Wednesday January 19, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17) Gospel (St. Mark 3:1-6)
In the first reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, we hear once again about the priesthood of Jesus and that Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. We need to ask the question, what exactly does that mean? Melchizedek is a man who is really only mentioned once in Sacred Scripture (that is, in his own lifetime). It is in Genesis 14 where he just simply arrives out of nowhere. Abraham gives him one-tenth of everything he has, and Melchizedek blesses him and then offers in sacrifice bread and wine. Bread and wine was not the normal sacrifice of the Jewish people, but this was long before the time of Abraham, and it was even longer obviously than before the time of Moses and Aaron when the Jewish priesthood was established. Prior to the disobedience of the Jewish people in the desert, every Jewish male was a priest, but their priesthood was taken away from them because of their disobedience. The only ones who stood up for the Lord in the time of the rebellion were the Levites, and therefore the priesthood was given to the Levites alone because they alone were zealous for the Lord.
Now as we look, then, at what Our Lord is doing, He is the fulfillment of all the promises and all the prophecies. We heard in the responsorial psalm one of those Messianic prophecies, the only other place in the Old Testament where Melchizedek’s name is mentioned, Psalm 110, where we are told that the Messiah would be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, not according to the order of Aaron. So it tells us a couple of things. Number one, creation is going to be restored to where it was supposed to be, that there is a priesthood the way it was in the beginning, not a priesthood because of the rebellion of the people but a priesthood that was going to be based on the way that God had intended things from the very beginning. If there is going to be a new covenant, Saint Paul says that there has to be a new priesthood. If there is a new priesthood, there also has to be a new sacrifice. If there is a new and entirely different kind of priesthood, you cannot offer the same sacrifice as the old kind of priesthood. And Saint Paul is very clear in telling us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin; it can only cover it up because the bulls and goats did not sin. It is human sin, and animal blood cannot cover that up. Only the blood of someone who is human can actually take away sin.
Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God as a sacrifice. If Jesus is going to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, then He too had to offer bread and wine, which is exactly what continues to be offered. But even perfecting the priesthood of Melchizedek, Jesus tells us in John 6, The bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world. And so He gives us His own self, His flesh and blood. He is not merely offering bread and wine, because bread and wine could not take away sin either, but only flesh and blood can. So, in the form of bread and wine, He continues to offer His own flesh and blood so that our sins can be forgiven, so that the sacrifice which will be pleasing to our heavenly Father and will take away sin and bring about salvation will continue to be offered.
What is important also to realize is that in the New Testament there is only one priesthood and there is only one sacrifice. In the Old Testament priesthood, every priest was his own priest; every priest offered his own individual separate sacrifice. You could only sacrifice a bull or a goat or whatever it would be once. Once the bull was sacrificed and burned, obviously there was no way you could sacrifice it again. But in the New Testament, there is only one priest, there is only one priesthood, and there is only one sacrifice. I am not my own priest. No Catholic priest in the world is his own priest. All of share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, all of us stand in the very Person of Jesus Christ, and therefore all of us offer the exact same sacrifice. At each Mass you go to, it is not a different sacrifice nor is it a new sacrifice. It is the exact same sacrifice. And it is not being offered again – it is being offered still. It is one continuous sacrifice, and that sacrifice is going to continue to be offered until the end of the world. The priest is the same: Jesus Christ. The victim is the same: Jesus Christ. And so we have the same priest, we have the same sacrifice, and we have the same result.
For each one of us to understand the nature of the priesthood of Christ and to understand the nature of the sacrifice that we offer, it is not something that just simply was made up, it is not something that is new and different and innovative, it is the way that things were intended to be from the beginning. And now in the restoration of the human race, each one of us can live in the way that we were intended from the beginning. Jesus makes that clear when He speaks about marriage. It is also clear with regard to the New Covenant. It is clear with regard to the new priesthood. It is clear with regard to the new sacrifice that things are restored in Christ. Each one of us, as we receive Holy Communion, as we unite ourselves with the sacrifice of Christ, are also restored to what we were intended to be so that we can live even in this world as godly people, as people who are called to rise above sin and live according to the way of Jesus Christ. This is, of course, something that is beyond us by our own selves, but it is not impossible for God. He has given to us everything we need to be able to live this way because He Himself is the priest, He is the sacrifice, He is the covenant, and He is the restoration of our being so that we can live according to the way that God intended from the beginning.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.