Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Day of Atonement

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(Hebrew Yom Hakkippurim. Vulgate, Dies Expiationum, and Dies Propitiationis - Leviticus 23:27-28)

The rites to be observed on the Day of Atonement are fully set forth in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 23:27-31, 25:9; Numbers 29:7-11). It was a most solemn fast, on which no food could be taken throughout the whole the day, and servile works were forbidden. It was kept on nineteenth day of Tischri, which falls in September/October. The sacrifices included a calf, a ram, and seven lambs (Numbers 29:8-11). But the distinctive ceremony of the day was the offering of the two goats.


He (Aaron) shall make the two buck-goats to stand before Lord, in the door of the tabernacle of the testimony: and casting lots upon them both, one to be offered to the Lord and the other to be the emissary-goat: That whose lot fell to be offered to the Lord, he shall offer for sin: But that whose lot was to be the emissary goat he shall present alive before the Lord, that he may pour out prayers upon him, and let him go into the wilderness . . . After he hath cleansed the sanctuary, and the tabernacle, and the altar, let him offer the living goat: And putting both hands upon his head, let him confess all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their offences and sins, and praying that they may light on his head, he shall turn him out by a man ready for it, into the desert. And when the goat hath carried all their iniquities into an uninhabited land, and shall be let go into the desert, Aaron shall return into the tabernacle of the testimony. (Leviticus 16:7-10, 20-23).

The general meaning of the ceremony is sufficiently shown in the text. But the details present some difficulty. The Vulgate caper emissarius, "emissary goat", represents the obscure Hebrew word Azazel, which occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Various attempts have been made to interpret its meaning. Some have taken it for the name of a place where the man who took the goat away used to throw it over a precipice, since its return was thought to forbode evil. Others, with better reason, take it for the name of an evil spirit; and in fact a spirit of this name is mentioned in the Apocryphal , and later in Jewish literature. On this interpretation-which, though by no means new, finds favour with modern critics-the idea of the ceremony would seem to be that the sins were sent back to the evil spirit to whose influence they owed their origin. It has been noted that somewhat similar rites of expiation have prevailed among heathen nations. And modern critics, who refer the above passages to the Priestly Code, and to a post-Exilic date, are disposed to regard the sending of the goat to Azazel as an adaptation of a pre-existing ceremonial. The significant ceremony observed on this solemn Day of Atonement does but give a greater prominence to that need of satisfaction and expiation which was present in all the ordinary sin-offerings. All these sacrifices for sin, as we learn from the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, were figures of the great Sacrifice to come. In like manner these Jewish rites of atonement speak to us of the Cross of Christ, and of the propitiatory Sacrifice which is daily renewed in a bloodless manner on the Eucharistic Altar. For this reason it may be of interest to note, with Provost Maltzew, that the Jewish prayers used on the Day of Atonement foreshadow the common commemoration of the saints and the faithful departed in our liturgies (Die Liturgien der orthodox-katholischen Kirche des Morgenlandes, 252).

W.H. KENT