"Communion of the Apostles" by Fra Angelico (1440-41).
Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1 Cor 11:23-26
Shortly after my wife and I entered the Catholic Church in
1997, I had a conversation with an Evangelical friend that was as disconcerting
as it was friendly. A.J., who I met in Bible college several years earlier, was
curious about the Catholic doctrine that the Eucharist is the true Body and
Blood of Jesus Christ. I say “curious” because A.J., unlike some of my other
Protestant friends, was not really bothered or offended by this belief, merely
puzzled. After much discussion, he said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I
believe that Communion is symbolic, and you believe it is more than a symbol.
But, either way, we’re both Christians.”
His comment surprised me because it was readily evident to
meas it is to many Protestantsthat the Catholic belief in the Eucharist
(shared by Eastern Orthodox and Ancient Oriental Christians) is an “all or
nothing” proposition. If the Eucharist is Jesus, it calls for a response of
humble acceptance; if the Eucharist is not really Jesus, it is an idolatrous
offense against Godworshipping bread and wine as though they are somehow
On this feast day celebrating the Most Holy Body and Blood
of Christ, the readings reveal, in different ways, the truthfulness of the
ancient and consistent belief in the Eucharist. It is fitting that this great
mystery has ancient roots in one of most mysterious of all biblical figures:
the priest Melchizedek, who makes just one historical appearance in the
Scriptures (Gen. 14:18-20), is mentioned once more in the Old Testament (Ps.
110:4), and then reappears in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the
Having just left the battlefield, Abram encountered the
“king of Salem”, who was also a “priest of God Most High.” Melchizedek brought
bread and wine to Abram and blessed the patriarch, and Abram responded with a
tithe. Both actions indicated Melchizedek’s superior position, as noted in the
letter to the Hebrews (Heb 7:1-7). It is the first time a priest is mentioned
in the Scriptures, several centuries before the Hebrews had a priesthood.
“The Christian tradition,” the Catechism states, “considers Melchizedek, ‘priest of God Most
High,’ as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique ‘high priest
after the order of Melchizedek’” (CCC 1544, 1333). Christ’s priesthood is
superior to the Aaronic priesthood. Because He is the Son of God and is God
Himself (the argument of Hebrews 1), His priesthood is validated by His eternal
nature and His infinite being (Heb. 7:16, 24ff). Melchizedek’s importance lies
in his loyalty to God Most High, the purity of his intentions, and his
sacrifice of bread and wine. He
represents a time when the priesthood was part of the natural order of family
structure. By establishing the New and universal covenant through His death and
resurrection, Jesus Christ formed a new and everlasting family of God, bound
not by ethnicity, but by grace and the Holy Spirit.
And because Jesus is God, He is able to give the household
of God His Body and Blood for the nourishment of soul and body, and for the
forgiveness of sins. By providing this Eucharistic banquet, a foretaste of the
Kingdom of God, He fulfills the promise of a worldwide family of God
foreshadowed in the person of the king-priest Melchizedek. The feeding of the
five thousand, described in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, anticipates and
represents the sacrament of the Eucharist, as Christ miraculously feedswith the
assisting hands and efforts of His priests, the Apostlesthose who hunger to
hear His words.
If the bread and wine remained unchanged, Christ would be, at best, equal to
Melchizedek. But the King of Kings said, “This is my body that is for you”, and
the High Priest declared, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The
Eucharist is Jesus Christ. That is the great truth we humbly celebrate
todayand every day we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the June 10, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)