivity. Melchisedech is both king and priest, as we know Christ to be. The name Melchisedech means, “my king of justice” or “my king of righteousness.” Jesus is truly the just king, the truly righteous One. Melchisedech is the king of the city of Salem, which would later be called Jerusalem. Jesus would make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as king and be proclaimed a king and admit to being a king. “Behold thy king cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass” (Matthew 21:5). Asked by Pontius Pilate if He was a king, Jesus replied: “Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world!” (John 18:37). It is in Jerusalem that Jesus would come to be mocked by the words, “Hail, King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:29). It is here, in Jerusalem, that as King and Priest he would offer gifts of bread and wine, consecrating them into His own Body and Blood, during the Passover at the Last Supper. Then, as King and Priest, He would offer the sacrifice of His life, thus blessing all of humanity and the descendants of Abram.
● Abraham “came to the place which God had shown him, where he built an altar, and laid the wood in order upon it: and when he had bound Isaac his son, he laid him on the altar upon the pile of wood, and he put forth his hand, and took the sword, to sacrifice his son. And, behold, an Angel of the Lord from Heaven called to him, saying: Abraham, Abraham ... Lay not thy hand upon the boy, neither do thou anything to him; now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only-begotten son for my sake. Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw behind his back a ram amongst the briers, sticking fast by the horns, which he took and offered for a holocaust instead of his son” (Genesis, chapter 22).
● Elias, too, built an altar to the name of the Lord ... “and laid the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it upon the wood. .. .And when it was now time to offer the holocaust, Elias, the prophet, came near, and said: ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Israel, show this day that Thou art the God of Israel, and I Thy servant: and that according to Thy commandments I have done all these things!’ ... And when all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and said: ‘The Lord He is God, the Lord He is God!’” (3 Kings, chapter 18)
The sacrifices of the Old Law were, some of them, bloody; others unbloody. The bloody sacrifices consisted chiefly of lambs, oxen, and goats. Sometimes, as in the case of our Lord’s presentation, the victims were birds: “They carried him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord ... And to offer sacrifice, according as it is written in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24).
The unbloody sacrifices were mainly of flour, and wine, and oil, etc. These ancient sacrifices, though offered up by the hands of the holy Patriarchs, had no internal value of their own. They were but poor and weak elements, quite incapable of cancelling sin, quite incapable of conferring God’s grace upon those who offered them, or upon those for whom they were offered. “For it is impossible,” says St. Paul, “that with the blood of oxen and goats, sins should be taken away” (Hebrews 10:4). Those sacrifices were but mere types and figures of the true Sacrifice yet to come―that is, of the holy Mass―and it was only as such that they were in any sense acceptable to God. Compared with the Sacrifice of the Mass, they were but as vague shadows, compared to the solid substance.
Before the Temple of Jerusalem
In the Old Testament, human worship was originally held at primitive, hand-made altars. We see this pattern with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job. At the time of Moses, God centralized worship at a divinely commanded tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant. This tent was known as the Tabernacle. It could be taken down, moved to a new place in the wilderness, and pitched again. During the time of King David, God gave the plans for a permanent stone Tabernacle, which is known as the Temple. David’s son, Solomon, built this Temple in Jerusalem. It was a house of prayer meant for all nations. Thus the Temple revealed to the Jews that God’s scope of salvation included all of mankind. When Christ came proclaiming himself as the new Temple of God, he was claiming that He would include both Jews and Gentiles in the worship of God.
Temple, Temples, How Many Temples?
Before we look at the transition or link between the Temple of Jerusalem and the Catholic Church, let us take a closer look at the Temple of Jerusalem—or should it be said in the plural—“Temples of Jerusalem”—for the First Temple of Jerusalem was built by Solomon, and after its destruction, a Second Temple of Jerusalem was built by King Herod.
The scholars among you may want to argue—as does the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia—that there was a third temple that came between Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples, which was the Temple of Zorobabel. It is an academic point and one that is arguable—one way and the other. For those interested, the next paragraph—take from the Catholic Encyclopedia—will explain this. If not interested, skip the paragraph.
