All the priests stand at their duties every day, offering over and over again the same sacrifices which are quite incapable of taking sins away. He, on the other hand, has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his place forever, at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until his enemies are made into a footstool for him.
By virtue of that one single offering, he has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. When all sins have been forgiven, there can be no more sin offerings.Second reading for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The language of priesthood has been appropriated by Christianity as a metaphor to describe a number of aspects of the salvation won for us by Jesus. For example:
- It is applied to Jesus himself, who is seen as priest and sacrifice and altar.
- It is applied to the presbyters of the Church, the elders, who re-present the once-and-for sacrifice of Jesus in the celebration of the Mass.
- It is used to describe the holiness of the whole membership of the Church who by virtue of their baptism share in the ministry of Christ. He is prophet, priest and king: they (we) are a ‘royal priesthood’ called to bear witness to the living God and his will for us.
The Sacrifice of Jesus is unique. The salvation it wins makes redundant all other sacrifice. What other sacrifices seek to win or earn or make available to us is already freely available in Christ. So after the passion, death and resurrection of Christ the sacrificial cult of the Temple in Jerusalem became unnecessary – not bad, not anti-Christian, not even necessarily unhelpful, but simply unnecessary. The disciples continued to attend Temple, and took part in its liturgy, even as they took part in the developing Christian cult, in cluding – we presume – the weekly celebration of Eucharist.
The Letter to the Hebrews is presumed to have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple in 70 CE, but in a world still very familiar with sacrifice in pagan cult. He speaks to encourage those familiar with sacrificial liturgical cults – perhaps especially Israel’s priestly caste driven into exile after 70 CE. He helps them to consider that the loss of the Temple does not mean that the opportunity of sharing in the Covenant of God is lost to them: that covenant is renewed and extended to all peoples in Jesus Christ.