Thursday, April 01, 2010

"The Curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom"

Our Men's Group at St Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, is doing a study on the Holy Mass. We are using Scott Hahn's book 'The Lamb's Supper' in our study.

During last weeks meeting the topic of the 'Torn Curtain' in the Gospel's of Luke and Mark was discussed.

Questions were asked as to what does this mean? So I did a quick lunch time study to search out the answer. The following is by no means a thorough study but it points out the Catholic interpretation and hopefully will stimulate a deeper study.

Q: A Fundamentalist Baptist friend wants to know how the Catholic Church views the curtain being torn in half as Christ expires. He says his church views it as proof that it is no longer necessary for God's people to be under an institutional Church or clergy.
A: Then how to explain the fact that after the curtain was torn in half-after the Resurrection-Jesus proceeded to appoint clergy and establish a Church? Christ's sacrifice and the tearing of the curtain symbolize several things:

1) The Jewish economy (the Law of Moses or the Old Covenant) has been done away with.

2) Our high priest (Jesus) has the right to enter the heavenly tabernacle.

3) We approach God through Jesus and the Christian economy rather than through the Jewish or Mosaic economy.

4) That heaven has now been opened to receive the saints, who were previously kept at Abraham's bosom. What it doesn't imply is the demise of all rituals (or else we would not have baptism and the Eucharist) or that there will be no priests in the Law of Christ/New Covenant way of approaching God. It simply signifies the passing away of the Jewish economy.

There is one important detail which Matthew does not fail to observe: "The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (17:51). This was the curtain separating the sanctuary from the Holy of Holies (cf. Ex. 26:31); on Jesus' death it was torn, indicating (this has been the traditional interpretation of the Church) that the old Mosaic cult had come to an end and a new era had begun, that of the New Covenant, sealed with the blood of the Son of God. Through this New Covenant man can be born again to a new life, leaving behind fear and any kind of pessimism, for death has been overcome by Life. Source

Q The Bible teacher at my (Baptist) school says that the curtain of the Temple being torn in two when Christ died (Luke 23:45) meant that priests were no longer needed. I have thought about ways to try and explain how priests are needed, but have had no luck. Please help me with an answer.

A The tearing of the temple curtain does indeed mean that the Old Covenant priesthood is no longer needed, for Jesus has taken that role once and for all. Hebrews 7:27 says, "[Jesus] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself."

So, does that mean your pastor is out of a job? No way. Precisely because Christ remains forever our High Priest, He must reach each one of us today, everywhere. How is He the Priest for you and me, not just for the men and women who lived in first-century Palestine? Through the men whom he has called to "do this in memory of me," to forgive sins and preach the Good News "in His Name." They are priests only because they act "in persona Christi" — it is really Christ who is acting through them.

When Jesus said, "Do this . . . " (cf. Luke 22:14-20), He was gathered with the twelve Apostles. Only, the same was true when "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23). He asked a small number (not all) among his followers to, as it were, "lend Him" their humanity, so that He could continue exercising powers that were His alone to discharge. In other words, we are talking about delegated power, or better, a delegated mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21).

Now, someone might say, "All right, but when the Apostles died, it ended there." Well, that wouldn't make a lot of sense, would it, if Jesus is our eternal High Priest? What's the point of continuing his priesthood for a few decades after his death, and then discontinuing it for the rest of history? Besides, and more importantly, it's not what the Apostles themselves understood.

We see from Acts 1:15-26 that they felt compelled to replace Judas. Further, they left bishops and elders (priests) in every city they evangelized (take a look at Titus 1:5), to continue their ministry. Those bishops ordained other priests and bishops who ordained others . . . on and on until today. Without them, there would be no Eucharist or forgiveness of sins, and we wouldn't be able to faithfully carry out Christ's command. So you see why the priesthood is necessary. True followers of Christ can't live without it! Source

Luke: 23:45
Ignatius Study Guide Commentary Gospel of Luke: Curtain – One of the two veils that separated God’s presence from his people in the Jerusalem Temple. That this curtain is torn at the time of the Crucifixion indicates that Jesus’ suffering is a sacrificial and priestly act that opens for us a new and living way into the sanctuary of heaven (Heb 10:19-22).


Ignatius Study Guide Commentary Gospel of Mark: 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 two 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.

“ I Turned to See” (Lamb’s Supper – Scott Hahn, pg 71)

Likewise, it’s easy to understand why the early Christians considered the torn temple veil so theologically and liturgically significant. The veil was torn just as Christ’s body was decisively torn. As Jesus completed the earthly offering of His body, God made sure that the world would know that the veil had been removed from “the Temple.” Now everyone – brought together in the Church – could enter His presence on the Lord’s Day.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain [or veil], that is, through His flesh ….let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together… but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:19-20, 24-25).

“In the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” John saw something that was more sweeping than any narrative or any argument could convey. He saw that part of the world was already taken up into a new heaven and a new earth.



  1. Anonymous3:15 AM

    no comments?

    i guess that means it's self-explanatory

    what would be there to say?

    is there a GOD?
    is there a God?


    argument could convey

  2. Anonymous3:19 AM

    torn from top to bottom that means it can open
    significance - open for you to come in-

  3. Anonymous3:23 AM

    there is still a pope.....
    so how does see it?
    i want to know their isn't clearly stated.

  4. Anonymous3:52 AM

    the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
    it is done.
    it is finished.

    post comment
    link to this post
    create a link


    vatican website
    abortions and elections
    rejection and demise

    what is their viewpoint?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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