Sunday June 17, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Corpus Christi
Reading I (Genesis 14:18-20) Reading II (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Gospel (St. Luke 9:11b-17)
In the first reading today, we hear about a figure by the name of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is an interesting character because his name is mentioned only twice in the entire Old Testament. He comes up in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis. He seems to come out of nowhere and then we never hear of him again. He comes up also in the psalms. Psalm 110, which is what we prayed together in the Responsorial Psalm today, is the only other place in the entire Old Testament that we hear about Melchizedek. Melchizedek is an interesting figure, he is called the priest of God Most High. It is to him that Abram comes after he defeated the five kings who had teamed up against him. He gave to Melchizedek one-tenth of all the booty he had received when he defeated these five kings.
Saint Paul talks about Melchizedek in his letter to the Hebrews. There, he reminds us that the greater always blesses the lesser. Even though Abraham is considered to be the patriarch, the father of all, he is blessed by Melchizedek; stating, in other words, that Melchizedek is greater even than Abraham, whom they looked to as their father. This helps us to understand the nature of this figure, this man. There are many who believe that Melchizedek may, in fact, be Shem. Shem was the first-born son of Noah. If you read the Book of Genesis carefully, Shem is the only righteous first-born. When we think about the first-born son, he is the one that everything is supposed to go to, he is the one that everything revolves around in the Old Testament. It makes it more interesting that every single first-born son (except one in the Book of Genesis) winds up being a failure, a terrible failure, in fact, except for Shem. If you look at the number of years that Shem lived, he still would have been alive at the time of Abraham. He would have been about 500 years old, but he lived until he was about 600 or so. He still would have been around and would have been Abraham's great-great-great-great-grandfather. So, it would have been right along the same line and in that time they were considered to be priests. It would make sense that Abraham would know who he was, that he would turn to him as a patriarchal figure and look to him to offer sacrifice.
Now, the sacrifice that Melchizedek offers is the part that is so important because it is entirely different from the other Old Testament sacrifices. Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God. Saint Paul, when he is talking about Melchizedek and Jesus in his letter to the Hebrews, talks about the fact that there is a new priesthood. "If there is a new priesthood," he says, "that requires that there be a new covenant." If the old covenant has passed away, then the old priesthood with the old sacrifices has passed away. If we have a new priesthood, it implies that we have a new covenant. If we have a new covenant, we have a new sacrifice.
That is precisely what we are celebrating today on the Feast of Corpus Christi. We are celebrating the covenant, we are celebrating the sacrifice, and we are celebrating this new priesthood. It is not a priesthood of Aaron. It is not the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. Rather, it is an entirely different priesthood.
Remember, in the Old Testament, it started out that all of the Israelites were priests. But in their disobedience in the desert, when they bowed down to worship the golden calf, only the sons of the tribe of Levi stood up for God. So God stripped the priesthood from the other eleven tribes and said, "Only in Levi will there be priests." That was maintained until the time of Jesus and it was a priesthood by physical descent; you had to be a member of that tribe. But Jesus, of course, was a member of the tribe of Judah.
If you go back to Genesis 49, there you will see that when Israel is blessing his twelve sons, he does not give the blessing to his first-born; or his second, or his third. The blessing goes to his fourth-born child: Judah. To Judah is given a blessing that kings will rise from him and the scepter will never depart. So they were looking for the Messiah to come up from the tribe of Judah. They knew from Psalm 110, which is considered a Messianic psalm, that the Messiah was also going to be a priest. But not a priest according to the order of Aaron. He would not be a Levitical priest because he is from a different tribe. He was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, which means that when Jesus offered sacrifice, he would have to offer a sacrifice that was the same sacrifice as Melchizedek.
So He offered bread and wine. He didn't simply offer it as bread and wine, but rather he took bread and wine and offered the perfect sacrifice at the Passover. He combined the two orders of priesthood, in a sense, because at the Passover they offered a lamb without blemish - Jesus is the Passover Lamb without blemish; then He takes bread and wine and changes it into His own Body and Blood, and it is that sacrifice that is offered to the Father.
That is the same sacrifice that we continue to offer to our heavenly Father today. It is not another sacrifice. It is not a new sacrifice. It is the exact same sacrifice because it is sacramental; it is not physical. In other words, we are not crucifying Jesus again and again, rather He is being offered still. It is the same sacrifice that continues to be perpetuated throughout history and because it is not a physical sacrifice, but a sacramental and mystical sacrifice, it can be extended in that manner. When we receive Jesus in just a few moments, we are receiving Him just as His disciples did and just as Our Lady did when she received Holy Communion at the hands of Saint John. We receive Jesus Crucified, but we receive Him also as He is right now. In other words, we receive Jesus resurrected, ascended, and glorified.
