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The Beauty of the Sanctuary Veil

The Bridegroom and the Bride

Marriage is a beautiful thing and the exchange of vows, although important, doesn’t end the wedding. It wouldn’t be a marriage without a great feast – even Christ spoke of one in his parable of the King’s banquet. The covenant between Christ and Humanity is such a joyous marriage – so its recollection at every Sunday Mass should be rich in holy and appropriate celebration, just as any wedding should. And just as in a wedding the Bridegroom unveils his Bride upon the conclusion of their vows, our rich Chaldean Mass has Christ unveiling us, his Church and Bride for the New Covenant.

If you were being married, you wouldn’t want someone to unveil the Bride other than the Bridegroom. And yet in the unfortunate history of the Chaldean Church, when it is most brutally persecuted for its unending faithfulness to Christ, there have been calls to remove the unveiling of the curtain at the Lakhu Mara from the Chaldean Liturgy. To do so would be to ignore Christ’s right to us as His Bride. He unveiled us and made the Church His bride through His Blood, as St Paul clarifies in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:27) when he calls upon “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” If the unveiling was removed, the symbol of Christ’s love to the Church, shown by his death and resurrection, would be hidden from the faithful in the pews. It is no coincidence that the unveiling of the curtain at Mass happens at the Lakhu Mara, where we proclaim “you raise our bodies into life, you are the savior of our souls.”

The Sacrifice of Christ

150904_emmanuel1God tore the curtain at the Old Temple when Christ died on the Cross (Matt 27:51), and we sing Lakhu mara praising Christ’s sacrifice when the curtain opens at Mass. Should we provoke God’s jealousy by removing the symbol in our Mass exalting his tearing of the temple curtain, the divider between Man and God? If the Qurbana is shown to the people then why not also show its reconciling effect of bringing Man to God? It was the Qurbana that tore the temple curtain, so let this be remembered as part of the Chaldean Liturgy.

It is only natural that we would remember it, since we are a Church that enjoys doing what God tells us to do, but does it out of reverence for her King. Christ passed through the heavens (Heb 4:14). He did so as a “forerunner” (Heb 6:19), a proto-type for humanity to follow through, and our Chaldean liturgical restoration of 2006 does this when the Priest leads the people through the opening curtain at the Lakhu mara, towards the altar (which represents heaven on earth).  Because of this, Christ draws us to a new hope (Heb 7:19) since now we too can go to heaven.

The Chaldean Liturgical Reform of 2006, ever aware of imitating her Lord, has the Priest leading the people facing the curtain, crying out “Glory to God in the Highest, peace on earth [Luke 2:14] and good hope to men at all times and forever”. We remember the hope God gave us when His Son tore the divider between Man and God by dividing the curtain after the Priest says those words. Finally, the Priest passing through an opening curtain is nothing if it is not a simple and obvious presentation of when Christ, by his blood, passed through the heavens to sit at the right-hand side of God, our King, redeeming humanity and opening the barrier between humanity and God.


But if God tore the curtain at the temple, why should a curtain be placed in church? For the same reason that we celebrate the Qurbana every Sunday Mass – to bring this one time event into our timeline by re-presenting it every Sunday. As St Paul says, “He is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). The weekly celebration of the Qurbana brings the exact identical sacrifice & resurrection of Christ torn from the timeline into our present, so that Christ’s sacrifice is “once”, having occurred at that historic moment, and “for all” (Heb 7:27) when that historic moment is torn out of the timeline and its exact representation is brought into our presence.

The weekly Mass opening of a present curtain demonstrates to the faithful the reason for the sacrifice – our reconciliation to God, which in Mass is physically demonstrated by the Priest and Shamashe ascending up the altar. God also forgave our sins, yet this does not mean we completely ignore our sinful nature – we celebrate God’s mercy in wiping away our debts every Sunday Mass, and by listing our debts to God we make praise and attest to his generosity. Likewise, by putting up the curtain at the beginning of Mass, we praise God and attest to his infinite Love that he bridged such an infinitely large gulf between Man and God, and then we open the curtain.

