During the time of the Old Testament, a special sacrifice was offered once each year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. In addition, each morning and evening, a lamb was daily sacrificed in the Temple (Num 28).
This Sunday’s second reading, Hebrews 10:11-14, 18, compares the daily sacrifices in the Temple with Jesus offering of Himself: “Every other priest stands ministering day by day and offering again and again those same sacrifices which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11). God, through Jeremiah challenged the people not to think such sacrifices could save them: “Can vows and sacrificed flesh avert your doom” (Jer 11:15).
Thomas Aquinas believes that the sacrifices of the Old Law prepared for Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself: “The continual sacrifice prefigured Christ and the eternity of Him Who is the lamb without blemish” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, 495)
Hebrews declares: “Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:12). Thomas reflects: “This man, namely, Christ, offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. But the Old Law offered many sacrifices without expiating for sins. This man, therefore, offered one sacrifice, because He offered Himself once for our sins” (Commentary on Hebrews, 497).
Hebrews asserts that after Jesus had offered the sacrifice, “He took His seat forever at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12).
Thomas considers Jesus’ sitting at the right hand of God an indication that He is united with God. This is compared to the priests in the Temple who stood before the altar: “He sat down at the right hand of God, not as a minister always standing, as the priests of the Old Law, but as the Lord: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand’ (Ps. 109:1); ‘He sits on the right hand of God’ (Mk 16:19); at the right hand of God the Father with equal power in the divine nature, but with the more important goods in the human nature: ‘He sits on the right hand of the majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:3); and this forever, for He will not die again, because ‘Christ rising from the dead, dies now no more’ (Rom. 6:9); ‘His power is an everlasting power’ (Dan 7:14) (Commentary on Hebrews, 497).
Hebrews announces: “Now He waits until His enemies are placed beneath His feet” (Heb 10:13). Thomas thinks that Jesus waits not to have vengeance but to have mercy: “This expecting does not imply any anxiety in Christ, as it does in men, but it designates His will to have mercy: ‘The Lord waits that he may have mercy only’ (Is. 30:18)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 498).
According to Thomas, those who are under Jesus’ feet are under His humanity, which is the means of salvation: “Those who are willing are subjected under His feet, i.e., to His humanity; and in this their salvation consists, namely, in doing His will” (Commentary on Hebrews, 498).
Those who are unwilling to submit to Jesus will be under His justice: “But the wicked, who are unwilling submit to it because even though they do not accomplish His will in itself, yet it is fulfilled in their regard as a work of justice. Consequently, all things are subject in one of those ways: ‘You have subjected all things under His feet’ (Ps. 8:8)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 498).
Hebrews announces that Jesus one sacrifice takes away all sins: ‘Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many’ (Heb. 9:28).
Hebrews speaks of our being “perfected and sanctified” by Jesus’ sacrifice: “By one offering He has forever perfected those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).
Thomas comments: “By one offering He has perfected for all time. This He did by reconciling us and uniting us to God as to our principle; those who are sanctified, because Christ’s sacrifice, since He is God and man, has power to sanctify for ever: ‘Jesus, that he might sanctify the people by His own blood, suffered (Heb. 13:12). For by Him we are sanctified and united to God: ‘By whom we have access to God’ (Rom. 5:12)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 499).
Hebrews proclaims: “Once sins have been forgiven, there is no further offering for sin” (Heb 10:18).
Thomas explains: “Sins are remitted in the New Testament by Christ’s sacrifice, because the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins; therefore, in the New Testament, in which sins and iniquities are forgiven, as the authority indicates, there is no offering to be repeated for sins: ‘They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill’ (Mt. 9:12). Therefore, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any offering for sin. For this would be to demean Christ’s sacrifice” (Commentary on Hebrews, 500).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/