When you receive Holy Communion today, realize the reality of what is happening in your soul. Jesus Christ, who is enthroned in Heaven, is entering into your soul in the fullness of His glory to make your heart His throne. Our soul, in essence, becomes Heaven for Him. Think of the dignity that is ours: God Himself, in all of His splendor and glory, comes in such a humble way and changes us. Just as He takes that humble bread and wine and changes it into Himself, He takes us, mere human creatures, and He makes us into His dwelling place. He makes our heart the throne upon which He is seated. He makes our soul the temple and He allows each one of us to bow down and worship Him and glorify Him, even in this life.
When we stop to think about what it is we are receiving and what it is we do at Mass, we realize it is a preparation for eternity because it is a foreshadow, a foretaste of what we will have forever. In just a few moments, right before Holy Communion, I will turn to you and hold up the Lord and say, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world." Those are the words of Saint John the Baptist, from the second chapter of Saint John's Gospel, when he points Jesus out to his disciples as He was walking by. That last little phrase is so important: Blessed are they who are called to the banquet of the Lamb. That comes from the Book of Revelation. It is talking about the marriage banquet, the feast of the Lamb, the banquet of the Lamb and the bride. Think of what Jesus is doing. That is what we are called to for eternity: the eternal marriage banquet. It will take place in your soul in just a few moments. And this is merely a foreshadowing. We cannot even begin to grasp the reality that takes place in our hearts and souls today when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. It is a mere fraction of what God has prepared for us for eternity.
But for now, what is important is that we recognize the truth of what it is and Who it is that we receive. This is not a symbol of Jesus. It is not a mere reminder for us or just an empty ritual we are going through so we can think about what awaits us in the future. It is a reality. It is Jesus Christ truly present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The fullness of His person is present in the Blessed Sacrament. That is Who we receive in Holy Communion. That is why we kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. That is the beauty of what we have here at Saint Agnes: to be able to kneel at the communion rail to receive Holy Communion. We do not stick our hand out to receive Jesus, but rather, He comes to us. You see the reverence we have when we receive Our Lord because it is not a symbol. That is not a piece of bread that you receive, it is Almighty God. That is why we must be in the state of grace. That is why we must have the proper disposition; we must have faith in the true presence of Jesus when we come forward to receive Him because it is not a mere symbol, it is not a sign, it is a reality. The truth is that it is Jesus, Almighty God, God made man, truly present under the form of bread so that we can receive Him. We can just ponder that, for the rest of our lives here on earth: It is merely a foreshadowing of Heaven.
For this reason, all I can do right now is plead with each one of you not only to take this one hour a week that we spend with Jesus at Mass on Sunday, but take time every single day to spend with Jesus. He is present in the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day in the tabernacles throughout the world. Here in Saint Paul and Minneapolis (if you want to think about miracles happening), we have more perpetual adoration than any place in the entire world taking place right here in the Twin Cities. Over 30 parishes now have perpetual adoration. There is no place that is so far from any one of us that it is a true inconvenience to get there. Any of us can go there, 24 hours a day the Lord is exposed in the monstrance. You can go anytime of the day or night and spend time with Jesus. Stop there on your way to or from work. Moms can bring their children during the daytime and go and adore the Lord for a little while, or go in the evening when one of the spouses can stay home with the children and the other can go and spend an hour with the Lord. Pray, be there with the Lord. That is what we are called to. If we really, truly believe that this is Jesus Christ, He would not sit here alone all week long. If we knew Jesus was coming down to earth right now, we would all go out to meet Him; but He is right there in the tabernacle, and we pay no attention.
So I plead with you, on behalf of the Lord: Come to Him. Not just once a week, but every day of the week. Come to Him in prayer, open your heart to Him, pour out your troubles to Him, and come to know Him. He said, "I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me. They hear My voice and they follow Me." How will we know Him and how will we know His voice unless we come to know Him in prayer, place ourselves before Him, and be united with Him? He is always there for us and He wants us now to be there with Him and for Him, and to recognize the truth of His presence. He is always there out of love for each one of us. He wants for us to make our hearts His throne and to worship Him like the angels and saints in Heaven.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.