How are priests to conduct themselves? What of their marital life? Who should they mourn? Who should they bury?
Chapters 21 and 22 of Leviticus complete the study we have begun with the consecration of Aaron and his sons. The Lord wishes his priests to follow a specific law of purity, beginning with marital commandments and finishing with burial instructions.
The code given here concerns priests and the High Priest who must follow even more stringent rules than his brethren.
As we study these laws, we must not lose track that their primary objective is not, as one might think, the purity and holiness of the priests. The purity of the priests is necessary to protect the sanctuary from contamination. This notion is strange to our ears, particularly Catholic ears because we take it for granted that nothing we do or the priest does could contaminate the Tabernacle.
True, and this is a stark difference between the liturgy of the Old Covenant and the New. The Old Covenant did not carry the necessary graces to cure leprosy or raise the dead: there, anyone who touches a leper becomes unclean but with the coming of Jesus all that changed: for Our Lord touched lepers and he did not become unclean: they were healed by the flow of actual grace.
So why do these instructions to the priests matter still? Because they are foreshadowing a code of interior holiness and by studying them we get a deeper understanding of what the Lord expects of us and of his priests today.