April 2, 2023

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
What’s Behind the Curtain Is Now Ours

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion Cycle A

Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

The problem with preaching on Palm Sunday is that it follows the proclamation of the Passion narrative, which is so powerful by itself that it is difficult to say anything to add to it and could very well detract from it. So let me give something for us to reflect on as we begin the Holy Week.

We just heard Matthew tell us that when Jesus died, “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” [Matthew 27:51 NABRE]. This is only a short statement of fact in the narrative, and it is easy to miss the very important meaning it brings to the events we just heard.

The veil which hung in the Temple in Jerusalem was a curtain that hung behind the main sacrificial altar, an altar that was used for the various sacrifices made to God in accordance with the Law of Moses by the various priests that worked at the Temple. This veil separated this area from the Holies of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. This area was entered only once per year, and then only by one person: the high priest. He took with him sacrificial animal blood as well as incense on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

So the tearing of this veil has enormous significance. The tearing of the veil severs the barrier placed between human worship of God at the altar and God himself in the Ark. It represents that Christ has bridged this gap between sinful human beings and God by his death on the cross. There is nothing left standing in our way to come to God – the sins that stood between us have been removed, not by our own actions by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on that final day of atonement, Good Friday.

In just a few minutes, we will celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is the memorial of this one true sacrifice we just recounted as a community during the Liturgy of the Word. There is no veil before our altar – we will see the entire liturgy clearly before our eyes. We no longer need a High Priest – we need only an ordained priest who will stand in persona Christi, acting as the person of Christ, and make the sacrifice again in front of us all. The Catholic Church does not have secret rites. Christ has removed the veil for good.

Three months ago, at Christmas, we read that Jesus was named Emmanuel, which means God is with us. The tearing of the veil represents the complete fulfillment of that promise with the passion of Jesus Christ.


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