HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, YEAR C (MAY 29)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
In the Mass most Sundays, just before the consecration of the bread and wine, we mention different sacrifices that were made in the Old Testament. One of those is the sacrifice of Melchizedek. Probably for most of us this would be a meaningless reference, as he is not one of the most known Biblical figures. In fact, we really don’t know anything about him really. He wasn’t Jewish because Abram had not yet founded the Jewish nation, but was a King of Salem and a believer in one God. While Salem is a place, it’s original meaning is ‘Peace’.
As we learn in the reading today, Abraham, who wasn’t yet Abraham, but still Abram, had just defeated three of his enemies when suddenly this Melchizedek shows up bringing Abram gifts of bread and wine to Abram’ hungry and thirsty men. Melchizedek blesses Abram by the One God who has helped Abram defeat his enemies. In return, Abram recognizes him as a priest of higher rank than himself and bestows upon him ten percent of all the booty they had collected.
We don’t hear of Melchizedek again in the Bible until the Psalms when he is referenced as a prototype of the Messiah, one who would be a priest forever.
Later, in a reading we do not hear today, Melchizedek is mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews where he becomes the mystic figure, fatherless and motherless, a prototype of the eternal priest without beginning and end. Similarly, Jesus is compared to Melchizedek, as he is of the same order – a priest forever, with no beginning or end. I even read one account that claimed that Jesus was Melchizedek who appeared to Abram in the form of a priest. Not sure that holds up, but an interesting thought.
In any case, we see here that Jesus is the priest – and what exactly is a priest? Throughout Biblical history and in our own times, a priest is the representative of the people who is the one who offers sacrifice and blessing to God in the name of the people. Jesus offered the final sacrifice to God, and in using bread and wine, allows his priests to participate in that sacrifice over and over again – one final, continual sacrifice to God to save and redeem God’s people. The bread and wine is the connection between Melchizedek and Jesus, of course.
Our second reading today repeats the formula for that sacrifice given to us by Jesus himself and celebrated by priests from the earliest times. St. Paul uses the same words that we use today at Mass, showing the continuity of that great and final sacrifice for salvation. I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t say it was passed on to him by the apostles, but states that he received it from Jesus himself. Paul’s final statement today in Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”, is the statement that ties all of the Masses that have been said throughout history to today’s Mass that we celebrate – that they are all one sacrifice – and that that sacrifice will be complete when Christ comes again.
The Gospel chosen today is the section of Luke that describes the miracle of the loaves and fishes which appears in all the Gospel accounts. As miraculous as it seems, the fact that it is in all the accounts seems to indicate the veracity of it. Now we don’t have bread and wine here, we have bread and fish, but the comparison is caught particularly in the words: [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” The breaking of the bread at Mass today is symbolic of the breaking of Jesus as well – his body broken for our sins. This feeding of the thousands becomes the Eucharist for John’s Gospel, in fact. He sees this event as establishing the Eucharist, and at the Passover dinner concentrates on Jesus ordaining his apostles to be servants of others.
So this feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus serves to remind us that the sacrifice is unending, that Jesus is a priest forever, and each Mass continues and let’s us participate in this life-giving sacrifice. Please remember that the Mass is life-giving. That is why coming to Mass on Sundays is so important. We are not here to be entertained, but to enter into the redeeming act of Jesus to the glory and honor of God, and to celebrate our own salvation through his death. I know we can easily take the Mass for granted. Some people say it is boring, and thats why we see so many attempts at entertainment at Mass in churches today. But that is to miss the whole point! It is repetitive, but not boring, if we immerse ourselves in exactly what is being played out and our participation in the greatest act ever done. Jesus death leads to glorification just as our Masses do as well. Let us try each week to concentrate on the words we have heard so many times, make them our own, and participate as fully as we can in this continuous and awe-inspiring sacrifice which has made our peace with God and opened the gates of heaven for us.
And this is the truly good news of the Eucharist today!