Book of Leviticus #10
Following the consecration of Aaron and his sons, we come face-to-face with the strange death of two priests: Nadab and Abihu; Aaron's sons.
Scripture is unremitting when it comes to the Holiness of God and His Sanctuary. No sooner had Aaron and his sons been consecrated, that Nadab and Abihu went before the altar of incense and used a "strange fire." What that fire was, the Bible does not tell us, presumably because its origin is of less importance than its use: to use any fire but the fire burning on the altar of sacrifices is a capital offense.
This incident is of great relevance for us, modern readers of the Bible on two fronts. First, it reminds us of the importance God attaches to the Liturgy (the Mass): the priest should not neglect the slightest detail, nor omit any part required by the Church, otherwise, Saint Augustine points out, he shall suffer great torments.
What about us, the lay folks? Are we exempt? Saint Peter reminds us that we too are priests, prophets, and kings in that we have a share with Christ. While this share is not sacerdotal in nature, it is nonetheless valid. When confronted with the punishment meted to Nadab and Abihu, we may be inclined to side with them, thinking their fate was unjust because, somehow, using incense from a strange fire and being burned by fire seems disproportionate to our own self-centered sense of justice.
In studying this part of the Book of Leviticus, we will reflect on this theme in particular and come to understand why the judgment of God was just in that case and what it means for us when we celebrate Mass.