We all know that the curtain tore that led to the Holy of Holies. Can someone explain what that meant from a Catholic perspective? Even the Protestants I speak to can’t seem to agree on what it means (among other disagreements.)
Thank you for your responses. I would really love to find out because it seems like a highly debated topic among the people I’ve spoken to (mostly Protestants, but shouldn’t everyone believe the same thing regarding this?)
Here is the footnote on Matthew 27:51 in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:
27:51 curtain of the temple: Hung between the Temple’s two holiest chambers, the holy place and the most holy place (Ex 26:31-34). The veil was a sign that God’s infinite holiness could not be approached by sinners (cf. Heb 9:8). With Jesus’ saving death, forgiveness is secured for man, and access to heaven is reopened (Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19-22). This is announced by God himself, who tears the veil from top to bottom. See note on Mk 15:38.
And the footnote from Mark 15:38:
15:38 the curtain:** Two veils hung in the Jerusalem Temple to symbolize God’s inaccessibility to sinners (Heb 9:8). One was visible, as it separated the outer courts from the sanctuary proper, and the other was invisible to all but the priests, as it hung inside the sanctuary in front of its most sacred chamber, the Holy of Holies (Ex 26:31-34; Heb 9:3, 7). Although the evangelist does not specify which of the two veils was torn, the lesson to be learned is clear: access to the Father is now open through Jesus, who as high priest has entered on our behalf (Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19-22). Moreover, as the curtain ripped from top to bottom, the barrier between the face of God and his people was removed, and the termination of the Old Covenant was prophetically announced. was torn: Mark uses the same Greek expression at 1:10 to describe God “tearing” the heavens at the Baptism of Jesus. If a connection is being made between these events, as seems likely, it may have been the outer veil draped in front of the sanctuary that was rent in two, since history (Josephus) testifies that it was embroidered with images of the cosmos.**
No, not babylonized. It had nothing to do with astrology. It has to do with Psalm 19.
The stars on the curtain were the constellations. The sky was always a symbol of God’s glory. The Jews were forbidden from worshiping the constellations but the glory of God was evident in his designs and the Jews celebrated God in all his creation.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Seeing the veil would have evoked thoughts of Psalm 19. Think about the High Priest approaching the veil and seeing the sun and moon and constellations painted on it and then read Psalm 19 that context. The Psalm goes on to speak of the law of God being perfect, that meditating on the world of God rejoices the heart and that “thy servant is kept safe” by His laws.
The curtain with the stars was a representation of Psalm 19. All the thoughts and themes of the Psalm would have been brought to mind by the imagery.
This is where the Protestants ask “then why do we need a priest to intercede to forgive sins if we can go directly to God through Jesus?” I don’t know how to answer besides Jesus told the Apostles they have the ability to forgive sins… People in general seem dissatisfied with my reply. How are the two events (ripped curtain and Apostles forgiving sins) connected?
Thank you for your replies this is helping me understand the Bible better.
The tearing of the curtain would have been extremely shocking to the Jews. The curtain represented Moses, law, covenant and priesthood.
Moses mediated the first covenant at Mt. Sinai.
. Now when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die." And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to prove you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.” And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)
The people would not approach God. Only Moses approached God. There was separation between God and man. The successors to Moses, the Levitical Priests, were the only one’s allowed to approach God behind the curtain. Jesus even calls the priests “those who sit on Moses’ chair.”
The tearing of the curtain meant an end to the mediation of Moses and his successors the Temple Priests. It meant an end to Temple worship. It meant an end to the covenant which Moses had mediated.
The curtain didn’t just rip but was torn - forcibly rend. God had violently removed it the priesthood from the temple priests under the old covenant and established his new priesthood under a new covenant. Remember that covenants only end when one person in the covenant dies. The old covenant was between God and Israel and God had just died on the cross - that is the moment the curtain was rend in two, right when Jesus breathed his last.
The tearing of the curtain would have been shocking to the Jews and those who heard of it would have understood clearly what it meant because they undestood the actions of Moses at Mt. Sinai, the covenant, and what the curtain represented - covenant, law, mediation and preisthood. All of it was violently taken away at that moment, the moment Jesus died and the covenant ended.
There was an old covenant with an old priesthood and a new covenant with a new priesthood. That’s all there is to it. Jesus never took away the priesthood entirely but instituted a new one.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath." He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)
Here Jesus is explaining that his disciples are exempt from the law because they are priests!
The Bible doesn’t ascribe a particular meaning to the tearing of the temple curtain.
Earlier, when Jesus appeared before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priest tore his garments because he wrongly thought Jesus had blasphemed when he told them that he was the Messiah. Perhaps the tearing of the temple curtain was simply God’s way of saying that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the Jewish high priest and his accomplices committed true blaspheme by arranging Jesus’ death.
Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. He did this once a year on the Day of Atonement with the blood of sacrifice to present before the Seat of Mercy or the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Speaking of the Temple’s inner rooms we read in the Bible:
Behind the second veil was the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies…the high priest alone goes into the inner one once a year, not without blood that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people. In this way the holy Spirit shows that the way into the sanctuary had not yet been revealed while the outer tabernacle still had its place.–Hebrews 9:3-8.
The Scriptures tell us that the veil or curtain represented the inability for fallen flesh to enter the most holy presence of God in heaven, typified by the Holy of Holies. Hebrews 10:19-20 does this by stating:
Through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil (“curtain” in some translations), that is, his flesh.
The footnote to this verse in the *New American Bible *states:
As the temple veil kept people from entering the Holy of Holies (it was rent at Christ’s death, Mk 15:38), so the flesh of Jesus constituted an obstacle to approaching God.
Basically this meant that Christ was the Great High Priest who had now, through his death, made possible for all to enter what the Holy of Holies typified, namely the way into Heaven itself.
Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.–Hebrews 9:11-12.
The curtain was not shiny fuschia with glitter. It was made of porpoise skin and painted with an exact representation of the night sky as it appeared to people in Jerusalem. It was so impressive that it was rolled up and taken as a trophy to be presented to the Roman emperor when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD.
the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Revelation 6:14)
The veil was taken and the buildings were torn down.
The curtain represents the old covenant, old laws and old forms of worship. It was “ripped” or “torn” violently meaning that the old forms were forcibly taken away. John the Baptist gave the last warning about this saying, “bear fruit for repentance” and “even now the axe lies at the foot of the tree.” It was a final warning to repent.
Many want to ascribe various meanings to the whore of Babylon but a good understanding of Jewish imagery and politics at the time makes it pretty clear that the whore John writes about were the temple authorities.