Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. An uncleanness; viz., such as was contracted in laying out the dead body, or touching it; or in going into the house, or assisting at the funeral, &c. (Challoner) — At the death. Hebrew, “for a soul;” by which name the carcass is here denoted, because it had once been ruled by the soul. (St. Augustine, q. 81.) This law related only to the family of Aaron, when no absolute necessity or near relationship required their attendance. When such offices of charity should be deemed defiling, it is not easy to say. But the ancients generally looked upon them in this light, chap. x. 6. Porphyrius enquired of Anebo, why the holy inspector touched not the dead, since in all sacred transactions, the death of animals generally intervenes. We know not the answer of this pretended prophet Egypt; and Jamblicus confesses, that he cannot resolve the difficulty. The Romans placed a branch of cypress before the door where a corpse was lying, lest any priest might see it unthinkingly, and be defiled. (Servius) “At their return from a funeral they sprinkled themselves with water, and passed over fire.” (Festus) The Rabbins say, that no one could be buried in Jerusalem, nor in the towns of the Levites, on account of the sanctity of those places, and for fear lest the priests might thus contract some uncleanness. (Calmet) — To account for all these regulations, we only need to observe that such was the will of God; and here it may surely be said, stat pro ratione voluntas. He might thus intend to exercise their obedience; to keep their minds from being too much depressed by the sight of the dead, and to remind us all that we ought carefully to avoid sin, which kills the soul, and renders us really unclean before God. (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Sister, of the same parents. (Vatable) — Husband; for if she have, he ought to bury his wife, and to mourn for her. To be deprived of these advantages, was then esteemed a great misfortune.
Ver. 4. Prince. Hebrew, “Let not the prince (of the priests, Acts xxiii. 5,) render himself unclean,” by attending the funerals of any of the people; or “let not the husband,” &c. He may be allowed to attend his wife to the grave: or, as others more probably assert, even this is not permitted. She is not one of the persons privileged, ver. 2, and Ezechiel xliv. 25. Ezechiel (xxiv. 16,) receives a command not to bewail the death of his wife. The Romans thought their priests would be defiled, by attending the funerals even of their own wives; and Sylla, going to dedicate a temple to Hercules, sent Metella a bill of divorce, and ordered her to be removed from his house, when she was just expiring. (Plutarch)
Ver. 5. Flesh. This would indicate an impotent grief, and want of patience. (Haydock) — They were not allowed to put on the usual signs of mourning, as the common people were, provided they did it not in honour of an idol, chap. xix. 27.
Ver. 7. Vile, (ver. 14,) defiled, (sordidam). Hebrew chalala, “a profane woman,” (Pagnin) or one of ill-fame; as captives, inn-keepers, are generally esteemed. Zone, means a common prostitute. (Josephus, [Antiquities?] iii. 3.) None of these fit matches for the priests.
Ver. 8. And offer. Hebrew addresses this to Moses. “Thou shalt sanctify him, therefore, because he offereth the bread of thy God.”
Ver. 9. Fire. Provided she be betrothed, and still in her father’s house; so that the infamy fall upon him. (Jonathan) — For if she be with her husband, she must undergo the usual punishment of stoning. Other young women received no corporal punishment for simple fornication: the man was bound to marry them, if the father consented; and, at any rate, he was forced to give them a dowry, Exodus xxii. 16. (Calmet) — But if the woman pretended falsely that they were virgins, they were stoned, Deuteronomy xxii. 20.
Ver. 10. Head. Septuagint, “by taking off his cidaris, or tiara.” He shall not shave his head, chap. x. 6. — Garments, at funerals, nor the sacred vestments at all. (Calmet)
Ver. 12. Places. This is to be understood in the same sense. He must not leave his sacred functions to attend any corpse whatever. Having the honour of representing God, and being his first minister on earth, the utmost purity is required of him. Inferior priests may mourn on some occasions; and the Levites are not distinguished, in this respect, from the people; to shew that God requires sanctity in his officers, proportionate to their exaltation. — Oil. Hebrew, “He is the Nozor; or the crown of the anointing oil of,” &c. Joseph has the title of Nazir, (Genesis xlix. 26,) which is borne by the prime ministers of the Eastern kings. Such is the high priest in the temple. Let Christian priests hence learn what sanctity will be required of them. But why is the pontiff forbidden to bury his father, since he obtains that dignity after his decease. St. Augustine (q. 83,) answers, that he was to be consecrated immediately after, that he might offer incense. Another might, however, perform that office. On some occasions, the high priest was deposed, or the dignity transferred to another family. Infirmities might also hinder him from performing the duty. (Calmet) — Priests must be detached, as much as possible, from all things which might divert them from their sacred offices. The greatest holiness is required of those who receive the body of Jesus Christ. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 13. Wife. Josephus says he could not divorce her. The Rabbins allow him only one wife at a time. It is said that Joiada had two. But that might be successively; and it is not certain that he was the high priest; (2 Paralipomenon xxiv. 3.; Calmet) though he has that title in the Vulgate, 2 Paralipomenon xxii. 11. (Haydock) — His wife must be an Isrealite. The Septuagint intimates, “of his own race.” But this is denied by others. He could not marry his brother’s widow, (Selden) nor a girl under twelve and a half. “The Egyptian priests marry only one, while others have as many wives as they please.” (Diodorus i.) (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Widow. Other priests might marry the widows of their fellow priests, Ezechiel xliv. 22.
