Sunday Sermon for June 19, 2022; the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year C
Readings: Gen 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 19:11b-17
In the first reading today, we hear about a man named Melchizedek. On the one hand, he is a relatively unknown and seemingly unimportant character in Scripture. After all, what we read in the Book of Genesis is one of only two references to Melchizedek in the entire Old Testament. He is suddenly on the scene, appearing as if from nowhere, and engages in an exchange with Abraham. Melchizedek offers a sacrifice to the Lord on behalf of Abraham, the Patriarch, and blesses him; and Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of what he took in his defeat of the five kings who attacked him.
However, there is another side to this man that shows him to be of great importance in several ways. First, he is presented in Genesis as king of Salem and the priest of God Most High. He is the only person in Scripture with this title. Aaron, and those after him, have the title of High Priest, but only Melchizedek is the priest of God Most High. Second, Abraham apportions a tenth of what he has to this man who offers sacrifice on his behalf. Melchizedek then blesses Abraham.
The second mention of Melchizedek in the Old Testament is found in the Psalm for today. Psalm 110 is a Messianic Psalm, meaning that it refers to the Messiah. It tells us, regarding the Messiah, that he will be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. At the time David wrote this Psalm, the priesthood in the order of Aaron, that is, the Levitical priesthood, had been established for around 500 years. The Messiah would not be a priest in the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek.
St. Paul, in the only other place in all of Scripture that mentions Melchizedek, emphasizes this point. In Hebrews 5-7 he shows the correlations between Jesus and Melchizedek and discusses the differences in the two priestly orders. One very obvious difference is that the Jewish priests in the order of Aaron offered animal sacrifices. They offered other things, including cereal and drink offerings, in sacrifice, but the primary Jewish sacrifice was that of lambs. Melchizedek, as we see in the first reading, offered bread and wine. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that this is what Jesus offered at the Last Supper.
The Fathers of the Church tell us Melchizedek is Shem, the firstborn of Noah, and the great, great, great, great, great grandfather of Abraham. Melchizedek is more of a title than a name; Melchizedek means “Righteous King.” His priesthood goes back to the beginning and, as is evident from his identity, his is the priesthood exercised when Noah and his sons came off the Ark.
In the Gospel reading, St. Luke tells us about our Lord’s multiplication of the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men; this number did not include the women and children who would have been present, so the number may have been considerably higher. When all the people had eaten their fill, twelve wicker baskets were left over. What remained after thousands of people had eaten was many times more than what they had before anyone ate anything.
This is a prefiguration of the Holy Eucharist where for centuries our Lord has been providing infinitely more than what we begin with. We begin Mass with some bread and wine. In the priesthood of the Order of Melchizedek, this is what would be required as the offering. Since it is the primordial priesthood, it is the priesthood our Lord had from His birth. He was not merely the priest of God Most High, He is God Most High, He is the Priest, and He is the Victim for the sacrifice offered by the Priest (Himself). Jesus is still the Priest, since all Catholic Priests participate in His priesthood and continue to offer the sacrifice of our Lord to His Father, God Most High.
So, we offer God bread and wine. Our Lord, in turn, changes that offering into Himself, as St. John relates when he quotes our Lord as saying: “the bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world.” Since He is God, what we receive from Him in the Holy Eucharist is infinitely greater than what we offer Him in our sacrifice of bread and wine. Jesus gives us Himself. Remember, the Eucharist is not just a piece of our Lord’s Flesh, it is His entire Person: Body, Blood, soul, and divinity.
Our Lord’s priesthood, prefigured by Melchizedek, is the original priesthood that God Himself established for humanity. Melchizedek, and every validly ordained priest in the Church, is a priest of God Most High. The fruit of the sacrifice of each priest, and the gift received in Holy Communion, is Jesus, God Most High!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.