More light is shed upon this great mystery when we understand that the veil was symbolic of Christ Himself. Christ is the only way to the Father. This is symbolized in the fact that the High Priest had to enter the Holy of Holies through the veil. Now Christ is the High Priest, and the faithful partake of His one priesthood (cf: Catechism, no. 1546). The faithful enter the Holy of Holies by Him. Hebrews 10:19-20 says that the faithful enter into the sanctuary by the “blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” The veil being rent from top to bottom was obviously Christ Himself! No doubt the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem was literally rent. Why it was torn at the moment of Jesus’ death is explained in the letter to the Hebrews. These things were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point to Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death, the faithful now have access to the sanctuary. The Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that Christ has removed the barriers between God and man, and now we may approach Him with confidence and boldness (cf: Heb. 4:14-16). This gift is appropriated by Baptism (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21; Heb. 10:22) and in our participation in the Eucharist, especially reception of Holy Communion, whereby the faithful become, one could say, a temporary Tabernacle.
The temple vail was symbolic of a separation between God and man. Only the high priest could go past the veil and only under certain circumstance.
The vail was torn because Jesus is now a connection between God and man, he is our high priest.
But just as in the Old Testament people could pray directly to God, they also utilized the priests as Gods agents on earth.
Similarly today the priests act as instruments of Gods grace. Tangible ways for us to connect with God.
The fact that the veil was torn should not be construed as if it abolished any need for a church or a priest hood, or Apostles.
We see after the veil is torn in John 20, Jesus giving the power to the apostles to forgive sins. Such a notion would seem very strange if he desired people to not utilize the apostles for the sacrament.
Jesus gave the authority to forgive sins to his disciples (the church) after he came back from the dead - after the temple veil had been torn.
The tearing of the temple veil meant that God was now available to all and no longer confined within the tabernacle. That has nothing to do with confession.
Checkout the recreation of the biblical tabernacle in Lancaater PA sometime. You really get the tangible feel for what the meaning of the tearing of the veil meant. Linking it to Catholic confessions is a real stretch. Never heard that before. The only thing in common is that a cloth of some sort is involved I guess.
I usually like to ask someone who says this if they believe that God never uses human beings to communicate his grace and forgiveness to us. I’ll usually say, “what about the person who first introduced you to Christ? Or your pastor? Don’t you agree God used them as his instruments?” Most of the time they will agree that yes, that is what God did.
Then I’d ask, “if the the veil being torn was meant to symbolize that we have direct access to God now and have no need of any human intermediaries, why did God use your pastor? Why not just reveal himself directly to you?”
The temple veil being torn did symbolize that we have access to God now that we didn’t have before. The breach has really been healed and our sins really can be forgiven, something the Old Covenant had no power to do. But it didn’t mean God was through using men as his instruments, as we see in the example of the pastor who first introduced them to God.
From there you just need to show them that the priesthood is exactly that, God using men as his instruments of grace and forgiveness. That’s it. That’s why Jesus sent his apostles out in John 20. And that’s why we go to confession to a priest, because that’s the ordinary means He himself gave us to have our sins forgiven. Jesus still is the one and only mediator, only he could atone for our sins. But that doesn’t exclude priests from being mediators as well. Not separate or distinct from him of course, but through him, with him and in him. It’s only by his power that they can do anything.
Anyway, that’s usually how I go about this question. Hope that helped a little. The big thing is really to show someone saying this that God still uses men as His instruments. If you can get them to see that, it’s usually a lot easier to explain the priesthood. Most Protestants have at least some concept of God working through men. We just have to show them that the priesthood is another, unique, way that He does that.
Thank you all so much. These answers have been incredibly helpful. I am directing the person who was asked the inital question to this thread…and thanks to you all I was able to give a reasonable response.