The C cycle of the Lectionary for Sunday Mass emphasizes the minister of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
In three short verses from the Book of Genesis, we are introduced to Melchizedek, king and high priest of Salem, later known as Jerusalem. Abram was returning home from a successful raid on some of the tribes of Siddim who had previously raided his tents and had kidnapped his nephew Lot. As he passed the city of Salem, Melchizedek feared that in the flush of his victory Abram would also attack his city. So he went out to meet Abram, offering bread and wine as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and invoked a blessing on him. Abram responded by sharing the spoils of victory with Melchizedek.
Names play an important role in Scripture. Their meanings reveal something of the significance of the actions performed. Melchizedek is a compound of two Hebrew words: malki’, which means my king, and sedek, which means righteous. His name, therefore, describes the character of his governance as king and high priest. Melchizedek was not a priest of the God of Israel but worshipped a creator god. So the rite that he celebrates with Abram is his personal way of both praising his god and bestowing his blessing upon Abram and his family with a prayer for safe conduct.
This short episode generates an unlikely response in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Melchizedek, after a passing mention in the Book of Genesis, is mentioned in the psalms and in the Letter to the Hebrews as a prefigurement of both the high priest of the Jerusalem Temple and the Davidic dynasty. In all probability, this short episode becomes important simply because of the fact that Salem becomes the most important city in Israel - Jerusalem. Of course, the responsorial psalm is the one psalm that mentions this little known figure as it sings the praise of God who raises up the dynasty of David to rule over Israel. Melchizedek becomes the first minister of the bread and wine sacrifice.
The reading from the first Letter to the Corinthians is the first written account of the institution of the Eucharist, written long before the Gospel accounts were written. The importance of this account lies in the fact that St. Paul clearly indicates that the Eucharist is handed down through the apostles and their successors, transmitted to the apostles by the Risen Lord Jesus. The Eucharist is given to us by God and handed down through the appointed ministers of the sacrament.
The familiar story of the feeding of the multitude from the Gospel of St. Luke is the Gospel passage for today. In his retelling of this event, St. Luke tells us that the Twelve asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd, to which he responded, “Give them some food yourselves.” Ever since Jesus uttered those words, it has been the ministry of the apostles and their successors to feed the flock, God’s chosen people, who are the Church.
In recent days, several commentators and writers have suggested that the only way for the Church to extricate itself from the scandals that have plagued us of late is through the elimination of the priesthood. Some have even suggested that Catholic Christians should respond to this crisis by boycott Sunday Eucharist. I fully understand the disgust that prompts this kind of response. However, doing away with the priesthood effectively cuts us off from the Eucharist. To do so would be sheer folly, for it would cut us off from Jesus. The Eucharist is the source of our faith for it is the memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Without the Eucharist, we would lose that which Jesus won for us in his Resurrection, access to our God and Father.
I believe that a better response lies in the name of the ancient king of Salem. We need to insure that the priesthood is restored to a right relationship to God and to the People of God. We need good and holy priests who can act as mediators between God and God’s people. While the Church takes steps to restore the good name of its priests, all of us, working and praying together, must pray that God will lead us to the righteousness that was once found in Melchizedek, in the Twelve apostles, and in all those who are called to be pastors of God’s people.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator