We often forget that Old Testament priests were not primarily pastors or preachers. They were chiefly animal butchers.
Previously, we’ve looked at the Old Testament concept of “laying on of hands” as it relates to Catholic ordination. The laying of hands is act of re-creating or re-constituting him for a new supernatural work. This is required because priestly activity is a preparation for battle against death.
When we look at the vocation description of the Old Testament priest (Hebrew: kohen), we see that his chief vocation as described by Moses is to kill and butcher sacrificial animals.
Animals were killed (in the place of humans) to signify the future death and blood of the Messiah. This required OT priests to kill, cut, slice, and carry meat.
Being a butcher of large animals is hard work. I know because I tried it this past weekend.
My Personal Experience with Preparing Animals
This past weekend, I was on a hunting trip. [Warning: If you don’t like hunting, you may want to hit “delete” and dismiss me forever, but please keep reading.] Hunting is perhaps the most humane way to acquire food for your family. Unlike the meat you buy at the grocery store, wild animals live healthy, grass-fed lives without hormones, antibiotics, crowded stalls, and/or cages. Every year I take a large game animal and it literally feeds our family of seven children (we’re about to have eight) all year long. Moreover it is grass-fed and hormone free. It’s the highest quality meat on the planet.
This weekend I hunted an oryx. In order to bring that animal to the dinner table, one literally goes through the process detailed by Moses. You remove the hide. You remove the guts/intestines. You examine the innards for potential disease or harm. You can even examine the lymph nodes (I did). You prepare the meat.
The Hard Labor of Being an OT Priest
Then there is the hard labor. Lifting the animal. Moving the animal and then preparing the animal in safe and respectful way. Like the OT priests, there is over an hour or two of manual labor. I have no doubt that the OT priests were sweating and working hard. They were likely very muscular as they lifted, cut, and carried these large portions of ox and sheep. OT priests just didn’t do this once a year. They did it several times per day. These priests put Crossfit athletes to shame.
How Animal Sacrifice Relates to Christ
What’s impressive about animal sacrifice in the Old Testament is that it required hard work and strength. This OT priestly strength signifies the strength of Jesus Christ as the Divine Son of God. The Passion of Christ fulfills all the OT animal sacrifices. Christ didn’t just carry a bull or lamb to calvary. He carried the corpses of all mankind in His own life-giving Body. No priest in the OT was both sacrificer and sacrifice. The OT priest was not offeror and offered. The OT priest worked with a knife and blood all day long. But not his own blood.
In Christ we find the perfect union and the perfect labor of Adam in that He carries His own sacrifice within Him. This is why we read in the OT, God saying, “For obedience is better than sacrifices.” (1 Sam 15:22). But in Christ they are one and the same. His obedience is His sacrifice.
The Eucharist as Sacrifice
In the New Testament the priest does not engage in the heavy labor of killing bulls and slaughter them. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He lifts bread and drinks from a chalice of joy. Saint Augustine said that the sacramental realities of the New Testament are fewer now in order to demonstrate the power and efficacy of the New Testament. If you met a priest of the Old Testament at 5pm, he’d be drenched in animal blood. Not so with a New Testament Catholic priest.
The Blood of the New Covenant is internal. It pours down within us. Christ is in us. This New Covenant is infinitely more powerful.
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PS: If you want to read about my experience hunting a 6 foot plus snake, click here.