There are things we "know" so well, that we never bother to know them in detail or appreciate fully their significance. And, knowing neither detail nor full significance, we never come to reflect properly on their implications, either for those in the past or the present, or for ourselves.

Our story here is just such a case: systematic blood sacrifice, a gigantic worship place, and a strangely torn veil. When we understand each of these, and the way they touched the lives of the people they were woven into, we can begin to understand more fully the earliest days of our family of Faith: the Catholic Church.

Blood Sacrifice

Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that the Jewish religion of the Old Testament was practised in a literal " haemorrhage of blood". This was an extraordinary statement; but it is precisely the truth.

We all know that when Mary and Joseph went up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Purification ritual at the required interval after the birth of Jesus, they offered the sacrifice required by the Law: a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. The  Jewish religion, following the Law of Moses, was full of occasions demanding such ritual sacrifices of creatures from doves to bulls. There were prescribed sacrifices for all manner of purposes.

The best known to us, of Jewish sacrifices were the annual Passover sacrificial lambs. In the second year after the exodus, no less than 50,000 Paschal Lambs were slain according to Numbers ix 1-14. It has been calculated that in a normal year, mandatory public sacrifices caused 1,245 victims to be slaughtered. But those public sacrifices were only the beginning of the massive business of private sacrifices for Jerusalem's 600,000 population and their private purposes, not to mention the 1,000,000 people in the whole of Palestine and the millions of Jews who came to Jerusalem as pilgrims from  around the known world.  These private sacrifices were for a variety of ritual purposes - not only purification after childbirth, but there were also thank or praise offerings, sin or trespass offerings, and other purificative offerings as for example for a cured leper.There were also free will offerings and vow offerings. It can readily be seen that, for such a huge population as that of Jerusalem and Palestine, plus the diaspora Jews on pilgrimage to the Holy City, the number of sacrifices and the shedding of animal blood for all these purposes, was colossal. 

If anyone is inclined to think that this is an exaggeration, let him consider the size of the Altar of sacrifice mentioned later. We have from various historical, as well as Scriptural sources, very precise details of these measurements.

This vast sea of blood was part of the mentality of the Jewish people under the Mosaic Law. And, in truth, it was consistent with the pagan cultures with which they interacted. For it was part and parcel of the other Eastern cultures that surrounded them, as well as the 
culture of the Romans  who had conquered them. Consider this passage from "AUGUSTUS" by Anthony Everitt:

"It is hard to exaggerate the centrality of the ceremonial killing of animals to Roman religion.Animal sacrifice was a common feature of daily life, the means by which anyone could give thanks to the gods,ask them for a favour, or find out what their wishes were. Domestic animals - lambs or young steers or chickens - were killed in large numbers , their throats slit with a special knife and their blood gathered in a shallow dish for pouring on the altar . The meat was cooked, formally offered to the relevant god, and then eaten. Altars swam in the detritus of death"

But the Jews had the specific Scriptural rationale contained in Leviticus 17:11 - 

" For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life."

Without ritual sacrifice the Jews knew of no way to put right their relationship with God.  

A Truly Enormous Structure 

This semitic people had their origins as desert wanderers,   dwellers in tents, grouped in camps. When God undertook to advance His relationship with this Chosen People, He came to dwell amongst them. Where was He to dwell? The very best Moses could provide was in fact a tent - a Tabernacle. Admittedly it was a very large tent and carefully sited and surrounded and embellished each time it was re-erected after a move.It was called the Tent of Meeting.  

During the Jews' 40 years sojourn, wandering in the  desert under the leadership of Moses, their religious worship and observance was centred on the Tent of Meeting.

Model of the Tent of MEETING and its Enclosure

It contained the Holy of Holies another cube shaped tent 10 Cubits X 10 Cubits ( one cubit was approx.18 ") so the Holy of Holies was approx. 15 feet square and 15 feet high.  The Tent of Meeting was 30 Cubits by 10 Cubits so 45 feet by 15 feet. The Holy of Holies lay within the Tent of Meeting at the back end - obviously tight fitting side to side. Around the Tent of Meeting was laid out an " outer court" an area 100 Cubits X 50 Cubits so 150 feet by 75 feet. The Tent of Meeting was always erected at the Western end of the outer court, so that its entrance faced the rising Sun along the length of the outer court, which is said to have symbolised the earth.

