Did the Temple Veil Actually Tear?

Full Question

Was the tearing of the temple veil mentioned in three Gospels a literal, physical event, or is it meant to be symbolic of the reality that we can now enter the holy of holies due to Christ’s death on the cross?


The temple veil or curtain did literally tear, as the synoptic Gospels record (see, for example, Matthew 27:51). In addition, the event does signify that we can draw near to God, receiving him intimately as members of his Catholic Church in Holy Communion (see John 6:51-58; 1 Corinthians 11:23-33). We need not go to the temple in Jerusalem to have this intimate communion, for in the New Covenant Jesus’ body becomes “the definitive Temple” (CCC 593, 586). That is why the sacrifice of the Mass, which sacramentally “re-presents” Christ’s one paschal sacrifice (see CCC 1366-67), can be offered at any Catholic church in the world.

In the Old Covenant, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, i.e., the place inside the veil, and only on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16:1-34). Any other attempt would result in death (see Leviticus 16:1-2; Numbers 3:10, 18:7). But the temple veil was first torn in two, and then then the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the latter event definitively conveying that temple worship had given way to New Covenant worship.

By  Tom Nash



  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Tom Nash, you certainly can “believe” that the curtain tore, but you can’t state definitively that it did so because it’s unknowable. Yahweh-Jesus couldn’t ensure that a single original copy of the texts survived, so we have no idea what may have really happened, what might have been altered or added or simply fabricated.
    Tom can you provide us with text from Jewish (non-Christian) sources who can confirm that this happened to their temple? What about the earthquake, the sky turning dark and the dead people walking around – not a single historian took note of that? Other earthquakes were recorded, why not that one?

  2. Marly Reply

    I also interpret the Temple veil tearing as God’s grief over the killing of his only Son. As was (is) Hebrew tradition when mourning, they would tear their clothing.

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