Friday, April 22, 2011

The Tearing of the Veil and the Lamb of God

[50] And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
[51] And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent.

(Mt 27: 50-51)

[37] And Jesus having cried out with a loud voice, gave up the ghost.
[38] And the veil of the temple was rent in two, from the top to the bottom.

(Mk 15: 37-38)

This passage marks the moment that Judaism was once and for all superseded by Christianity. In this time, the Temple contained the Holy of Holies, which is where the Arc of the Covenant would traditionally have been housed. The second Temple no longer contained the actual Arc, which had been lost when the first Temple was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
We recall Jesus saying earlier in the Gospels that the Temple would be destroyed and that He would raise it again in three days. We recognize Jesus to be referring to Himself as the Temple. This creates an interesting parallel then, because while the death of Christ is the theological destruction of the Temple, the physical temple was also 'destroyed' in the sense that the Holy of Holies was rent open.
According to the Jewish understanding, God was present in the Temple inside the Holy of Holies, so by the tearing of the veil, God shows to the Jews that He is no longer there.
God is no longer to be worshiped in the Jewish Temple. Instead the Temple is now Jesus Christ, and today He is not in the Holy of Holies, but in every Tabernacle across the world. The practice of veiling the Holy of Holies continued today, and we veil both the Tabernacle and the chalice during Mass.
The concept of veiling that which is holy has expanded somewhat from that time too, and both chapel veils for women, and the humeral veil are powerful examples of this same concept. My favourite example is that of the maniple, which is the small band of fabric which hangs off the left arm of a priest celebrating the Latin rite of the Mass. It is no longer required in the Ordinary Form, and therefore is rarely if ever seen outside of the Extraordinary Form, much to my sadness.

We also identify Jesus as the perfect Sacrifice, which was prefigured by the sacrifice of animals at the Temple. As Pope Benedict writes in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week:
"[...] the soldiers see that Jesus is already dead. So they do not break his legs. Instead, one of them pierces Jesus' right side -his heart- and "at once there came out blood and water" (Jn 19:34). It is the hour when the pascal lambs are being slaughtered. It was laid down that no bone of these lambs was to be broken (cf. Ex 12:46). Jesus appears here as the true Pascal Lamb, pure and whole. So in this passage we may detect a tacit reference to the very beginning of Jesus' story - to the hour when John the Baptist said: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29) [my note: Ecce, Agnus Dei!] Those words, which were inevitably obscure at the time as a mysterious prophecy of things to come, are now a reality. Jesus is the Lamb chosen by God himself. On the Cross he takes upon himself the sins of the world, and he wipes them away." (pg. 224)

Have a blessed and holy Good Friday, and may this Easter bring to you abundant grace.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Before Abraham Was, I Am

I had the great honour and pleasure of attending the TLM last week. Unfortunately this is not the case this week, but that's just the way things go sometimes.
I had meant to write about last week's Gospel much earlier... preferably last week, but obviously that didn't happen, so better late than never.
Specifically I mean to write about this passage:

[51] Amen, amen I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. [52] The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. [53] Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? and the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself? [54] Jesus answered: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom you say that he is your God. [55] And you have not known him, but I know him. And if I shall say that I know him not, I shall be like to you, a liar. But I do know him, and do keep his word.

[56] Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad. [57] The Jews therefore said to him: Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? [58] Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am. [59] They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

(Jn 8: 51-59)

If the Agony in the Garden is the best look at the dual natures of Christ, this passage may be the best example of His divinity alone. Specifically we should recall that God instructed Moses to tell the Hebrews "I Am has sent you". God tells Moses "I AM that I am."
Important to understand here is the continuity of existence, specifically Jesus' claim to an uncreated existence. He did not say "before Abraham was made, I was made." He said very specifically "I am". There was no time where He was not. Very truly therefore, do we say that Christ was eternally begotten, not made.
If we look further, we see also that Christ is not claiming to be the Father. Rather, He is showing the Jews Who really spoke to Moses in Exodus. He told Moses "I am", and he tells the Jews in this Gospel the same; it was Jesus in both instances. As St. Justin the Martyr says in the First Apology, "Although the Jews were always of the opinion that it was the Father of all who had spoken to Moses, it was in fact the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, who spoke to him; they are, therefore, justly accused by both the Prophetic Spirit, and by Christ Himself of knowing neither the Father nor the Son. They who assert that the Son is the Father are proved to know neither the Father, nor that the Father of all has a Son, who is both the first-born Word of God and is God. Formerly, He appeared to Moses and to the other prophets in the form of fire and as an incorporeal image; and now, in the times of your reign, having become man, as we said, by a Virgin and by the will of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe in Him, He allowed Himself to be treated with contempt and to suffer so that by death and resurrection He might conquer death." (Faith of the Early Fathers , §127)
Similarly, as Tertullian said in The Demurrer Against the Heretics, "There is one only God, and none other besides Him; the Creator of the world who brought forth all things out of nothing through His Word, first of all sent forth. This Word is called His Son; and in the name of God He was seen at various times by the patriarchs, and has always been heard in the Prophets [remember, "He has spoken through the prophets"]; and at last He was brought down from the Spirit and Power of God the Father into the Virgin Mary, and was made flesh in her womb; and having been born from her, came forth as Jesus Christ." (Faith of the Early Fathers, §290)

This also connects, I see, to the last Gospel of the TLM.

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

[6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. [7] This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. [8] He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. [9] That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

[11] He came unto his own, and his own received him not. [12] But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. [13] Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

(Jn 1:1-14)

In the beginning was the Word. I Am; there is no beginning to Christ's existence. He Is. He is with God in the beginning. The same Word was made flesh (obviously now John speaks of Jesus Christ), and the Word was begotten of the Father, though He was not made by the Father.

Finally, at the end of Passiontide's Gospel, we see that Jesus hides Himself after the Jews present there take stones with which to kill Him. This connects in a powerful way to Lent as we draw quickly towards the climax of the Crucifixion, though the hour has not quite yet come. Jesus has been hidden from those who rejected Him. In the same way, now from Passiontide we may now cover images and crucifixes. As I wrote before, at the beginning on Lent it was inappropriate to do so, but now as Lent is far more advanced, Jesus Himself has been hidden from our sight. We have rejected Him like the Jews in the Temple, and we no longer see Him.
Jesus says earlier in this Gospel (verse 24) "For if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sin." We are weak and sinful, and continually tempted not to believe in Him. The Lenten season represents poignantly our own weakness before God, and reminds us of how we continually reject Him. Therefore, when we do not believe in Him, nor can we see Him.
It is not, in fact, God who has veiled himself, but we who have veiled Him. We have rejected Him and hidden Him away, because when we gaze upon Him we are convicted of our sins. Soon, at Good Friday, we will again see Him. He will die with all the sin and rejection and weakness of the world upon Himself, and tear the veil of the temple in two. As He tears the temple's veil, He also tears away the veil we ourselves placed on Him. Then we will see Him as He dies, and if we choose, we will see Him again when He rises in glory.