Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
An altar to burn incense. This burning of incense was an emblem of prayer, ascending to God from an inflamed heart. See Psalm cxl. 2; Apocalypse v. 8, and viii. 4. (Challoner) --- Nothing but incense was daily offered by the high priest upon this altar. On the day of expiation he touched the four corners with blood. It stood over-against the bread of proposition.
Height. Ezechiel (xli. 42,) describes his altar of incense, a cubit higher.
Grate, or covering. Some think the fire and incense were placed on this grate, and the ashes fell under the altar. But fire was taken hence, and put in the thuribles; (Numbers xvi. 17; Calmet) or a brazen thurible was placed on the fire, Leviticus x. 1. (Menochius) --- Walls, or sides, of setim-wood. --- Crown, cornice or moulding. See chap. xxv. 25.
Where, &c. Hence some infer, that its situation was in the most holy place. But God spoke also to Moses at the door of the sanctuary (chap. xxix. 42.; Haydock); and most people suppose, that it was placed out of the holy of holies, beside the veil. The golden censer, which St. Paul (Hebrews ix. 4,) tells us was within, might be that of Aaron, which was placed there after the sedition of Core, (Numbers xvi.) or one that might be left smoking before the ark, on the day of expiation. (Calmet) --- St. Augustine, &c., believe, however, that it was in the holy of holies. (q. 133.; Origen, hom. 19.; St. Gregory; 1 Kings xiv.; &c.)
Aaron, or some other priest. They did it by turns, and were bound to observe continence during the time of their ministry. (Leviticus xv. 16; Luke i. 9.) (Calmet)
Composition, than what is prescribed, ver. 34. (Menochius)
It. This altar, or this rite; all deserve a singular respect.
Sum. David perhaps neglected this injunction. (2 Kings xxiv; Josephus, Antiquities vii. 10.) Yet we do not read that Moses took the half sicle when he numbered the people, Numbers i. Whence others gather, that this sum was to be paid every year, as it was done in our Saviour's time, for the support of the temple, Matthew xvii. 23. Vespasian ordered the Jews to pay the same money for the capitol. (Josephus, Jewish Wars vii. 13.) After the captivity, the third part of a sicle was demanded, 2 Esdras x. 32. (Calmet)
Half a sicle. A sicle or shekel of silver, (which was also called a stater) according to the standard or weight of the sanctuary, which was the most just and exact, was half an ounce of silver; that is, about half a crown of English money. The obol, or gerah, was about three halfpence. (Challoner) --- A priest kept the weights and measures, 1 Paralipomenon xxiii. 29. The Egyptians and Romans took the like precaution to prevent any fraud; and Justinian required that such things should be kept in churches. Some have supposed, that the royal or common sicle was less than that of the sanctuary. But Moses admits of no distinction. (Leviticus xxvii. 25.; Ezechiel xiv. 12.) Perhaps the weights of the Egyptians, &c., might differ from this, which Moses therefore particularizes so well. (Calmet) --- Arbuthnot makes the weight of the sicle equal to 9 dwt. 2,57 gr. English Troy weight; and he values that of silver at 2s. 3,375d. sterling. (Haydock)
Rich. The life of every man is equal in the sight of God, and He will not give the rich occasion to despise his poor neighbour. Thus also the number of people would be ascertained. (Menochius)
Its foot also of brass, made of mirrors which the women gave, chap. xxxviii. 8. It was double; one vessel being shallower, to wash the feet &c., and the other containing a quantity of water, which was let out by pipes. The pagans had lavers also; and our holy-water vessels should remind us of that purity and holiness which became the house of God. (Haydock)
Feet. The priests went barefoot in the tabernacle. In the Misna we find the same law binds laymen. None were allowed to enter the temple of Diana, in Crete, with shoes on; and the Roman ladies followed the same custom, when they came down to the temple of Vesta. Huc pede matronam nudo descendere vidi. (Ovid, Fast. 6.) (Calmet) --- The priest is ordered to put off his shoes on Good Friday, out of respect for Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross. (Haydock)
Spices. Perfumes were probably first invented in Arabia and Egypt. Ovid makes Bacchus the author of bloody sacrifices, and of incense offered to Jupiter. (Fast. 3.) --- Myrrh. Hebrew, "the head of the myrrh of liberty," or such as flowed freely and was most excellent, free from any mixture. Sudant sponte....stacten dictam. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xii. 15. (Calmet) --- Stacte takes its name from distilling. (Menochius) --- Sicles; this is not expressed in the Hebrew, as this measure is commonly meant. --- Cinnamon, a plant extremely rare. Matthcole assures us, that it is not now to be found in Arabia, no more than balm in Judea. --- Calamus. Hebrew adds the epithet sweet-smelling both to cinnamon and calamus, or cane, the latter of which grows in the Indies. (Dioscor. i. 17.) That which druggists sell, under this name, is not a proper ingredient for ointments.
Cassia, not the common sort, which would spoil the perfumes, but the essence of iris, (Hebrew, kode) mentioned in the Septuagint; Ezechiel xxvii. 19; Josephus; &c. (Calmet)
Sanctified. But if he ought not to touch it, he shall be defiled the more: (Deuteronomy xxii. 9) a double effect, which we perceive in the Christian sacraments. (Calmet)
Holy unto me, or set apart for the persons and things employed in my service. (Haydock)
Of man. Some except the king of Juda, till the reign of Josias. (Rabbins) --- But they were anointed with common oil. (Menochius)
Cut off. Excommunicated, and deprived of all the privileges of the Israelites; (Calmet) or even put to death for his presumption. (Menochius)
Onycha. An aromatic root, shining like "the nail," or perhaps the bdellium of Arabia, which is clearer than that of the Indies. (Dioscor.; Gallen Medic.) It distills from a tree. Others affirm, that it is the shell of a fish which feeds on spikenard (spica nardi) in the watery places of India. --- Galbanum, an unctuous gum, of a strong but not very agreeable smell when alone. --- Frankincense, is a juice proceeding by incision from the trees of Saba. --- Weight. The Rabbins say 70 or 74 pounds of each.
Together. Hebrew literally, "salted," (Chaldean) as salt was to accompany all the sacrifices, Leviticus ii. 13. But it was not, perhaps, to be mixed with this perfume, no more than with the wine of libations. The word may signify "a thing used in embalming, pure and holy."
Place. On the table of perfumes, to be burnt morning and evening. (Calmet)