Contact with certain objects, as for instance a corpse or the bones of a dead person (Numbers 19), or certain physical conditions such as for instance those connected with the sexual life (Leviticus 15), made a person “unclean,” that is to say, unable to take part in divine worship and to associate with his fellowmen, for a longer or shorter duration of time, and to be restored to normal condition one had to undergo a cleansing or purification which varied according to the causes that had produced the state of legal uncleanness. The lighter form of uncleanness, resulting from touching an unclean person, lasted for one day; purification consisted in the washing of one’s clothes and bathing (Leviticus 15). A more serious form of uncleanness lasted for seven days and required different kinds of purifications. In the case of one who had touched a corpse, the water of aspersion or expiation containing the ashes of the red cow (Numbers 19) was to be used on the third and on the seventh day. The uncleanness connected with childbirth (Leviticus 12) required a sacrifice of a year-old lamb and one or two young pigeons or turtle doves. The ritual of the cleansing of a leper, far more complicated, consisted of ceremonies performed partly in the camp or city, and partly in the sanctuary (Leviticus 14). Besides the cases described above of purifications from legal uncleanness, we have in the Old Testament a number of other ceremonial cleansings prescribed to some classes of persons or for some special occasions, which may be regarded also as purifications. Such was the washing of hands and feet by the priests before entering the Tabernacle of Testimony and coming to the Altar (Exodus 30); or the bath of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). Of the same character was the washing of the garments imposed on the people as part of the preparations for the giving of the Law at Sinai (Exodus 19). Purifications, especially washing, would naturally suggest the idea of moral purification, and accordingly we find the expressions connected with ceremonial washings used in a metaphorical sense (Psalm 50; Isaiah 16).

MLA Citation

  • “purifications”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 August 2010. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://catholicsaints.info/purifications/>