Within the Tent of Meeting  and showing the Holy of Holies.

Holies  and the Eastern Entrance to the Holy of Holies was again covered by another precious Veil.

But in time the sojourn in the desert came to an end and Israel moved into the Promised Land, minus Moses who had died, God having forbidden him to enter it. The question began to arise : what of the Holy of Holies? what of the Tent of Meeting? 

An Enormous Structure

The Jews believed that Mount Moriah where Abraham had gone to sacrifice his only son Isaac at God's command, lay in Jerusalem , and was identical with Mount Sion/Zion.

Originally, Zion was the fortress David captured and made his own in the very heart of Jerusalem. In time "Zion" became synonymous with Jerusalem, and ultimately in a poetic/religious sense it came to refer to Israel. Thus, in 1 Peter 2: 6 we have "

" Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
   a cornerstone chosen and precious,
   and he who believes in Him will
   not be put to shame."

When we read in Sacred Scripture, references to the Temple in Jerusalem we might sub-consciously think of the atmosphere and size of a great Cathedral, of hushed reverence - but nothing could be further from the truth. The Temple in Jerusalem had much more in common with the pagan temples of the time but it outshone them in size and grandeur. And its bustling hive of activity had more in common perhaps with a Middle Eastern market.


But which one?  There were actually two (though not simultaneously) and some pedantically would say three.

The resolution to build a proper "House" for the Presence of God and for His ritual worship was an inspiration of King David - the event is recounted in 2 Samuel 7 :  David says to the Prophet Nathan...." See now, I dwell in a house of cedar,but the Ark of God dwells in a tent". The Prophet urges David to act according to his inspiration. But that night,  God instructs Nathan to go to David and say :

" Go and tell My servant David, " Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in?   6. I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for My dwelling. 7. In all places where I have moved with  all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the Judges of Israel whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying " Why have you not built Me a house of cedar? 8. Now therefore, thus shall you say to My servant David, "Thus says the Lord of hosts.I took you from the pasture,  from following the sheep, that you should be prince over My people Israel. 9 . and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you: and I will make for youa great name like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10. And I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly. 11. from the time that I appointed Judges over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12. When your days are fulfilled and you lay down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom .13. He shall build a house for My Name and I will establish his kingdom forever. 14. I will be his Father and he shall be My son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men: 15. but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. 16. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me ; your throne shall be established forever." 17.  In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David." 

King David's son was of  course Solomon , and it was Solomon who proceeded to build the Temple for the Dwelling Place of God in the midst of His people, and to house the Ark of the Covenant.

King David, though God would not have him build the Temple , did everything he could to ensure that his son Solomon had the resources, as we read in I Chronicles 29 :

" Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great; for the palace will not be for man but for the Lord God. 2. So I have provided for the house of my God, as far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze,  the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones, and marble. 3. Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own gold  and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give to the house of my God: 4. three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house 5. and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen, gold for the things of gold, and silver for the things of silver. Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself to-day to the Lord?"                                   

6. Then the heads of the fathers' houses made their freewill offerings , as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of the thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the King's work. 7. They gave for the service of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of of bronze , and a hundred thousand talents of iron. 8. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord , in the care of Jehi'el the Gershonite. 9. Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord; David the King also rejoiced greatly ." 
The Temple was built in 957 B.C.  The celebration of its dedication was an extraordinary event at which, it is recorded, 220,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep were sacrificed  and a Feast lasting 14 days was held. This great Temple stood until 586 B.C. when it was destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II.

49 Years later , in 537 B.C., The Babylonian Governor of the Province of Judea led 42, 360 Jews back from their Babylonian captivity and laid the foundations of the Second Temple. the aim was to re-build the Temple of Solomon. There were several Babylonian Kings during the period, with varying policies regarding the work - which led to varying levels of support for it. On occasions the cause of the policy changes, was due to Samaritan complaints about the favourable treatment the Jews were receiving.