“The temple which Solomon erected to the Lord about 966 BC was destroyed by Nabuchodonozor in 586 BC. After the return from captivity, Zorobabel raised it again from its ruins (537 BC), but in such modest conditions that the ancients who had seen the former Temple wept. In 19 BC, King Herod destroyed the Temple of Zorobabel to replace it by another which would equal, if not surpass in splendor, that of Solomon. Many writers admit to there being three temples that were materially different. Now as the Prophet Aggeus (2:10) says of that of Zorobabel: “Great shall be the glory of this last house more that of the first”―because of the coming of the Messias (Aggeus 5:8-9), they claim that this prophecy was not fulfilled, because Christ never entered the second Temple (of Zorobabel). Others assert that Zorobabel’s work was not completely destroyed, but gradually replaced by a larger and much richer temple (built by King Herod), and they consequently admit of only two materially different temples. The whole difficulty disappears if we choose the Septuagint in preference to the Vulgate. The Prophet has already asked: “Who is left among you, that saw this house in its first glory? (Aggeus 2:4). According to Septuagint he afterwards says: “The last glory of this house shall be greater than its first glory.” To the Prophet, therefore, there was but one and the same house of Jehovah from Solomon to the time of Messias, built always in the same place and according to the same plan, that of the Tabernacle. We may therefore admit three different temples” (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, “The Temple of Jerusalem”).
There is also the argument that the Catholic Church is the Third and Final Temple―rather than the Temple that the Jews are ready to build in our present day—because it is the Body of Christ resurrected from the dead. “Jesus answered, and said to them: ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up!’ The Jews then said: ‘Six and forty years was this Temple in building; and wilt Thou raise it up in three days?’ But He spoke of the Temple of His body. When therefore He was risen again from the dead, His disciples remembered, that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture, and the word that Jesus had said” (John 2:19-22).
Magnificent Temple Designed by God Himself
Solomon’s Temple for the Lord was a magnificent work—which is what every work done for God should be like.
Solomon spared no expense for the building’s creation. He ordered vast quantities of cedar wood from King Hiram of Tyre (3 Kings 5:20-25), had huge blocks of the choicest stone quarried, and commanded that the building’s foundation be laid with hewn stone. To complete the massive project, he imposed forced labor on all his subjects, drafting people for work shifts that sometimes lasted a month at a time. Some 3,300 officials were appointed to oversee the Temple’s erection (3 Kings 5:27-30). Solomon assumed such heavy debts in building the Temple that he is forced to pay off King Hiram by handing over twenty towns in the Galilee (3 Kings 9:11).
When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited non-¬Jews to come and pray there. He urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers: “Then hear Thou in Heaven, and do all those things, for which that stranger shall call upon thee: that all the people of the Earth may learn to fear Thy Name, as do Thy people Israel, and may prove that Thy Name is called upon on this House, which I have built” (3 Kings 8:43).
Sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service in the Temple until it was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BC. Seventy years later, after the story of Purim, a number of Jews returned to Israel ― led by the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah ― and the Second Temple was built on the same site. Sacrifices to God were once again resumed. During the first century BC, Herod, the Roman appointed head of Judea, made substantial modifications to the Temple and the surrounding mountain, enlarging and expanding the Temple. The Second Temple, however, met the same fate as the first and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, following the failure of the Great Revolt.
As glorious and elaborate as the Temple was, its most important room contained almost no furniture at all. Known as the Holy of Holies, it housed the two tablets of the Ten Commandments inside the Ark of Covenant. Unfortunately, the tablets disappeared when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and, therefore, during the Second Temple era the Holy of Holies was reduced to small, entirely bare room. Only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter this room and pray to God on behalf of the Israelite nation.
