The Rending of the Veil of the Temple
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Taken from LIFE OF CHRIST, Image Books, 1958

Our Blessed Lord had called His Body the Temple because the fullness of Divinity dwelt in it. The earthly temple of Jerusalem was only a symbol of Himself. In that temple of stone there were three great divisions. Beyond the court of entrance was a place that was called "holy," and beyond it a place more secret still, which was called "the Holy of Holies." The court was separated from the holy place by a veil, and a great veil also divided the holy place from the Holy of Holies.

The very moment that Our Blessed Lord willed His death:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. [Matthew 27: 51]

The very fact that it was tom from top to bottom was to indicate that it was not done by the hand of man, but by the miraculous Hand of God Himself, Who had ordained that, as long as the Old Law should endure, the veil should hang before the Holy of Holies. Now He decreed that it should be torn asunder at His death. That which of old was sacred now remained opened and manifest before their eyes, uncovered like any common and ordinary thing, while before them on Calvary, as a soldier pierced His heart, was revealed the new Holy of Holies containing the ark of the New Testament and the treasures of God. The death of Christ was the deconsecration of the earthly temple, for He would raise up the new Temple in three days. Only one man, once a year, could enter into that old Holy of Holies; now that the veil was rent which separated holiness from the people, and separated the Jew from the Gentile, both would have access to the new Temple, Christ the Lord.

There is an intrinsic connection between the soldier piercing the Heart of Christ on the Cross, which drew forth Blood and water, and the rending of the veil of the temple. Two veils were rent: one, the purple veil of the temple which did away with the Old Law; the other, the veil of His Flesh which opened the Holy of Holies of Divine love tabernacled among us. In both instances, what was holy was made manifest; one, the Holy of Holies, which had been only a figure; the other, the true Holy of Holies, His Sacred Heart, which opened to the guilty access to God. The veil in the ancient temple signified that Heaven was closed to all until the High Priest sent by the Father would rend the veil and open its gates to all. St. Paul told how the high priest of old, only once a year, and then not without an offering of blood for his own faults and those of the people, was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies.

The Epistle to the Hebrews explains this mystery:

By this the Holy Spirit signifies that so long as the earlier tent still stands, the way into the sanctuary remains unrevealed. All this is symbolic, pointing to the present time. The offerings and sacrifices there prescribed cannot give the worshipper inward perfection. It is only a matter of food and drink and various rites of cleansing---outward ordinances in force until the time of reformation.

But now Christ has come, high priest of good things already in being. The tent of his priesthood is a greater and more perfect one, not made by men's hands, that is, not belonging to this created world; the Blood of His sacrifice is His Own Blood, not the blood of goats and calves; and thus He has entered the sanctuary once and for all and secured an eternal deliverance. [Hebrews 9: 1-12]

Then, comparing the veil of the flesh and the veil of the temple, the Epistle adds:
The Blood of Jesus makes us free to enter boldly into the sanctuary by the new, living way which He has opened for us through the curtain, the way of His flesh. [Hebrews 10: 19, 20]
A thousand years before, David, looking forward to the Messiah, wrote:
If Thou hadst asked for whole-offering and sin-offering
I would have said, Here I am.
My desire is to do Thy will, O God,
and Thy law is in my heart.
In the great assembly I have proclaimed what is right,
I do not hold back my words,
as Thou knowest, O Lord. [Psalm 39: 7-10]
As the Psalmist looked back on the sacrifices of slain beasts, the burnt offerings to attain Divine favor, and the sin offerings to make reparation for wrong, his mind dwelt upon them only to cast them aside. For he well knew that these slaughtered bulls, goats, and sheep could not really affect man's relationship with God. He saw in a future day God having His Divinity enshrined in a human Body as in a temple, and coming with only one purpose, namely, to surrender His life in accordance with the Divine will. David proclaimed that the Divine Incarnation would be the perfection of the sacrifices and the priesthood of the Jewish Law. Now the figure was fulfilled as the spotless Lamb of God offered Himself to His Heavenly Father. The old promise made to Israel in Egypt still held good and could be claimed, in a higher sense, by all who invoked the Blood poured out on the Cross:
As for you, the blood will be a sign on the houses in which you are: when I see the blood I will pass over you; the mortal blow shall not touch you, when I strike the land of Egypt. [Exodus 13:1 3]
Levi's House of priesthood was now dismissed. The Order of Melchisedech became the law in the House of Levi. The "no admittance" sign before the Holy of Holies of the earthly temple was removed. When Christ came into the world to be the fulfillment of the order of Melchisedech, the House of Levi denied Him welcome. In fact, Levi had exacted tithes of Him just a few weeks before His death in demanding temple taxes. But, as the veil of the temple was torn the priesthood of Melchisedech came into its own, and with it the true Holy of Holies, the true Ark of the New Covenant, the true Bread of Life---the Christ, the Son of the Living God.


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