In 516 B.C. the Temple was re-dedicated. The Jews were no longer a self-governing  people, but subjects of the Babylonian King. Yet at least they had the restoration of the worship of the One True God.

Nevertheless, all was not as it had been.

The Ark of the Covenant containing the stone tablets of the Commandments , the pot of Manna and Aaron's Rod had disappeared in the destruction of Solomon's Temple, as had other sacred objects. Also the Holy of Holies, which had been separated by a wall in Solomon's Temple, was now separated by a curtain or veil.

But, despite all that had been lost, it still contained the Menorah, the Table of the Showbread and the golden altar  of incense and the golden censers.  In addition, the Babylonian King Cyrus the Great had restored to the Jews many of the original vessels of gold stolen when Solomon's Temple was destroyed.

However , the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 22b) records that the Shekinah or settling Presence of God and the Ruach Ha Kodesh - the Spirit of Holiness were no longer present.


The Middle east being what it has always been, peace eluded Judea. The Babylonians were defeated by Alexander the Great and, upon his death , Judea became part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt until 200 B.C. when King Antiochus the Great of Syria defeated the Egyptians. The Syrians looted the Temple and stopped its religious services. In 167 B.C. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes ordered an altar to the pagan God Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordere pigs to be slaughtered on the altar of the Temple.

This desecration was part of the cause of the Maccabean Revolt against the Syrians, and the Temple was re-dedicated and became central to the Jewish Hasmonean Kingdom then established. But it was not long before there was a struggle over the succession to the Hasmonean throne, between Hyrcanus the High Priest and his younger brother Aristobulous. With the aid of King Aretas III of the Nabateans, Hyrcanus defeated his brother in battle and then laid siege to Jerusalem.

As luck would have it , Pompey the Great was in Syria at the time suppressing the Armenian invaders. He sent one of his officers into Judea to assess the situation there. Both Hyrcanus and Aristobobulous appealed to Pompey for support against the other. Pompey was not quick in responding after meeting with both of themin Damascus, and Aristobulous marched away with his Army. This was intolerable to the Romans. Pompey gave chase , and captured the young man. But his followers closed Jerusalem against Pompey's forces. This led Pompey to besiege the City in 63 B.C.

Hyrcanus too had supporters within the City and they contrived to open the gates to admit Pompey's Army. But Aristobulous' forces still held the walled Temple Mount and the rest of the Eastern City - the city of David. Pompey set about building a classical " wall of circumvallation" around the areas held by the Jews and established his camp inside the wall. With the aid of siege engines - Battering Rams, and Siege Towers - he set about attacking the Temple walls, driving the defenders from them with the aid of slingers - highly trained soldiers who fired stone and metal objects with great accuracy and devastating effect from their weapons. After three months they broke into the Temple complex and there slaughtered 12,000 Jews with very little loss of Roman life.

Temple services continued through the Siege. And, even when the City fell, the Romans allowed Temple services to continue. However Pompey himself, whether purposefully or inadvertently, went into the Holy of Holies thus defiling it. He ordered that the Priests should purify it and that services should be resumed.

The result of Pompey's conquest was the dismemberment of of the Kingdom of Judea. Pompey made Hyrcanus High Priest again but deprived him of Royal status. Rome, under Julius Caesar in 47 B.c. did finally recognise him as Ethnarch . Numerous territories had been stripped from Judea , including the ten Hellenistic cities which were formed into the Decapolis ( mentioned in Matt. 4 : 25, and in Mark 5:20 and 7:31). Losing parts of the coastal plain, Judea lost access to the Mediterranean.


Born in 73 B.C. King Herod lived until 4 B.C.

He was made King in  40 B.C. by the Roman Senate, but it was 37 B.C. before he established military control. 


Herod was not a Jew but an Idumean. He was bitterly resented by the Jews of all levels of society on this account and the consequences of it. Herod was a despotic ruler - extremely ruthless and harsh. The Jews particularly resented the fact that he built again temples out of his own funds , and flaunted Hellenistic culture in their faces, with a racecourse, and theatre etc. and lived an extravagant lifestyle. He disregarded aspects of the Law - for example removing the High Priest to replace him with his 17 yrs old son.