Fulfilling the Plan of God

If the Old Law commanded us to build a Tabernacle and separate the holiest part of worship with a curtain, shall the New Law of Christ, which is superior to the Old Law, ignore God’s command to set up a curtain around the holiest place of worship? If so, what is to stop further and equally catastrophic changes to our worship such as removing altars and priests as Protestants have done?

Christ did not destroy the mechanism of worshiping God, he improved upon them, and his covenant with us is all the more superior for it, as St Paul says “But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises” (Heb 8:6).

Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies us to come closer to God (Heb 10:14), unlike the old sacrifices which did not. When the priest ascends up the altar at the Lakhu Mara, he represents Christ’s power tearing the divider between Man and God. Christ’s blood permitted Him to enter into the Most Holy Place (Heb 9:12) as celebrated in the opening of the curtain at each Mass. His entrance is far superior to the entrance of the Old High Priest into the Old Holy of Holies.

What is there to gain by removing an act of the utmost piety in recognizing Christ’s power over death? Therefore, God’s command to erect a division between His Holy presence and our presence is not irrelevant. On the contrary, if the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant, then the command to build a curtain is more pressing in the New Covenant than in the Old. Now the curtain opens not by our power as the Old High Priest performed in the shadow of a covenant, but by the power of Christ. So let Christ’s power be demonstrated in Mass, and let the curtain be opened, not removed.

Greater Glory

150904_emmanuel2St Paul spoke of the greater glory of the new covenant; in contrast, Moses had to hide his face because he had a fading and fleeting glory (2 Cor 3:13). If the Old Covenant has disappeared, the opening of the curtain at the Lakhu Mara represents the unveiling of the New Covenant, as a New Altar, Tabernacle and Inner Sanctuary of Christ is revealed to the world. Nor does the New Covenant require a veil to separate the sinful from the purity of God’s inner sanctum (Heb 10:17, Isaiah 59:1-2). The New Covenant needs no veil between Man and God, but this is because Jesus Christ had the power to tear it down and the Chaldean Liturgical Restoration of 2006 demonstrates this. The removal of the curtain and the barrier between Man & God is not and should not happen because someone decided to edit the liturgy. When this beautiful symbol is shown to the faithful during Mass, it calls upon us to turn toward the Lord and become unveiled, as St Paul says, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor 3:16). Let us be reminded to remove any barrier in our hearts and minds between us and God by the removal of the curtain barrier during Mass, rather than removing the entire rich symbol.

The glory of the new covenant is also demonstrated by the confidence we have to enter into God’s holy inner sanctuary (Heb 10:19-20) by Christ’s body and blood, a confidence demonstrated by the unveiling of the curtain at the start of Mass and our passing through it. Our commitment to God’s covenant is demonstrated by our passing through the curtain – how? In much the same way as anyone stepping forward to do battle for their King. You can either pass forward to God’s covenant, as symbolized by the opening procession through the opening curtain at Mass, or shrink back and incur God’s displeasure (Heb 10:38). The Prophets and Patriarchs lived by faith, welcoming from a distance things promised to them (Heb 11:13), and the fulfillment of this faith is shown when the curtain opens and the continuation of that faith, via the Priest and Shamashe, walks through to the inner sanctuary at Mass. The Patriarchs and Prophets did not have Jesus, but now we do, and we celebrate how blessed we are to have him in our lives when we open the curtain at Mass to the exaltations of Lakhu mara. It was closed, but now is opened – let us not ignore this reality by simply removing it.

The curtain’s closure at the start of Mass disciplines us; the curtain tells us what belongs to God and we are outside of it by our sinful nature, an unpleasant but legitimizing reminder that we are God’s children, for “if you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children” (Heb 12:8). We were expelled from Eden (Gen 3:23) and he is disciplining us for our mistakes as any loving father should. But when the curtain opens at Mass, we understand that He held the greatest treasure for us to inherit, He has forgiven us, He accepts us. In much the same way, a child grows and is given its inheritance by its Parents when it becomes an adult. The curtain’s separation gives an obvious understanding to the faithful of what is holy, separated by God from Man, and our passing through it a call to enter into holiness to see the Lord (Heb 12:14), which we do as we pass through the curtain towards the altar.

