Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Year C: Genesis 14:18-20; Ps 116; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
With today’s solemnity, we are invited to reflect on the Holy Eucharist, by the Second Vatican Council labelled as “the source and summit of Christian life”. It makes Jesus Christ’s final and eternal sacrifice present to us, in order to literally enter into us to transform us, so that we already in space and time become partakers of God’s eternal life; independent of space and time.
The Holy Eucharist is not a small dish on a big smorgasbord, to pick as one “feels for”. It requires a context for the Eucharist to be what our Lord once instituted it to be; a context where we are helped to cooperate with the grace it confers. Today’s readings point at some decisive constituents of such a context: viz. the Church as home for all the seven sacraments, and the priesthood.
The first reading from the Book of Genesis told us about Melchizedek. After an important military victory, Abraham, our father in faith, then still called Abram, came to pay tribute to this Melchizedek, who was, as we heard, “king of Salem”and a priest who “brought bread and wine”. In Hebrew, Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” and Salem, precursor to the city of Jerusalem, means “peace”.
According to both Jewish and patristic tradition, Melchizedek is indeed a historic person, whose name was probably the regent name of Noah’s oldest son Shem, the then oldest living patriarch, i.e. also over Abraham. But the Church fathers in him also saw the pattern, the typology, uniting the Old and New Testaments: a righteous king of peace, who also is a priest, and who through an act with bread and wine gives thank to God for a victory.
We met this king in our second reading from First Corinthians, the Bible’s oldest account of the Last supper where Jesus institutes the Eucharist. We also met the true king of peace in today’s gospel, where Jesus with his bread miracle foreshadows Holy Communion as a meal where he, as it were, adds himself to the bread; and for which the apostles, without understanding everything happening, are called to be ministers.
The priestly status of Melchizedek implicates that around 1000 years before Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and the establishment of a priestly office for temple sacrifice in Jerusalem, there was an older, more original, priesthood. A priesthood that is re-established by Jesus when he, at his Last supper, sacrifices bread and wine to mirror his own sacrifice of himself on the cross; the perfect sacrifice, which will conquer death and erase our fear of it, and reconcile man to God.
Christ’s fulfilled priesthood consists of two parts; one general and one sacramental. The general priesthood includes all baptized Christians, women and men alike. It is expressed when we sacrifice ourselves by entrusting our lives to God, for him, and not the values of the world, to direct what we think, say and do. It becomes symbolically visible in the Offertory of the Mass, where the bread and wine carried forward to the altar represent us and the creation we are part of; our “sacrifice of thanksgiving”, about which today’s responsorial psalm sang. Christ offered his created body, at the Last supper identified with bread and wine, and as baptized, as Church, we constitute his body in the world and accordingly offer it, i.e. ourselves, for the will of the Father.
Then we have the sacramental priesthood, representing the head of the body, Christ himself, with the authority to make him present in particular matter to transform and strengthen the abilities of the general priesthood, i.e. the whole body, to carry out its task. Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, fulfilling all sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem, the ministry of the temple priest is merged with, and thus completed in, the sacramental priesthood. It is a secluded ministry, to which one is called; not a job to seek. The vocation does not make the person infallible and exalted, but he is turned into a sacrament, i.e. his material fragility is reserved for special use by God at particular occasions.
This is enabled by an ordination in unbroken faith from the apostles, in full unity with the visible office that Christ himself institutes for Peter and his successors as guarantor for the unity of the Church. The sacramental priesthood becomes symbolically visible by the fact that the priest is a man, representing Christ-the bridegroom united to the Church-the bride. Precisely because the Church cannot change any material element of any of the other sacraments that carry divine presence into the world, e.g. change the elements of the Eucharist into Coca-Cola and rice, she is not allowed to change the element Christ has elected for the priesthood. Christ’s sacramental priesthood merges the order of Melchizedek with the all-male Jewish temple priesthood, as a sign contrary to all the surrounding, pagan priesthoods that all included priestesses. The sacramental priesthood is Christ’s gift to the Church. And a gift is to be received in gratitude, not manipulated. Every Catholic is by the way bound to hold this belief about the sacramental priesthood, according to the Council of Trent.
Our confidence in Christ’s presence in his Church, precisely as the Church teaches, independent of our views and the current demands of the world, is the strongest sign of our entrustment of ourselves to Christ. Concretely by our “Amen” to the Eucharistic prayer, as a public agreement with everything the Church prays and petitions for. This full unity with the Catholic Church, formally and spiritually, is a precondition for receiving Holy Communion; combined with previous absolution for grave sins in the Sacrament of reconciliation.
This possibility is open for everybody. Every single human being. Without exception. Not on each one’s individual terms, but on the terms Christ once and for all established and commissioned to his Church to safeguard. But all who want to cease to protest, and entrust themselves, give themselves without reservations, to Christ in his Catholic Church, are indeed welcome. Welcome to be nourished by exactly the same Eucharist, celebrated as exactly the same public prayer and profession of faith, with exactly the same truth claims, all over the world, wherever the priesthood is sacramental and the celebration otherwise follows what the Church has directed.
But our Eucharistic communion in the Body of Christ is also a communion throughout the ages. We are nourished by the same heavenly food that nourished St. Peter and St. Paul, the Roman martyrs, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Birgitta of Sweden, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Mother Teresa, and all the saints. And this, thanks to an unbroken faith and proclamation, from the apostles until today; to the unity with the other six sacraments and under the visibility of the Petrine office, i.e. the Pope; i.e. thanks to all that, which, according to the Second Vatican Council, fully subsists only in the Holy Catholic Church. Amen.