Our Jewish Roots: The Day of Atonement

Then he shall slaughter the people's sin-offering goat, and bringing its blood inside the veil, he shall do with it as he did with the bullock's blood, sprinkling it on the propitiatory and before it.  ~Leviticus 16:15

Yom Kippur begins, this year, at sundown on September 21st.  This Day of Atonement, as prescribed in Leviticus and Numbers, has a very special, exceedingly significant meaning for Christians as we look back to the roots of our faith to understand how Christ fulfilled, and continues to fulfill, our need for propitiation.  Essentially, "propitiation" means to appease the wrath of God or to turn it away.  Yom Kippur, then, was the day in which God's people were able to atone for their sins through the sacrifices made, on their behalf, by the high priest.  In the book of Leviticus, this responsibility fell upon Aaron's shoulders and God provided very specific details on how the entire sacrificial process was to be carried out; from the requirement of the priest's ritual cleansing bath, to what the priest was to wear, to how and what the priest was to sacrifice.  Yom Kippur was evidence, and continues to be, that there are two very real aspects of God: mercy and justice.

The Day of Atonement has four major components: holy convocation (Num. 29:7); prayer and fasting (Lev. 23:27-29); offerings (Lev. 16); and a refrain from labor (Lev. 23:32).  As Christians, we are able to look at these aspects of Yom Kippur and see how we are also called to the occasion.  Whether gathered as a community in which we proclaim our faith through the Nicene Creed and accept the body of Christ through Communion, or during our own focused prayers and fasting on Good Friday, we are able to connect ourselves with God's call upon us as we accept atonement given through Christ's blood.

 Yom Kippur reminds us that Christ became, at once, the high priest, the blood, and the propitiation (or what is often called the "Mercy Seat").  He who knew no sin took on our sin; He became our "scapegoat."  We know Him to be — as we hear proclaimed in Mass — a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek.  His was the blood that the Father knew would be shed for our sins and the sins of all mankind.  Christ acquired the Church through His own blood (Acts 20:28) when, as the Mercy Seat, He appeased God's wrath, turning it away so that, through Him, we might be able to approach the Father.  It is during Yom Kippur that God's people would call out to be written in the book of life.  As Christians, we know that by God's grace and mercy, given through His Son's most precious blood, our names are written in the book of life and yet we are also reminded throughout Scripture of God's judgment (1 Cor. 11:32, Romans 2:5-8).  But ours is a loving Judge.  The very act of the Son becoming high priest, blood, and propitiation for us reveals the Father as both merciful and just. 

Contrary to what our secular world teaches, we cannot save ourselves; we cannot redeem mankind, but instead are called to be holy as our Creator is holy.  In that holiness we become merciful and kind to one another, witnessing in our words and actions the salvation available through Christ, and knowing that we serve a righteous and sovereign God.  May we, as Yom Kippur approaches, renew within our hearts the depths of gratitude for the beauty of His Precious Blood that makes atonement for us.

Cheryl Dickow


Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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  • Guest

    Thanks for the very enriching articles, Cheryl. As it is with trees in nature, where being in nutritious contact with the 'roots' leads to healthier trunk, branch, twig, leaf, flower, and fruit, our being in nutritious contact with our 'Jewish roots' can only make us healthier!

  • Guest

    Note to all: I have removed off topic posts.  An article like this can prompt very edifying conversation, so let's keep to that.

    Mary Kochan, Senior Editor, Catholic Exchange

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Our God is holy – He is always and everywhere our Holy of holies.

    Still, when I look at His Son splayed by nails and pure will submitted to perfect will on His Crucifix, it is singular statement that our God is Love. To give the Blood of His only begotten Son to give us perfect atonement.

    As our Holy of holies, in our priestly roles, Saint John made reference to our abiding in our Holy of holies. In Him we abide our atonement. The Holy of holies abides in us. For: Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1John 4: 15-16)

    Ahh – the perfect mercy of perfect love and holiness – In Your love, Lord, tuck me deep. In my love, abide with me forever.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I hope this post is on-topic.  If our faith is about anything, it is about redemption.  If  redemption is about anything, it is about the forgiveness of sin.  The Catholic sense of the foregiveness of sin rises from the High Holy Days of Yom Kippur.  Jewish authors differ somewhat as to what Judiasm taught in regard to Repentance (Testuva), but I am pretty safe in accepting the teaching of Maimonides (Hilkhos Teshuva). As a Jew approached Yom Kippur he was encouraged to reflect on his actions during the year, and to search his conscience for those ways and occasions when he might have offended others.  That sounds familiar to Catholics as they approach the confessional.  If the Jew found serious faults, he was encouraged, if possible, to seek out the offended person and ask for foregiveness. He was encouraged to seek the guidance of a rabbi if there was some question regarding the seriousness of the matter, or if the actual confession to the offended person might do more harm than good.  Some poor guy might be astonished to learned that his wife had been unfaithful.  Judiasm taught that you cannot seek forgivness from God until your are willing to give forgiveness to others.  Both the Jew that had offended, and the Jew that had been offended, were required to seek and give forgivness before they sought forgiveness at Yom Kippur. When Jesus taught the Jews how to pray, He included "and foregive us our trespasses as we foregive those who have traspassed against us." His Jewish audience, being familiar with that requisitie in Yom Kippur, understod exactly what Jesus was saying. 

    That sense of the need for forgiveness, of the need to acknowledge our sins, to confess our sins, and the essential need to be willing to foregive before we can expect to be foregiven, comes to us from Yom Kippur. 

    Some Jewish authors are fond of pointing out that Judiasm did not teach the need to seek forgivness from any authority (authoritive person) as Catholics do, and that our Sacrament is therefore unrelated to Teshuva.  If you reject Jesus as the Messiah that came to complete all the Feasts – including Yom Kippur – that might then be true.  What these Jewish authors fail to understand is that we accept Jesus as having that authority to complete Yom Kippur, because He took upon Himself those sins in a sort of once-and-for-all Yom Kippur.

    Also included in that Yom Kippur Feast comes our Catholic sense of "Baptism for the forgiveness of sin" – which I would hope Cheryl Dickow would elaborate on.  It is beatufiul and helps so much to understand the importance of what John the Baptist was preaching about Baptism. 

    Anyway, great article. When is the next one?

  • Guest


    Right now the columns are expected to be posted on the first and third Fridays of the month and while I do have a sense of the articles that will run in the next few months, I have noted your suggestion regarding Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  I'm always open to what the CE audience would like to read and welcome continued posts that strengthen and add to all of our journeys as followers of Christ.

     Peace and grace,