The Second Temple Was Even More Magnificent
What stopped the rampaging Roman army? Which structure was built of stones weighing up to 400 tons and capable of accommodating up to one million people? The answer to these questions is the Temple of Jerusalem. The Second Temple was not only awe inspiring, because of its religious significance, but also for its physical dimensions, its grandeur and its beauty. Thus, as the Roman generals sat surveying Jerusalem and considering the Temple’s future they hesitated before ordering its destruction. Jews, from that day to this, have yearned and prayed for its rebuilding, and tourists and religious people alike have come to behold the site on which it once stood.
Unfortunately our impressions of the Temple are at best incomplete. Since its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD, the only available sources of information about the Temple have had some religious or political bias. The New Testament, the Mishna [the rabbinical exegesis of the Old Testament], and the works of the Judeo-Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, provide the bulk of our knowledge of the Temple. These, in association with archeological evidence at the site, all point to a building so wondrous that even today its construction remains a mystery.
An appreciation of the Temple is enhanced by a clearer understanding of the geographical and historical setting in which it was extended. During the period in question, Jerusalem was under Roman rule, but remained the capital of Judea and the international center of Judaism.
Normally a city of 100 to 200 thousand people, three times a year―on the pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles―Jerusalem’s population swelled to around 1 million souls (the exact number depending on the source of population estimates). This would have been the number of souls in Jerusalem when Our Lord was crucified and it was also the number that was caught in the Roman siege that led to their slaughter and the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem itself (Luke 19:42-44). On these occasions this small ancient city had to cope, not only with the throng of people, but also their sacrificial animals and offerings, necessitating temporary increases in food supplies, accommodation, ritual bathing facilities, and all aspects of commerce. It was Herod, installed by the Romans as governor of Jerusalem, who faced these logistical problems, and who consequently set about renovating the city and the Temple to accommodate this massive periodic influx.
In order to meet the enormous increase in capacity the Temple required for these festivals and to comply with the limitations placed on its dimensions by Jewish law, Herod built a great plaza around the Temple. This plaza is the Temple Mount of today, where the Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa mosque stand. To construct this platform, Herod built a box around Mount Moriah and filled it in. The plaza covered this filled-in box and expanded the available land at the peak of the mountain. The plaza is approximately 525 x 325 yards (about the size of five football fields). The retaining walls of this box were themselves cause for wonder and the “Kotel” or Western Wall (the holiest site in modern Judaism) is one part of the western retaining wall (but not actually a wall of the Temple proper). The walls are 17 feet thick and made up of enormous stones weighing between 2 and 100 tons (there is even one that weighs 400 tons) with an average stone being about 10 tons. There is no mortar between the stones and they sit so closely together that not even a piece of paper can fit between them. Such fine maneuvering of the stones is incomprehensible given that even today’s modern machinery cannot move such heavy stones.
Also worthy of comment was the overall appearance of the walls which were about the height of a 20-storey building. Normally, standing at the base of a 20-storey building, an illusion is created in which the building appears to be falling down on top of the viewer, but standing at the base of the Temple’s retaining walls this did not happen. It was prevented by the fact that the margins carved around the edge of the stones differed, being slightly wider on the bottom than on the top. In addition, each level was staggered with successive courses of stones indented 1¼ inches relative to the course below. The precision with which stones weighing over 100 tons were placed, 2000 years ago, is astounding and mystifying. Furthermore, these stones were merely part of the retaining walls that supported the plaza, on which the Temple stood and thus only a prelude to the even more incredible sight of the Temple itself.
Before work began on the Temple, Herod spent eight years stockpiling materials for its construction. Then, a workforce of over 10,000 men began its construction including a contingent of 1,500 specially trained priests who were the only ones permitted to work on the innermost and holiest parts of the Temple. Building continued for a further twenty years, though the Temple was in a sufficiently ready state within three and a half years of its commencement to be dedicated.
