For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
—Psalm 51: 16,17 (KJV)
This year (2019), Tuesday evening, October 8th at sundown, begins the first day of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Before my conversion to Catholicism I observed (as a secular Jew) only one religious holiday, Yom Kippur. My observance was not Orthodox, although I did and do now fast (note: Jewish fasts are more stringent than Catholic – no food or drink whatsoever). My fast this year will be intermediate between the Jewish and the Catholic. I’ll have coffee with milk (and maybe a slice of apple – after all, I am 89 years old!)
When I was younger, I’d go to some place far away from the city, think about the past year and ask the God in whom I did not quite believe to forgive me for all the sins and wrongs I had committed.
ATONEMENT IN THE JEWISH TRADITION AND THE 12 STEPS
In my observance of repentance (Hebrew: t’shuvah), I admitted I did wrong and asked forgiveness from God. However, this is only a part of the Yom Kippur atonement process. Orthodox Jews hold that there are three ways we can sin: against God, against our fellows, and against ourselves.
To atone for sins against God and ourselves, Jewish tradition requires that we have to resolve sincerely not to commit such sins in the future. With respect to sins against myself, I am supposed first, to forgive myself (hard to do in my case) and second, to set up a program whereby I will not commit that sin in the future.
To atone for sins against others, we have to apologize for hurts we have inflicted on them and ask for their forgiveness, and to make restitution when that is possible. Interestingly, any Twelve Step Program requires atonement, that we attempt to make amends for what we have done wrong:
Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” addictscience.com
Tradition gives the following Jewish practice for asking forgiveness from others: If the person you have asked for forgiveness doesn’t agree to forgive you after the first request, you can ask two more times. If the person still doesn’t forgive you, you can write it off, if you have made a sincere and effective effort to right the wrong you have done.
CONCORDANCE WITH CATHOLIC TEACHING
So, how do all those Jewish observances square with Catholic teaching and dogma about repentance to save us from sin: the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the sacrifice of Christ as the lamb of God.? As a Catholic, do I err or sin by fasting on Yom Kippur, making special prayers, and acts of atonement?
There are several important differences. First, as a Catholic, I acknowledge and glory in this fundamental dogma of the Church: Jesus Christ replaces the scapegoat that was offered by the high priest at the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Yom Kippur. He is the sacrificial lamb, who gave Himself up for our eternal life. He, who was without sin, took on the sins of world by His Passion.
Second, as a Catholic, I should not offer my repentance directly to God. My confession of sins and request for forgiveness is made to God through a priest, in persona Christi, to Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Much more can be said about the mental preparation for receiving absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the resolutions, the contrition, the restitution to those injured (as with Jewish teaching), but this is covered in the Catholic Catechism on this Sacrament .
AND IF THERE’S NO PRIEST?
Suppose a priest isn’t available: as the example in my Sacramental Theology class puts it, you’re on a sinking ship and no priest is available. What do you do then? The Church takes into account all contingencies. There is “an act of perfect contrition”:
Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed together with the resolution not to sin again.’ When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible (CCC 1451-52)
DIFFERENT OR SIMILAR?
So there are fundamental differences and there are similarities. Similarities in being contrite and resolving to do better in making atonement and restitution to those we have harmed. Differences in the mediator through whom we offer repentance, and in acknowledging a Savior who takes on our sins, including Original Sin.
And with this, “G’mar Hatima Tova”–may you be sealed in the Book of Life.