In our first reading from the book of Genesis we heard of Melchizedek, the mysterious priest-king of Jerusalem, whom the Psalmist (Ps. 110) would later refer to as a priest-for-ever of God Most High. This great figure, Melchizedek – whose name means King of righteousness – came to meet Abraham and his men as they were returning victorious from battle with Chedolaomar, the former overlord of the land. Abraham and his 300 strong force of warriors were exhausted after the battle, and Melchizedek arrived with bread and wine to refresh them.
Let us just stop here for a moment and wonder at the wisdom of our God! Our psalm reading today -- based on ancient traditions going back perhaps a thousand and more years before it was composed some 400 years before Jesus – puts Melchizedek before us as a King of Righteousness, a Priest of God Most High, bringing bread and wine to meet the battle weary Abraham and his exhausted men. Since Abraham is our father in faith, as St. Paul tells us and as we say in the canon of the Mass, who cannot recognize that here Melchizedek foreshadows Jesus? For Jesus comes to meet us, children of Abraham, wearied and wounded in our battle not merely with flesh and blood but, much more importantly, with Satan’s baleful power over the world and our very selves.
Jesus once took upon Himself our load of sin and death and, by rising from the dead, destroyed Satan’s dominion and power over us, before ascending to heaven in His own now glorious Body of flesh and blood and thereby opening up heavens portals to human kind once more. Now, Jesus comes to us offering a share in His victory and in His triumph through our faithful partaking of His bread and wine become the sacrament of His own most precious Body and Blood, the only food fit for the spiritual refreshment and eternal nourishment of all, who, like Abraham our father in faith, are answering God's call to journey towards a newly-promised and heavenly homeland.
People of God, my brothers and sisters in Christ, there we can catch a glimpse of God’s all-embracing wisdom and wondrous beauty; enough surely to encourage us to lovingly trust His great goodness and gratefully praise His most holy Name.
Next we are told that:
Melchizedek blessed Abram, with these words: "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand".
With such words we have some indication of the nature and purpose of our Eucharist; and we are helped in such an appreciation by taking note of the difference between Jesus’ fulfilment and that which Melchizedek had originally foreshadowed. Melchizedek was, we are told, a priest of God most High; a very mysterious figure indeed, but one who could not fail to do what all priests of ancient times were appointed and expected to do: bring God’s blessing down upon mankind in need. Such priests were also channels for ascending gifts of praise and sacrifice for God from men … but those gifts being offered up were not always expressions of pure praise and heart-felt thanksgiving, many being ultimately made simply to facilitate the bestowal of further targeted blessings from God.
When the time of fulfilment came, none could have imagined that the ultimate Priest of God most High would be His very own Son, made man; whereas Melchizedek had been a merely functional link between God and man, Jesus, on the other hand, is an infinitely Personal link uniting God and man in His very Self; and the reciprocal love between Jesus and His Father would always, and in everything, be the originating source, definitive model, and eternal fulfilment of every blessing received and expressed by men:
Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to people of good will.
Such is the Christian fulfilment of the original prophetic words of Melchizedek:
Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the Creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High Who delivered your foes into your hand.
Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to people of good will.
Such is Jesus' purpose present in Holy Communion: to give glory to His Father by bestowing blessing and -- through His Spirit -- salvation upon His disciples.
Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, it is our first duty on receiving Communion to join wholeheartedly with Jesus in giving praise and glory to God the Father Who, through the death and resurrection of His beloved and only-begotten Son, has saved us from death’s thraldom, and wills to protect and preserve us from the ever-recurring insidious power and poisonous presence of sin by His Eucharistic Gift of the Holy Spirit:
If, by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For you have received the Spirit of adoption through Whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:13-17)
In our response to Jesus' second purpose for our reception of Holy Communion, ‘peace to people of good will’, we must bear in mind the teaching of St. Paul who tells us:
Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith;
(God) redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3: 9, 14)
Notice that teaching of St. Paul, People of God: reception of the Eucharist only bears fruit on the basis of our faith; Jesus' purpose can only come to its fulfilment through our co-operating faith.
Jesus still provides food for His People through the unfailing faith of His immaculate Spouse, our Mother Church; but His demand for our personal and individual contribution still remains too, and the contribution each of us has to bring to the Eucharistic Table is our own faith in Jesus; a faith not simply to be presumed in adults but repeatedly, actively, renewed and deepened, if the food He gives us is to be absorbed and become spiritually fruitful in our lives.
God has redeemed us through Christ Jesus; from Whom, by faith and the Eucharist, we receive His promise of the Spirit Who will guide Mother Church into all truth, and form all of us, her children, into an abiding and ever-closer oneness with, and ever-surer likeness to, Jesus our Lord and Saviour, for the glory of the Father.
However, we too often think of ‘being one with Jesus’ in an exclusive sense: extending our individual commitment to Him in all situations; intensifying our personal aspirations towards, and deepening our personal love for, Him at all times. But there is more than that required, because Jesus prayed repeatedly and most explicitly that we should all enter into a true oneness-of-disciples, into the Church His Body, the fullness and crowning glory of which He Himself is, as its Head. Only as living members in and of that oneness, in that whole which is His Body because He is its Head, can we become, individually and personally, one with, like ‘unto’, Jesus.
I do not ask for these only but for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are One, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me. (John:17:20-23)
Our awareness of belonging to, and being in, the Church one with our brothers and sisters all over the world, should occupy a most serious part and be given most serious expression in our catholic living, as many people from very different backgrounds can show us. How often do you hear of those who have received blessings of all sorts committing themselves to great personal efforts to show their gratitude for what they have received? Why should terrorists, fanatics and radicals, be the only ones to claim bonds with brethren suffering the world over? Have not we Catholics and Christians thousands, indeed millions of co-members of the Body of Christ suffering deprivation and want, trials and persecutions, because of their – and our – faith?
On receiving Holy Communion, therefore, first of all be most eager and ready to give sincere thanks, glory, praise and honour, to our heavenly Father. Then, renewing your faith in Jesus’ presence and the Father’s goodness, welcome the Spirit whom Jesus bestows; for though Jesus' own Eucharistic Presence in us passes quickly, He comes, however, to bestow the abiding Spirit to remain with us in all the circumstances of our subsequent life. Welcome, therefore, open your heart to, both Jesus and His Gift; and pray that the Spirit may abide in you and rule in your life so that you may be radically re-formed in the likeness of Jesus for the glory of the Father in heaven.
Finally, never forget Mother Church. As we heard in the Gospel reading:
(Jesus) gave (what He had blessed) to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied.
It is still the same today: we are satisfied with heavenly food from the table prepared by Mother Church. The food is, indeed, from Jesus, but It is given and presented to us, as Jesus willed and established, through the priests of His Church. Jesus has promised that He will never forget His Church; and so, although children here on earth do easily and all too frequently forget to give thanks to and for those nearest and dearest to them, we who, as children of Mother Church, are disciples of Jesus aspiring to become true children of the heavenly Father, must never fail to thank God for Mother Church, and to ask His continued blessing on her, and on her world-wide family, whenever we receive God’s food from her table at the Eucharist sacrifice.