If one was a pilgrim coming to Jerusalem, one would probably first go to the bank to change money as the coins of the realm, engraved with the head of Caesar were unacceptable for use in the Temple. The central “bank” in Jerusalem and some of the Law courts could be found on the Temple mount platform in a building called the “Royal Portico” or “Stoa”. To reach this building (from which there was no direct access to the rest of the plaza) one climbed the stairs to an overpass that crossed over the main road and the markets that ran by the western wall.
This overpass was another unique feat of engineering being the width of a four lane highway and possessing an arch made with stones having a combined weight of over 1,000 tons. In order to build this overpass the workers had to literally build a hill, construct the overpass on it, and then remove the hill leaving the overpass standing. The famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes the “Royal Portico” or “Stoa”, that one reached via the overpass, as follows: “...It was a structure more noteworthy than any under the sun. The height of the portico was so great that if anyone looked down from its rooftop he would become dizzy and his vision would be unable to reach the end of so measureless a depth....”; this from a man who had seen Rome in all its glory. He also describes the one hundred and sixty two columns, that stood in the “Royal Portico” or “Stoa”, as being so large that three men standing in a circle could just hold hands around one of their bases.
After changing money and before entering the Temple, the people were required to immerse themselves in a ritual bath. Despite the arid climate and meager natural water sources there were many such baths in the city, filled using a series of aqueducts and pipes that stretched over 50 miles. After ritual immersion the Temple was then accessed via the southern or Hulda gates. These gates led to tunnels built under the plaza that then emerged on to the plaza itself. The walls of these tunnels were lined with candles and the ceilings were carved and painted with intricate geometric designs simulating a Persian carpet.
Despite the magnificence of all that has already been detailed, undoubtedly the centerpiece of this majestic complex was the Temple itself. A building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. The attention to detail in its construction is exemplified by the placing of gold spikes on the roof line of the building to prevent birds sitting on the Temple and soiling it.
On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance. The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis. The Temple area was divided into various areas for study, sacrifices, libation etc. and further divided according to a social hierarchy for gentiles, women, Israelites, Levites and Priests. Finally, in the center of the Temple was the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the ark of the Law was kept. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this inner sanctum, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. So strict was the law governing entry to the holy of holies that the High Priest had to wear a belt around his waist so that in case of his unexpected death he could be pulled out without anyone else entering.
In the construction of the Temple nothing was overlooked. For example, in order to stop the inevitable crowding at the gates that would follow the conclusion of a service, the exiting stairs were designed to encourage people to spread out over a larger area. This attention to detail and the extraordinary feats of engineering were mirrored in the planning of the remainder of the city and its unique surrounds. The roads were made of paving stones weighing up to 19 tons, so stable that they hardly moved even when the massive stones from the walls above fell on them during the Temple’s destruction. Beneath these pavements was a complex sewerage and water system that enabled collection of the run―off water and conserved a resource whose scarcity and value was accentuated by its requirement for ritual bathing and the performing of sacrifices.
This abbreviated description of the Second Temple can only convey a semblance of the majestic sight that must have greeted the people of its time. The whole point of describing all this, in so much detail, is to show that, for God, nothing is “too much” or “too expensive”—and this attitude of mind can be seen in some of the magnificent cathedrals of the Middle Ages, some of which took as much 100 years to finish! This attitude should carry over into the spiritual life too!
The Real Temple is the Temple of the Soul
Yet as grand and majestic the Temple was, the Chosen People were not quite as grand. It is very easy to get caught up with the exterior, material, spectacular things of religion and forget the essential things that are interior. The interior is worth far more than the exterior—because the true temple is that of the soul, not that of wood, stone, bronze and gold. St. Paul points this out: “Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which you are!” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God; as God saith: ‘I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people!’” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
We have fallen into the same trap today—bricks and mortar are focused upon far more than prayer and penance. We judge by the collection plate and not the number of virtues, sacrifices and prayers. Like the Pharisees, white on the outside, but filthy on the inside. Pursuit of material success has replaced holiness and sanctity.