Ver. 15. Nation. The wife of the high priest must be of noble birth, that he may speak to kings and princes with more authority. (Menochius) — Hebrew, “he shall not defile his race,” &c., by marrying one of another nation, or contrary to law. If he do, the children shall have no share in the priesthood.
Ver. 17. A blemish. These corporal defects or deformities, which disqualified the priests from officiating in the old law, were figures of the vices which priests are to beware of in the new law. (St. Gregory, Cura pastorum.) (Challoner) — The Rabbins reckon 140 blemishes on which the Sanhedrim had to pass sentence. They also require in the high priest superior beauty, strength, riches, and wisdom.
Ver. 18. Nose. Hebrew, “a flat nose, or any thing superfluous.” Septuagint, “the nose, (hand) or ears slit.” This verse rejects those whose members are too large, as the next does those who have them too small.
Ver. 20. Eyed. Hebrew dak, may denote “a dwarf.” Syriac, or something very thin, Exodus xvi. 14. — Pearl, (albuginem) whiteness. — Rupture, (herniosus). One perhaps troubled with the stone, (Menochius) whose testicles have been bruised, (Onkelos) or who has only one (Septuagint and Syriac).
Ver. 23. Veil, which separates the sanctuary from the court. The Athenians chose the most handsome man ot be the king of ceremonies; and the people of Eli appointed such only to carry the sacred vessels, &c. (Atheneus xiii. 2.) (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Ordinances relating to the priests.
1 The Lord said also to Moses: *Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and thou shalt say to them: Let not a priest incur an uncleanness at the death of his citizens:
2 But only for his kin, such as are near in blood, that is to say, for his father and for his mother, and for his son, and for his daughter, for his brother also,
3 And for a maiden sister, who hath had no husband:
4 But not even for the prince of his people, shall he do any thing that may make him unclean.
5 *Neither shall they shave their head, nor their beard, nor make incisions in their flesh.
6 They shall be holy to their God, and shall not profane his name: for they offer the burnt-offering of the Lord, and the bread of their God, and therefore they shall be holy.
7 *They shall not take to wife a harlot or a vile prostitute, nor one that has been put away from her husband: because they are consecrated to their God,
8 And offer the loaves of proposition. Let them therefore be holy, because I also am holy, the Lord, who sanctify them.
9 If the daughter of a priest be taken in whoredom, and dishonour the name of her father, she shall be burnt with fire.
10 The high priest, that is to say, the priest that is the greatest among his brethren, upon whose head the oil of unction hath been poured, and whose hands have been consecrated for the priesthood, and who hath been vested with the holy vestments, shall not uncover his head, he shall not rend his garments:
11 Nor shall he go in at all to any dead person: not even for his father, or his mother, shall he be defiled.
12 Neither shall he go out of the holy places, lest he defile the sanctuary of the Lord, because the oil of the holy unction of his God is upon him. I am the Lord.
13 *He shall take a virgin unto his wife:
14 But a widow or one that is divorced, or defiled, or a harlot, he shall not take, but a maid of his own people :
15 He shall not mingle the stock of his kindred with the common people of his nation: for I am the Lord who sanctify him.
16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
17 Say to Aaron: Whosoever of thy seed throughout their families, hath a blemish, he shall not offer bread to his God,
18 Neither shall he approach to minister to him: If he be blind, if he be lame, if he have a little, or a great, or a crooked nose,
19 If his foot, or if his hand be broken,
20 If he be crook-backed, or blear-eyed, or have a pearl in his eye, or a continual scab, or a dry scurf in his body, or a rupture:
21 Whosoever of the seed of Aaron the priest hath a blemish, he shall not approach to offer sacrifices to the Lord, nor bread to his God.
22 He shall eat nevertheless of the loaves that are offered in the sanctuary,
23 Yet so that he enter not within the veil, nor approach to the altar, because he hath a blemish, and he must not defile my sanctuary. I am the Lord who sanctify them.
24 Moses therefore spoke to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all Israel, all the things that had been commanded him.
1: Year of the World 2514.
5: Leviticus xix. 27.; Ezechiel xliv. 20.
7: Leviticus xix. 29.
13: Ezechiel xliv. 22.