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C. Intermediary for Prayer? The Catholic belief is that prayer must be directed through an intermediary -- i.e. confessing one’s sins to a priest. Jesus himself is an intermediary, as He said: “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” In Judaism, prayer is a totally private matter, between each individual and God. As the Bible says: Ps 145:18 “God is near to all who call unto Him.” Further, the Ten Commandments state: “You shall have no other gods BEFORE ME,” meaning that it is forbidden to set up a mediator between God and each man. (see Maimonides - Laws of Idolatry ch. 1)
Does Judaism believe that it is forbidden to set up a mediator between God and each man? Moses served as a mediator between God and the people Israel. Ex 32:30 “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” And Moses did more. He offered to sacrifice his own eternal life for the Israelites. Ex 32:31 “So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.’”
Obviously, God meant by Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me,” that we were not to believe any god could be above Him.
Jesus is indeed the mediator between God and man. 1 Tim 2:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” But can there be subordinate mediators?
When a large corporation brings in a mediator to mediate between management and labor, the man we read about in the newspapers is the chief mediator, but he cannot possibly cover all the issues alone. He brings along a subordinate mediator for staffing and retention issues, another for working conditions, another for health-care issues, and so on. Each subordinate mediator acts in the name of the chief mediator within his own sector, and reports problems and solutions back to the chief mediator.
Jesus could, of course, do it all. But He knows that when we sin and repent, we want a living man to talk with. Catholic teaching about Confession is that the priest hears sacramental confessions in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. He told Peter, Mt 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He repeated it to all of the twelve Apostles, Mt 18:18 “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” So we do not confess our sins and receive absolution from the priest, but from Christ Himself acting in the person of the priest.
Jesus did this because of His great love for us. During the Yom Kippur Temple service, the high priest’s scarlet cloth turned white God accepted the sacrifice and the people would rejoice. If it remained red, God did not accept the sacrifice, and all the people were distressed. The people could not know in advance whether God would accept their sacrifice in atonement for their sins and write them into the Book of Life. (Mishna Yoma 39) After the Temple fell in 70 AD there were no more sacrifices, and no way for the people to know whether God had written their names into the Book. But Jesus gave us back what the Temple destruction took away, the certainty of forgiveness. When the priest sees that the penitent before him is contrite, he prays this prayer:
Notice that the priest says, “I absolve you,” not “Christ absolves you.” The priest is letting Christ speak through him. When the priest says this prayer of absolution and the penitent completes the simple penitence that the priest has assigned, the penitent knows that he has been forgiven, just as the Jewish nation knew in the days of the Temple.
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