Thus St. Augustine writes: “We are the temple of God, because He deigns to dwell in us. Our heart is His altar, when it is raised toward Him; to Him we immolate bloody sacrifices when we combat unto blood for His truth; to Him we burn most fragrant incense when we are on fire in His presence with devout and holy love; to Him we present the sacrifice of humility and praise upon the altar of our heart in the fire of inflamed love.”
Tent or Temple?
Like the traveler pitching his tent in the desert, the Holy Ghost takes possession of souls as their most sweet Guest. But unlike the traveler, who folds his tent as morning breaks, the eternal Guest stays on. The tent—that He pitches on the soil of our soul’s barrenness—is something divine, a sketch, a reflection, a foretaste of our heavenly home. This image or foretaste is seen in the grace of God that divinizes the soul; seen too in divine charity, the supernatural image of the Holy Ghost, Who pours Himself into our hearts; and seen in all the virtues and gifts. These are the conditions of His indwelling in our soul, so that He may begin His work of sanctification, and direct us with the strong, gentle influence of love. The Holy Ghost may pitch His tent, but it only in order to build a temple in the long run. For the Israelites, wandering in the desert after their Exodus from Egypt, their initial temple was a tent—but when they arrived in the Promised Land, the tent was replaced by the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem! The same has to occur in our lives! This is gradual progression of holiness through the Three Stages or Conversions of the spiritual life, whereby the temple of the soul becomes more and more magnificent as it becomes more and more holy—truly becoming a holy temple of God where God loves to dwell by His grace.
Comparing Church to Temple
A Catholic church still retains the vestiges of the Temple that God commanded to be built and for which God Himself designed, giving an exceedingly long list of materials and dimensions that had to be used and met. Yet a Catholic church, built in the old style, added elements that remind the soul of the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for which the church is primarily built.
You can download two PDF files that show the detail of Temple and PDF file that shows the layout of a traditionally built church, as were the cathedrals of the Middle Ages. The detail would be lost in trying to post the graphics on the website. The actual original size of the Temple poster is 50 inches by 25 inches. You can zoom in on your download and see things much more clearly than you would see online.
First of all, the general shape of a church is rectangular in shape, which was also the shape of the Temple. Likewise, both buildings have in common the fact that there is a vestibule, a nave (the Holies or Holy Place), a sanctuary (the Holy of Holies) and Tabernacle (the Ark of the Covenant that held the manna).
Sacrifice is the Ultimate Worship
Sacrifice is the ultimate worship of God! Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on Calvary was the ‘ultimate of the ultimate’ sacrifices, because of the dignity of the one making the sacrifice—Christ was God! Therefore, He was infinite and the sacrifice was infinite. He was all-perfect and hence the sacrifice was all-perfect. He was all-pure and so the sacrifice was all pure. The list could go on endlessly. The fact is that the sacrifice of Christ was the perfection, fulfillment and realization of all the sacrifices that had gone before.
Good and Bad Sacrifices
From the very earliest history of man we find people ― for example, Abel, Noe, etc. ― offering up sacrifice to God; that is, taking something and offering it to God, and then destroying it to show that they believed God to be the Master of life and death, and the Supreme Lord of all things. These offerings were sometimes plants or fruits, but most frequently animals.
When men lost the knowledge of the true God (as we are increasingly doing today) and began to worship idols of wood and stone, they began or continued to offer sacrifice to these false gods. Very often, too, they sacrificed human beings to please, as they imagined, these gods. They believed there was a god for everything ― a god for the ocean, a god for thunder, a god for wind, for war, etc. And when anything happened that frightened or injured the people, they believed that some of these gods were offended, and offered up sacrifice to pacify them. They had a temple in Rome called the Pantheon, or temple of all the gods, and here they kept the idols of all the gods they could think of or know. At Athens, they were afraid of neglecting any god whom they might thus give offense, and so they had an altar for the unknown god. When St. Paul came to preach, he saw this altar to the unknown god, and told them that was the God he came to preach about (Acts 17). He preached to them the existence of the true God, and showed them that there is only one God and not many gods.