We enter into that holiness by the Procession through the curtain Mass because it also remembers the procession of Christ up to Calvary. His sacrifice on Golgotha tore the temple curtain, and so now we unveil the curtain at Mass. This remembers Calvary, the New Eden, the place where Christ’s flesh and blood became the Good Fruit for us to eat, and the Cross he carried became the Tree of Life. As the body of Christ was broken up for our salvation, so too was the veil at the temple and so too should the curtain at Sunday Mass.

Conclusion: The Cross of Christ and our Cross

Now we Chaldeans are carrying a Cross of our own; our people in Iraq are being crucified to it, sometimes literally and we are at a cross point; we can join our murderers in destroying our own tradition and religion, or we can embrace the beautiful and obedient theology our ancestors were given, theology that survived generations of persecution. The Chaldeans must choose to stand fast and follow in the footsteps of their Church Fathers, a path painted to them by God with the blood of our martyrs. When the world was flooded and dried, Noah fell naked into drunkenness. Shem, the great Ancestor of the Chaldeans, was blessed by Noah when he covered his Father’s sinful nakedness after he had become drunk. Ham, who refused to cover Noah’s nakedness was cursed. Shall the Chaldeans follow in the footsteps of Ham’s foreign descendents by removing the curtain, the symbol that shows God’s forgiveness of our sins, first shown by our nakedness in Eden? No! Let us Chaldeans walk in the path created by our Blessed Ancestor Shem; let us place the cloth upon Noah that covered the shame of Eden, and let the shame of Adam’s sin that brought the disgrace of nakedness upon us be removed by Christ’s sacrifice which tore the temple curtain in two, as the Lakhu Mara extols.

150904_emmanuel4Let us proceed to the opening curtain unveiling the Qurbana at Mass. Let us Chaldeans follow in the footsteps of our very own, Abraham of the Chaldeans, whose faithful procession up the mountain unveiled the sacrificial ram caught in thorns (Gen 22:13) that saved the future of Israel in his son, a foreshadowing of the sacrificial Lamb Christ, crowned by thorns. Let us Chaldeans remember that Isaac was blind when he blessed his son Jacob, who provided him with a last supper of flesh and wine, (Gen 27:33). We are blind to the inner sanctuary until we proclaim our covenant with God with Lakhu Mara ; then the curtain opens at Mass, just as Isaac was opened to the covenant his son Jacob obtained. At the point of the Lakhu Mara, we rise to the altar in memory of Christ’s rising from the dead – “you raise our bodies in to life”. It is true that each of these components is remembered more truthfully during the celebration of the Qurbana. Shall we strip away everything beautiful that leads up to the Qurbana by taking away the Curtain at Mass? Shall we take away what belongs to the Bridegroom, or shall we allow Him to Increase, as John the Baptist did? The curtain’s opening is no mere decoration; it is an obvious synthesis of the history of salvation culminating in Christ’s procession, sacrifice, resurrection, ascension.

Just as no wedding is complete without the love that brings two together, the salvation of Christ is best understood in the context of it’s history, the Old Testament. From Adam to John the Baptist, the promise of God reconciling man to himself given to the Patriarchs and Prophets is shown to the faithful when this dividing barrier opens up. Why should we impoverish ourselves by removing the symbol of God’s promise fulfilled? The absence of the curtain does not create as easily an understanding of what it means to walk up to the altar nor to sing Lakhu Mara as we rise up the steps after it is unveiled. Without the curtain, the power of Christ’s reconciling sacrifice is hidden, a pious recognition of Christ’s divine passage through heaven is lost and the faithful are not enriched by the history of salvation charged with setting the path of Christ straight (Mark1:1-3). Woe to those who would not enrich the minds of the faithful, as St Paul warns, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!”(1 Cor 9:16) For there is nothing gained in removing it but the loss of the entire history of salvation and holy symbol of our reconciliation to God. Let no man remove it saying it is nothing, for it was removed by the power of Christ, so that we eternally worship Him. All Glory and Praise be to Christ who unveils the curtain for us; let no other man dare touch it for it is as adulterous as a strange man unveiling the Bride in place of the Bridegroom. Let us celebrate it.