He was renowned as a great builder and was determined not only to re-build the Temple in Jerusalem , but, to do so in the grandest manner. He greatly expanded the platform of the Temple complex by filling in the space between the existing platform and an adjoining hill , and erecting truly massive retaining walls.

The Temple Priesthood were most concerned that Temple worship and sacrifices should not be interrupted by the work ( one might note that this was the source of Temple income) and that the Temple should not be defiled by workmen entering areas forbidden to those who were not Priests. Herod solved the problem by agreeing to the continuance of Temple worship and services and by drafting 1,000 of the Priestly Class to work as the engaged Masons and Builders. 

He engaged Greek, Roman and Egyptian designers to advise on the project, as well as the Jewish advisers on the subject of the Temple.
In the model above , there is not shown a low wall called "Soreg"which marked out the area in the broad outer court into which non Jews could not enter under pain of death as inscriptions recovered in 1871 archeological work record. Thus the " Court of the Gentiles was around the perimeter of the Soreg Wall and at the outer edges of the main broad court. Within the Soreg was the "Court of the Israelites".Looking toward the Temple proper, the first court we encounter was "The Court of the Women" next the walled "Court of the Priests" within which was the huge Altar of Sacrifice. (see below)Then came the Temple proper and , within that , at the rear, the Holy of Holies behind the Temple Veil.  On the extreme left of the platform the tiled building is the Royal Stoa which served the functions of a Roman Basilica for all manner of public, legal and commercial activities.


This structure was fundamental to the Jewish religion's practice of worship. But it is in its operation totally alien to anything we know.
In Solomon's Temple it stood 33 feet East of the Temple proper in The Court of the Priests as we have said. Jewish authorities speak of it as being three-tiered 10 Cubits (15 Feet) high and 32 Cubits ( 48 Feet) long at the base, and 24 Cubits (36 Feet) long at the centre. Wh was it so huge? Consider the volumes of animal sacrifices we have earlier mentioned , and you will quickly see that , particularly at Festival times the offering of the burnt sacrifices was a massive effort.

North of the Altar four rows of rings were fixed in the pavement to restrain the animals as they were slaughtered .Next came 8 marble tables for butchering and washing the carcasses, and at a higher level there were 8 pillars with hooks for suspending and flaying the carcasses (Middoth III,5-V,ii ; Talmud ,Shek. VI, 4) Laymen were only admitted to this Court while they laid their hands on the head of their Offering as it was sacrificed.

Herod's motive in mounting this project - the largest in the world of his time, was not religious devotion, but rather self -aggrandisement and it was true, it might have helped silence his conservative Jewish critics somewhat - but he had no real hope of ever winning them over.

He began the work in 19 B.C. Detailed work continued after his death and completion was only effected in A.D. 63  a short 7 years before its total destruction by the Roman Army under Titus.  However it is thought that work on the Temple proper was completed in the early years. This needs to be taken into account when we consider the Scribes' and the Pharisees' response to Jesus "It has taken 46 years to build this Temple , and will you raise it up in three days?" John 2:20 (RSVCE). It is generally agreed that Jesus was born around 6 to 3 B.C. Their response would then , have taken place in A.D. 27 when Jesus would have been about 30-32 yrs of age and this is plausible for the generally accepted period of His public life.


We started by referring to Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen and we come back to him again, for in considering the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus , he noted that we are told that the Veil of the Temple had been torn from "top to bottom" and that "only God could do that". He was very right once again. But what was this Veil? And what did it consist of?

It was no flimsy curtain. Sources tell us that when it was made or moved for cleaning, it took 13 men to carry it and scripture tells us that 300 Priests were involved in washing it.