They did not have these idols of wood and stone in their temples for the same reason that we have images in our churches, because they believed that the idols were really gods, and offered sacrifice to them, whereas we know that our images are the works of men. Near the city of Jerusalem there was a great idol named Moloch, to which parents offered their infants in sacrifice. We know, too, from the history of this country that the Indians used to send a beautiful young girl in a white canoe over the edge of Niagara Falls every year, as a sacrifice offered to the god of the waterfalls. Human sacrifices still prevail amongst some pagans and Satanists. Sometimes certain animals were selected to be heathen gods. The people who worship idols, animals, or other things of that kind as gods are called pagans, idolaters, or heathens.
In the beginning the head of the family offered sacrifice ― as Noe did when he came out of the Ark ― but after God gave His laws to Moses He appointed priests to offer up the sacrifices. Aaron, the brother of Moses, was the first priest appointed, and after him his descendants were priests. When Our Lord came and instituted a new sacrifice He established the priesthood of the New Law, and appointed His own priests, namely, the Apostles, with St. Peter as their chief, and after them their lawfully appointed successors, the bishops of the world, with the Pope as their chief. The sacrifices of the Old Law were figures of the sacrifice of the New Law, and were to cease at its institution; and when the ancient sacrifices ceased the ancient priesthood was at an end.
The Purpose of True Sacrifice
The Israelites, who worshiped the true God and offered Him sacrifices―because He made known to them by revelation that they should do so―had four kinds of sacrifice. They offered one sacrifice for sin, another sacrifice in thanksgiving for benefits received, another sacrifice as an act of worship, and another sacrifice to beg God’s blessing.
Today, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is also offered for these four ends or objects we offer up the one Christian sacrifice of the Holy Mass. The “fancy words” for these four ends or goals of the Mass are: (1) Adoration, (2) Thanksgiving, (3) Atonement or Reparation for Sin, and (4) Propitiation (which means petition or asking).
The Four Ends of the Mass and the Cross
At the height of Christianity—at the time before Protestantism divided and splintered Europe from the time of Martin Luther’s initial revolt in 1517—Europe was known as Christendom. Catholicism was almost everywhere—not that this meant all Catholics were good Catholics. It was a heyday of religious progress that saw several centuries of magnificent examples of religiosity in soul and outside the soul. With the arrival of Gothic architecture, with its stone structures, large expanses of glass, high pointed arches, clustered columns, sharply pointed spires, intricate sculptures, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses, etc., churches were built that truly glorified God, much in the way that Solomon’s Temple glorified God in the Old Testament days.
Many churches were built in the form of a cross—reminded us of the crucifixion and death of Our Lord. This shape of the cross automatically creates four ends—(as in North, South, East and West)―reminding us too of the four ends of goals of the Sacrifice of the Mass: (1) Adoration, (2) Thanksgiving, (3) Atonement or Reparation for Sin, and (4) Propitiation or Petition.
The Holy Sacrifice and the Ark of Salvation
It is not just a coincidence that a Catholic church reminds us of the Noe’s Ark and can be truly called the “Ark of Salvation.” Let us briefly list a few connections or similarities that can be found in comparing a church to Noe’s ark.
First of all, looking at the general shape of the church—especially the nave of the church—we could well call it “a ship.” For if you were to turn the church upside down, then roof of the church and its supporting walls would look like the hull of a ship—with inverted “v” shaped roof becoming the “v” shape of the hull and keel of a ship. Further prove comes from the fact that the word “nave” originates from the Latin word “navis” meaning “ship”! Additionally, do we not also refer to the Church under the title of “St. Peter’s Barque”? Which in turn brings to mind the vision of St. John Bosco, where he saw the Church, in the form of a ship on the stormy sea, being assailed by pirate ships (click here to read more). The nave, with its many rows of pews, reminds us of the old galley sailing vessels, which had rows of benches on each for the oarsmen who would row the ship to its destination. Thus, the church and the ark (or ship) has many non-coincidental similarities! Only God can plan things this way!