Sunday, June 2, 2013
Fr. Andersen on Corpus Christi: The Offering of Melchizedek
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR
June 2nd, 2013
In the beginning when God created man, Adam and Eve were in perfect communion with God and there was no death. But when they fell due to original sin, it is clear that God would require sacrifice. It is not clear how He required it. But we do know that from the very beginning Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, offered up the first fruits of the harvest and the flock. We can deduce that Adam, as their father, would have taught them to do so. These two sons copied their father in his priestly office. Abel was more attentive, more thoughtful. The sacrifice of Abel was more pleasing to God. Abel offered to God the first born of the flock. The blood of a lamb was poured out in the very beginning. God was pleased. Cain, the other brother, offered up the fruits of the harvest, but he put no sweat into the sacrifice. He did not make bread out of the wheat. He merely offered wheat in its natural state. He had not paid attention to his father’s instructions. Cain was jealous of Abel because God was more pleased with Abel. Cain put to death his brother the priest. Abel was both priest and victim, whose blood was shed; a type of Christ. Abel, the priest, never married, and never begat any children.
Adam begat another son, Seth, given in place of Abel. The last verse of Chapter 4 in Genesis tells us that “to Seth also was born a son, whom he called Enos: this man began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). In the Latin it says that he began to invoke the name of the Lord. This is an interesting sentence. Surely Adam and Seth had called upon the name of the Lord. What does this mean? How was Enos set apart from the other men in his family? It has been suggested that Enos be looked upon as the first liturgist, that is, the first author of some form of organized, public and solemn rites and ceremonies by which the world, as yet in its infancy, paid its debt of worship to the omnipotent Creator (cf. Graf, Ernest. The Priest at the Altar, 8-9).
Keep in mind that Adam is still alive. Enos, who invokes God in a liturgical sense, learns from his father Seth and from his grandfather, the first man, Adam. The source of revelation here is the word of Adam, handed down to his sons, to Seth and his sons after him. Among these sons was Enos, the originator of divine liturgy. In this same line came Henoch who walked with God in a way reminiscent of Adam. “Henoch lived altogether three hundred and sixty five years, the close friend of God; then God took him to himself, and he was seen no more” (Gen 5:24 [Ronald Knox trans]).
Listen to that. Henoch walked with God. God took him to himself and he was seen no more. What does that remind you of? Can you hear the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus disappeared and the disciples recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. Henoch walked with God, then God took him to Himself and he was seen no more. He became one with God through his ministry to God. This is a description of the priestly office.
From this same line of sons comes Noah. In Genesis 8:20ff we learn that “Noah built an altar to the Lord, and chose out beasts that were clean and birds that were clean, and made burnt offerings there. And the Lord, smelling such a scent as pleased him, made the resolve, Never again will I plague the earth on man’s account.”
Now Noah was of the line of Seth, son of Adam. The sons of Noah preserved the revelation given to Adam and handed down to his sons before the flood. The three sons of Noah are the link to the priestly patriarchial worship before the flood. This in part might explain the existence of Melchizedek. In our first reading today, Abraham meets Melchizedek, “priest of the most High God” (Gen 14:18). This mysterious priest offers up bread and wine. Who is he? Where does he fit into the story. He has credentials as a priest. We know that his sacrifice is pleasing to God and he seems to know what he is doing, but then we do not hear much about him again for about 1000 years until King David composes a psalm about him. What is interesting is that Melchizedek’s sacrifice is similar to this Holy Sacrifice offered today on this altar. But it is not like the sacrifice of Moses, who was commanded to offer the blood of a lamb. Moses’ sacrifice was like Abel’s.
I think this gives us a clue as to why Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable. Cain offered up the fruit of the earth: wheat in its natural state. His sacrifice was not acceptable to God. Melchizedek offers up bread and wine. Bread is fruit of the earth and work of human hands. So is wine. The sacrifice of bread and wine appears only dimly in the mists of history as the early patriarchal worship handed down somehow from Adam, from before the flood (cf. Meagher, How Christ Said the First Mass, p. 218).
So who is Melchizedek? He was the king of Salem, which later came to be known as Jerusalem. St. Paul writes: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but likened unto the Son of God, he continues a priest forever.” He was a priest not according to the priesthood of Aaron which slaughtered countless animals in bloody sacrifice. No, he was a priest who offered the same offering that our Lord offered: bread and wine (cf. Meagher 219). Many have speculated that Melchizedek was an angel, or perhaps the Holy Spirit (cf. 218). Others have speculated that he was the oldest son of Noah (cf. 219).
Rabbinical writers wrote of Shem, the first born son of Noah, who by right inherited his father’s property, kingship and priesthood. Shem was born before the flood and was an adult when Noah built the ark. After the flood, according to the calculations of years in the scriptures, Shem was still living at the time of Abraham (cf. 220f). Shem had come to be known by the Canaanites as “The Just King” which in their language is Melchizedek (cf. 223). So, he was "the last link to the world before the flood. No writing, record, or monument survived of the ages before God wiped out the world’s wickedness with the waters" of the deluge (223). But Shem, being the eldest son, was the "sole depository and heir of all his father’s learning, property and priesthood" (223).
Abraham meets Melchizedek and it is from him that "he would learn Adam’s religion, the story of creation, the fall of man, the prophecy of the Redeemer, the story of the world before the flood. According to patriarchal custom, these truths passed down to Isaac, Jacob, to the Hebrews as traditions, until Moses gathered them up in the Book of Genesis" (Meagher 224). Moses then received from God an altogether new and full cult of worship that was liturgical and involved the sacrifice of animals. But it also involved the show bread, a remnant of the bread sacrificed by Melchizedek. The show bread was also called the “bread of the presence” or literally the “bread of the face” (cf. 93) It was lined up on a special golden altar in the temple. Twelve loaves of showbread were placed there each week with Frankincense burning before them as an offering to God. Each week, the priests would consume the 12 loaves of bread as they brought fresh loaves to replace them (cf. 93-94). In this we see a type of the 12 baskets of bread in the gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves. 12 baskets of bread were left over after all had eaten their fill. Jesus was pointing towards a greater showbread, a greater bread of a greater presence. These were the twelve men He had chosen to be the priests he would ordain at the Last Supper.
Melchizedek was a different kind of priest than Aaron and his sons. The priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ was according to that of Melchizedek, but not that of Aaron (cf. 219). Psalm 109/110 says: You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek. This was written by King David 800 years after Melchizedek met Abraham. It pointed toward a greater priesthood, a greater sacrifice, a greater communion with a greater bread of presence: a true Presence. Presence of what? Well, the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We are here today to adore our Lord. Corpus Christi is a feast of adoration. Some will say that we are not supposed to adore our Lord at Mass. Well, they are wrong. There are four ends to the Mass and the first end of the Mass is adoration. Let us not be ashamed or embarrassed to adore our Lord, falling to our knees when we see Him. He is God and He has a right to receive that from us.
Unlike Adam and his sons, we are not deprived of seeing the glory of God. We see Him face to face in the Holy Eucharist, which transcends and fulfills the bread of the presence. This is not just the ‘bread of the face’ as in the Old Covenant. This is truly gazing upon the face of God. Our God is so generous and loving. He gives Himself completely. Let us give ourselves as completely as we are able and adore Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in this most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.