Abridged from a work by: Rev. Msgr. Donald C. Hamburger
Model Five: The Scapegoat Sacrifice – Leviticus 16:20-22 – During the 40 Years in the Desert (Exodus)
The Book of Leviticus: The name “Leviticus” was bestowed on the third book of the Pentateuch by the ancient Greek translators because a good part of this book consists of sacrificial and other ritual laws prescribed for the priests of the tribe of Levi.
Leviticus brings in the idea of the “scapegoat:” (Lev. 16:20) and shows that the Lamb of God was used for many, many purposes of purification in the Old Testament by the law and the statute of God. None were so bad who could not be purified and none were so good that did not need to be purified by the blood of the Lamb.
Vicarious Model: Leviticus brings us the “Expiatory Model.” Although Abraham used a substitute animal for a sacrifice, it was not until centuries later that we find a clear-cut account of Yahweh assigning the Scapegoat Sacrifice. In this He designed for the Israelites a vicarious sacrifice in which a designated animal is sacrificed as a substitute and bears away the sins of the people. “We heard with our own ears, O God, our fathers have told us the story of the things you did in their days, you yourself, in days long ago.” (Ps. 44)
Time and Setting: The story was handed down by word of mouth. It was to Moses that God spoke after He had disciplined two of Aaron’s sons. So apparently, it was in the 13th century B.C. as the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land.
Name: From these Jewish antiquities we gain a new word: “Scapegoat.” It came to mean “a person or thing bearing blame for others,” in addition to its religious connotation.
The Prescribed Sacrifice: In Lev. Ch. 16 we read that God decreed the following: The priest was to select two goats and to cast lots. One was then signified to be sacrificed in the usual way on the altar, but the other to be used as a “scapegoat.” Placing both hands on its head, the priest prayed that all the sinful faults and transgressions of the Israelites were to be visited upon the beast. An attendant would then lead the “scapegoat” out into the wilderness where it would be left to die at the teeth of wild beasts or by dashing off a cliff to its death. The death of the scapegoat would thus destroy the sins and transgressions which had been placed upon it.
The laying on of hands was a symbolic representation of the transferring of sin and guilt to the animal that was to be sacrificed; which vicariously had to suffer instead of the man. This day came to be called “The Day of Atonement” or Yom Kippur in the Hebrew.
“Expiate” is a word we do not use much today but it comes from two Latin words; ex – meaning ‘out’ and piare – seeking to appease. Therefore, it is to purify with a sacred rite. Hence: to make complete satisfaction for (atonement for) as to expiate sin. The adjective “expiatory” means “having power, or the intention to make expiation; an atoning of sin.”
Vicarious comes from the Latin, vicis, to change the place or office of one person as assumed by another; such as vice-president. Hence for our purpose: performed or suffered by one person with results accruing to the benefit or advantage of another; substituted for, as a vicarious sacrifice.
Thus the scapegoat was made a vicarious sacrifice by God’s decree in that the Israelites use it as an expiatory sacrifice to atone for their transgressions and sins.
The animal, of itself, was not equal in value to be a substitute for all of them or for even one of them. To help clarify this difference, consider a story from one of Hitler’s death camps. St. Maximillian Kolbe, while in one of these camps, stepped forward to ask the guards selecting their quota of victims for the day, to let him take the place of one of those who had been marked for death. The reason he gave was that the man had a wife and children whereas he had none. The sacrifice was accepted and Fr. Maximillian was sent to his death “in place of” the other prisoner. Maximillian, then, was a vicarious sacrifice because it was one man substituted for the other (one man for another man).
Our heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit attested to Jesus becoming our “Scapegoat.” This took place when John the Baptist baptized Him in the river Jordan. The Baptizer admitted he recognized these heavenly signs and so called Him the “Lamb of God!”
Note the similarities peculiar to God’s rubrics (directions) in Leviticus 16 and to the Lamb’s sacrifice at Calvary.
- Although the other sacrifices were to be offered by Aaron in the temple, this one was to be outside in the wilderness! So too was Jesus taken outside the walls of the city to Golgotha to be sacrificed! “Jesus died outside the gate, to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the insult which he bore. For here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come. Through him let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which acknowledge his name.” (Heb. 13:12)
- As God chose which one of the goats was to be the Scapegoat, so Jesus was designated by God, the Father. “Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
- As the sins of all the Jewish people were laid upon the Scapegoat, so the sins of all mankind were placed on Jesus for our redemption. St. Peter wrote, “In His own body He brought your sins to the Cross, so that all of us, dead to sin, could live in accord with God’s will. By His wounds you were healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24) During the liturgy when the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to make our gifts Holy, he is to place his hands out (in the “scapegoat” sign) together with thumbs crossed, as if placing his hands on the head of a scapegoat. In this way he asks God to place on Him, who will soon be present during the consecration, the sins of the people who have gathered so that He might take their sins away.
- As this was to be an “everlasting ordinance” for the Jews, so Jesus at the Last Supper gave to the Apostles and to all of mankind a new and everlasting covenant which is to be offered in commemoration by the Apostles and their successors. This makes it possible for the ordinance of Leviticus to be carried out forever, though the Jewish sacrifices ended with the destruction of the Temple around A.D. 70.
- John the Evangelist was given a new Revelation of that commemoration appearing in the form of a Lamb standing before the throne of God in Heaven (Cf. Apoc. 5:6-9); standing as though slain, taking the scroll from ‘Him who sat upon the throne’ and all the living creatures in heaven and on earth were saying, “To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, and honor, and glory, and power, forever and ever.” (Cf. Apoc. 5:13) Is it any wonder that the rubric of the Traditional (Tridentine) Mass called for the server to ring the bells after the epiclesis and immediately after the consecration?
Importance to the Jews: That the Israelites held Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to be of the greatest importance can be judged from the following:
- It was the only day of the year that the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies: otherwise, he was forbidden under penalty of death.
- The High Priest must wear sacred vestments.
- A ritual bath was required by the High Priest prior to his entering the Holy of Holies.
- At the time of our Lord it was considered one of the major feasts, along with Passover and Pentecost.
- To this day the Jewish people have preserved a celebration of Yom Kippur as one of their High Holy Days.
Yom Kippur is the annual cleansing of the faults of the Chosen People; John the Baptist’s “Lamb of God” continually offers Himself as atonement for the sins of all peoples who will but believe.
Importance to Catholic Christians: Because of the Incarnation, Jesus is seen as the Scapegoat Sacrifice par excellence. In One Divine Person He embodies the perfect vicarious victim offered in expiation of the sins of all mankind, even Original Sin. He is that Promised One of Genesis 3:15 even more than could have been imagined at the time it was written.
Mary in her perfection made her supreme act of faith by replying to Gabriel’s startling message: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38) John the Evangelist sums it up in the Prologue of his Gospel: “ . . . the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God . . . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-14)
One Divine Person Who shares His Divine Nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in love and in obedience to His Father’s will, assumed our nature through Mary. Thus His Precious human Blood was sacrificed in expiation of our sin; a sacrifice offered by a Divine Person, Jesus Christ, and of infinite merit; a victim designated and chosen by His Father for our redemption. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” a victim pointed out by John the Baptizer: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world . . . this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
The Liturgical Application: After I learned of the “Scapegoat Sacrifice,” I more fully realized the copious meaning that a single, quiet, liturgical gesture could contain. When I was ordained in 1946 the offerings of the people were represented on the altar by the bread and the wine signified by the Latin word “Oblata.” Over them, the priest stretched his two open hands extended flatly with the thumbs crossed, right over left, as he prayed.
In this prayer he again referred to the “oblation” and then, made the sign of the cross five times with his right hand: once for each of the principle wounds in the Body of Christ on the Cross – the hands, feet and side.
This ceremony – the laying on of hands – is still indicated by the 1970 rubrics in all four Eucharistic prayers. The silent gesture expresses the sacrificial elements indicated by the “Scapegoat Model” and embodies a deeper mystical meaning.
Reverend Nicholas Gihr sums it up nicely:
“In the Mosaic worship the laying on of hands was a symbolic representation of the transferring of sin and guilt to the animal that was to be sacrificed, which vicariously had to suffer death instead of man. Here in the Holy Mass the laying on of hands has a similar object, and, therefore, in a visible and energetic way it deeply fixes the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, for it shows that Christ on the altar, in our place, for our sake, and on account of our sins offers Himself; — and, moreover, it indicates that we should unite ourselves with His Sacrifice, offering ourselves in it and along with it.” __ Pg. 626, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass