“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
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Ordinary of the Mass
Leprosy was one of the
great scourges of the ancient world. It caused people to lose all sensation,
sometimes even their sight. Loss of sensation caused people to injure
themselves—they could not feel the heat of boiling water, the sharpness of a
knife, or the sting of an animal bite. Such injuries caused more damage than
the disease itself.
In the Garden of Eden,
Adam and Eve were perfectly healthy—there was no disease. But with original
sin came all of the maladies human beings experience. Sin brought pain,
sickness, suffering, and even death. By the time of Moses, the Jewish people
had identified leprosy as a contagious disease and had identified the need
to isolate it's carriers from the general population.
In the Mosaic Law, God directed lepers to remain apart from the people, and
to warn them of their presence by ringing a bell. The Law recognized the
rare possibility that a leper might be spontaneously cured, but did not
allow the leper simply to declare himself cured. Since the Law viewed
sickness as a consequence of sin, it was left up to the priests of the
Temple to make a determination as to whether the leper had actually been
In the early days the
priesthood was somewhat informal. Sacrifice might be offered by the father
of a family, by the eldest son, or by a king—Abraham, Abel, and ,
Melchisedech are examples of such priests (and all three are mentioned in
the Canon of the Mass). But with the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the
Mosaic Law, God established that only the sons of Moses' brother Aaron could
serve as priests. At the same time, God appointed Levites—the sons of Jacob
and Leah—to assist the priests—a sort of “server,” or “deacon” in Catholic
The priestly sacrifices
in the Temple were offered for the same purposes we acknowledge in payer:
adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and atonement for sin. Again, since
leprosy was considered a consequence of sin, and since the priests were
responsible for the community's atonement for sin, the cure of lepers was to
be evaluated by the priests.
Even though modern
Christians accept a germ theory of disease and the possibility of healing
with medicine and surgery, we still must admit that sickness entered the
world through original sin. And Catholic priests offer the Holy Sacrifice of
the Cross for the same four purposes as the priests of the Temple:
adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and atonement for sin. And the Church has
us take on roles similar to those of the Jewish priests.
The priest is able to
hear confessions and forgive the sins of the penitent. In this connection,
we might think of sin as a sort of “spiritual leprosy.” That is not as
farfetched as it might sound at first. People who choose to remain in sin
tend to become infectious, spreading their errors and their bad behavior to
others. As the Jews avoided lepers, good Catholics will want to avoid the
unnecessary occasions of sin—which may include person's, places, and things
which induce them to sin. The best remedy for everyone concerned is frequent
Confession. This is as true today as it was in the time of the Apostles. So,
“Show yourself to the priest”!
Another close parallel
is the Sacrament of Extreme Unction—often called the Anointing of the Sick.
The Sacrament not only forgives sins, but in some cases will actually
restore health. I have had a number of people recover after being anointed.
Everyone dies eventually, but sometimes a few more months or even years are
granted. But please cooperate with the Church in this—if you or someone in
your care is seriously I'll, call the priest as soon as possible. There is
nothing sadder to a good priest than to get a call to schedule a funeral
without first being called to anoint the person. So, “Show yourself to
As I mentioned earlier,
Catholic priests offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross for the same four
purposes as the priests of the Temple: adoration, thanksgiving, petition,
and atonement for sin. Instead of animal sacrifice, we offer the unbloody
Sacrifice of the Mass—offering Jesus Christ to His Father. Here at Our Lady
of the Rosary, Mass is offered virtually every day. I do wish more people
would take advantage of the opportunity to stand daily with our Lord at the
foot of the Cross. Many weekdays there are only one or two in attendance.
So, once again I will say: “Show yourself to the priest”!