Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord:
Reverence for the Eucharist
Today's first reading presents a meeting between Abram, later to be named
Abraham, and someone called Melchizedek.
Let's place this all in its biblical context. The setting is the area that we now call
the fertile crescent, from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers down through Syria, Lebanon,
Palestine and into Egypt. Back in the days of Abraham, perhaps eighteen hundred
years before Christ, this was an area of small city-states, often ruled by petty kings, and
migrating bands of people. Abraham was one of the leaders of a migrating people.
Only, he was different. He had been called by God to leave his homeland of Ur in
Chaldea to a place where the Lord would establish his chosen people. Chapters 12
through 25 of the Book of Genesis presents the known history of Abraham, his battles
against the enemies of God and his battle to be faithful to God. As we know, he is
victorious and becomes the father of the chosen people and the Father of Faith.
Abraham's story enters into the history of the world in chapter 14 with the
presentation of the great battle of Siddim, the battle of the kings, where nine kings met,
five against four. The four prevailed and Abraham's nephew, Lot, who was allied with
the King of Sodom, was taken prisoner by King Chedorlaomer of Elam and his three
royal allies. That's when Abraham got involved. One of Lot's men escaped and
pleaded with Abraham to rescue his nephew. Abraham pursued the four kings and, with
God's help, defeated them.
When Abraham returned from the battle, the five other kings met him to celebrate
his victory over their enemies. At this point a new king is presented. His name is
Melchizedek. He is called the King of Salem, a name in Hebrew derived from Shalom,
peace. Melchizedek is presented not just as a King, but as a priest of God the Most
High, God, the El Shaddai, the same One God whom Abraham served. Melchizedek
brought out an offering of gratitude, of thanksgiving, to God for Abraham. The offering
is bread and wine. Abraham recognizes Melchizedek's holiness. He also realizes that
he owed his victory over the four kings to God. He accepts Melchizedek's blessing and
gives him a tenth of all his possessions. By the way, this is the source of the biblical
concept of tithing. Seeing God as the source of all that we have, we return a tenth back
Back to Melchizedek. There is not much more to say. This is all that we know
about this Melchizedek. It is enough. Melchizedek is a priest and king chosen by God
to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for his faithful ones. The sacrifice is in the form of
bread and wine.
Christianity sees in Melchizedek a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Jesus, priest
and king, is the Eternal Priest and King of Kings who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving
for his faithful ones in the form of bread and wine. At the same time, Jesus is infinitely
greater than Melchizedek in that he is both the sacrifice and the offering.
Today we celebrate the Lord's gift, the bread and wine, the Eucharist. The
incident with Melchizedek can help us come to a deeper understanding of this mystery.
Melchizedek offered a gift of gratitude to God. Jesus's gift is called the Eucharist, a
name that means thanksgiving. When we receive communion we join the Lord in giving
thanks to God, the Most High, for his protection of his people.
Melchizedek's gift was offered for those who were faithful to God. The Eucharist
is the food that Jesus gives to his people, his faithful ones. It is not meant for those who
do not profess and live his faith. It is not proper for non-believers or part time believers
to take this gift. It is offered only to the faithful ones.
In the days of Melchizedek most offerings would consist in oxen or rams or
sheep. After the victim was slain and offered to God, the people would celebrate by
eating the sacrificed meat. A great feast would therefore be part of the celebration. But
Melchizedek offered bread and wine. There would not be a barbecue following his
prayers. Yet, Abraham saw in this sacrifice an eternal gift and valued it so much that he
gave a tenth of his belongings to Melchizedek.
The gift of the Lord, the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive is the greatest
gift possible. It is His sacrifice on the Cross made real in the Eucharist for us to eat and
with which to be nourished. Somehow or other, many of us have lost the wonder and
awe, the respect and reverence, that the Eucharist deserves. Just consider the number
of people who cease attending Church in the summer. They will respond, "We are good
people. We believe in God and that is all that matters." But the problem with their
argument is that there is no place for God's greatest gift, the Eucharist, in their lives.
The awe, the respect, the reverence for the Eucharist is missing from their lives.
But I do not have to look to others. There are times that the reverence for the
Eucharist is not all it should be in my life, as perhaps also in yours. Too often I prepare
for Mass focusing on the homily while not remembering that far more important than the
homily is the reception of the Word Made Flesh in Communion. Perhaps, too often you
join the line to receive communion without taking the time to consider what you are
doing or whom you are receiving. Too often people receive communion and then head
for the doors to beat the parking lot traffic.
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord was established in the
thirteenth century to promote respect and reverence for the Eucharist. The celebration
has retained its purpose. We need to stop today and consider our reception of
communion. We need to ask God to rekindle in us and in all our people the awe, the
respect, and the reverence that is fundamental to understanding the reality of the
sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Melchizedek, the King of Salem and priest of God the Most High offered bread
and wine and blessed Abraham for his faithfulness. And Abraham gave him a tenth of
his possessions. Abraham saw in Melchizedek the presence of God who had protected
him in battle and rewarded his faith. Psalm 110 promised that a time would come when
the people would be given a Messiah who would be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus Christ is this priest and king. His gift to his faithful ones, his gift of thanksgiving,
his Eucharist, is to be celebrated and treasured by us, the descendants of Abraham,
God's faithful people.