Ritual at the Temple Veil

The purpose of the Veil was to screen the Holy of Holies , the inner Sanctum of the Temple proper from the eyes of all but the High Priest who himself entered it only once a year on the Feast of Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement for all sins. It had its origins in the Veil which hung before the Holy of Holies at the Tent of Meeting decreed by God:  

21   "and he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony ; as the Lord had commanded Moses." ( Exodus 40 : 21 ) RSVCE"

So we have the precise Authority for the existence and purpose of the Veil of the Holy of Holies . A little earlier we see that the making of the Veil was just as carefully prescribed :

" 31 " And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; in skilled work shall it be made, with cherubim, 32  and you shall hang it upon four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, upon four bases of silver. 33  And you shall hang the veil from the clasps , and bring the Ark of the Testimony in thither within the veil; and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy." ( Exodus 26 : 31-33) RSVCE." 

For the Jews the Holy of Holies was to be like Heaven, as it originally housed the very Presence of God. Hence it was so carefully and sublimely veiled, and entered only once a year by the High Priest.

But that was in Moses' time and for the portable Tent of Meeting and the Holy of Holies inside it. What of the time of Solomon's glorious Temple? And later of Herod's splendid Temple? This Heaven on Earth was to be far more substantial and the earlier veil would not nearly meet the needs of the case.

In Solomon's Temple, the height of the Temple proper was 30 Cubits(45 Feet  - 2 Kings 6:2), and, in Herod's Temple, this height had been raised to 40 Cubits (60 Feet). The width to be covered was 20 Cubits (30 Feet) in both cases.

There is conflicting evidence concerning the Temple Veil in Herod's Temple  According to the Mishna   (Yoma ,V,I) there was no partition wall before the Holy of Holies, but rather a doubled Veil with each side of it set I cubit( 1 Foot 6 Inches)  apart. Josephus on the other hand, who was of a recent High Priestly Family, should also be knowledgeable. He speaks of a single Veil at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Some have suggested that this indicates that a partition wall and door did exist. This would call for a smaller Veil closer to the original  dimensions. But this is only speculation.


We have seen above ample evidence of the sorry condition of the Jewish religion by the time of Our Lord's Crucifixion and Death in A.D. 33 . To be sure, the Temple was grander than ever before, but the dwelling Presence of God had long since departed, the Ark of the Covenant was lost - the original purpose of the Temple was gone. The formal practices of Temple worship by blood sacrifice continued, and the flow of taxes and donations continued. But the Priesthood it supported was greatly de-based: the High Priests were appointed by the Romans and money changed hands .Moreover, these Priests only held office at the pleasure of the Romans. The Priests had become very political creatures. In strictly religious matters, the Sadducees were the more devoted to the rituals of Temple worship and the Pharisees were dedicated to the minutiae of adherence to the Law in every last detail of their interpretation of it. No wonder Our Lord's scorn blazed forth for these people : " Hypocrites! ......Fools and blind!"(Matt 23 : 13-17) RSVCE


So far had things degenerated that we see actual armed combat between the forces of the High Priest Hyrcanus  and his younger brother Aristobulous as they contest the Scared Office. And this is what led Pompey to intervene and in due course to conquer the Holy City.

Small wonder that Jesus looked over Jerusalem with a heavy heart : 

" 37  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the Prophets and stoning those who were sent to you! How often would I have gathered  your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! " ( Matt. 23:37) RSVCE 

It was the fullness of time. At 3.00 pm in the afternoon of the first Good Friday Jesus gave up His Life, Which no-one could take from Him.

"51  And behold, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two , from top to bottom: and the earth shook and the rocks were split." ( Matt. 27:51) RSVCE

The rending of the Temple Veil from " Top to Bottom" as only God could do, signified the fulfilment of the Old Covenant . It was at an end. A New Covenant had begun.



The salvific Death of Jesus Christ on the Cross that afternoon signified the beginning of the New Covenant in His Blood. He had already foreshadowed this in His words of Consecration at the Last Supper......: "....My Blood, the Blood of the New Covenant , which is poured out for many"

Jesus had said :

"32 ....and I , when I am lifted up from the earth , will draw all men to myself" 

The ultimate Blood Sacrifice, the perfect Blood Sacrifice, the Eternal Blood Sacrifice had been made, God and Man were reconciled. The new Temple would be built up of human stones, the new Altar, Priest and Sacrifice is Jesus Christ Himself until He comes again . And God is truly glorified in these long end times!



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