‘He has entered the sanctuary once and for all’

He has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption.‘ Heb 9:12


This blog post will make infinitely more sense if you read Gen 1Ex 25Lev 16 and Heb 9 before going on!

The early Christians understanding of the Eucharistic liturgy is drawn from two sources. The first is an understanding of Christ as an eternal atonement sacrifice and the second is from the Passover meal shared with the disciples. The Jewish Day of Atonement ceremony was a yearly temple liturgy carried out in part by the entire gathering and in part by the high priest. Later in Christian history Churches where constructed specifically to mirror the idea of creation laid out and celebrated in the Jewish temple.

The temple was understood as a representation of the entire cosmos with the creation displayed in its intended order. The first day is represented by the Holy of Holies, literally heaven at the center of the Temple. The second day is represented by the veil that separates God from creation (Interestingly enough the only day that is not described as good in the Genesis narrative – all of creation is good except for the divide between heaven and earth. (Gen 1:6-8). The third day is mirrored by the table of bread offering which represents seed and plant (Ex 25:23-30). The fourth day is symbolized by the menorah representing the lights of the heavens (Ex 25:31-40). The fifth day sees the creation of the animals which are placed in the temple cosmos upon the altar of holocausts. The sixth and final day is representative of Adam, who in the Temple acts as priest over all of creation. It is this final idea of man as priest over all of creation that is taken up and restored by Christianity and forms a crucial part of liturgy and, along with the atonement sacrifice and the Passover, cements Christian life as corporate worship above and beyond the inward belief necessary to bring a person to that worship.

The temple layout is unquestionably linked to the Christian Eucharistic liturgy through the Jewish Atonement liturgy. Once a year the Jewish High Priest moves from the altar of holocaust with the blood of a goat in hand through the temple and into the Holy of Holies. Here the blood of that goat is sprinkled around and on the ‘Mercy Seat’, the throne of God. (Note here than the throne of God also has the characteristics of an altar) The blood of the goat is said to be symbolic of God. To explain this we must look at the beginning of the liturgy where there are two goats. (Lev 16) One is kept for the sacrifice; the other is cast out into the desert as Azazel, the first among the fallen angels. Although ‘as Azazel’ is often translated as ‘for Azazel’ in the vast majority of contemporary bibles the writings of Origen suggest that the true translation is ‘as Azazel’ and that the goats are not in fact for God and for Azazel but a representative of God and of Azazel.

This is highly revealing for two reasons. Firstly, that it is God’s own life force that is offered in order to renew the cosmos. Secondly that the entire cosmos is involved. In the Day of Atonement liturgy the High Priest, as a representative of Adam, processes from the altar of holocaust right into the Holy of Holies. Man, created as priest over creation, processes through the whole of creation offering up all that it is in the offering of the blood of the Lord. He offers the sustained being of creation back to the source of being, he who is beyond being. So here we find in the actions of one man one movement involving all things and thus this one action, if only actively carried out by one man is in fact the action of all things. This action was so relevant to the Early Church that according to Hegesippus and Polycrates of Ephesus both St James the Bishop of Jerusalem and St John of Ephesus wore the garments of the High Priest whilst presiding at the Eucharist.

The call of a Christian therefore is not simply to believe that God has created all things and that in Christ, as both High Priest and sacrifice, all things are offered back to God and renewed. The call of a Christian is to enter into this mystery and to experience it. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite describes the Eucharistic liturgy as a liturgy in which the movement of God into this world and his divinity are revealed and it is precisely this that is shown at the Eucharist.

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This blog is a forum for discussion of ideas from a faith-based perspective. The views expressed on it are those of the authors and cannot be held to represent those of the Diocese of Nottingham or the University of Nottingham Catholic Chaplaincy.