The Eucharist as the Meal of Melchizedek
from a talk by Scott Hahn
Another key foreshadowing of the Eucharist -- the sacrifice and food of the New
Covenant -- is the bread and wine offered by the priest Melchizedek. Let's see what this
means for our understanding of the Eucharist.
I'd like to call your attention to the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews, chapter 6 describes
how God had made a promise to Abraham and then he changed the promise to an oath. When God
swears an oath to Abraham, he makes a covenant. In Genesis 22:18, right after Abraham went
to Moriah to sacrifice his firstborn through Sarah, God prevented it and then swore an
oath saying, "Surely all the nations of the earth will be blessed through your
The New Testament begins, "This is Jesus Christ, the seed of the son of Abraham,
the Son of David." Jesus Christ is the one in and through whom God fulfills that oath
he swore to Abraham. Where did he swear it? On Moriah, where the temple was later built
and where Christ, the New Temple was later destroyed and rebuilt three days afterwards. It
talks about this oath and then it goes on to talk about the priesthood of Melchizedek. In
chapter 7, the first ten verses, it describes how Abraham met Melchizedek. It talks about
the meaning of his name. He's the king of righteousness, that's what Melchizedek means in
Hebrew. He is the King of Salem, which means peace, shalom. He is the priest of God Most
High and he blessed Abraham, so he was superior to Abraham. Everything is mentioned about
the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek except one thing, the bread and the wine.
Now we are going to ask a question. Is that because the bread and the wine was the only
thing that was unimportant about Melchizedek and Abraham meeting, or is it because the
importance of the bread and the wine is so great but so obvious that it goes without
saying? Let's study the next few chapters.
For one thing we already saw back in Hebrews 5, verses 5 and 6 where God has sworn an
oath to Jesus Christ. He says, "Thou art my Son. Today have I begotten thee."
And he also says in another place, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of
Melchizedek." To be God's Son is like the same thing as being a priest after the
order of Melchizedek. Remember way back in the Old Testament before the Golden Calf,
fathers were high priests and firstborn sons were priests under their authority. This
seemed to be the natural family pattern of Melchizedek. This is how the ancient Jews as
well as the ancient Church Fathers understood it.
Jesus Christ is not a Levite so Old Testament Jews might be tempted to say, "Well,
he can't be a priest, then." But Hebrews is talking all about the wilderness
generation under Moses and how they committed idolatry and rebelled against God and how
God sent all these punishments. The first rebellion was the Golden Calf, and the first
punishment was to take the priesthood away from the firstborn, which had been theirs for
centuries, and to give it to the Levites temporarily. What the writer of Hebrews is
suggesting is that Jesus Christ, God's Son, is righteous enough to restore the original
pattern of the father-son family priesthood, because this is a divine family that God,
through Christ, is adopting us into through the sacrifice of Christ.
He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. The word "order" does not mean
order like the Dominican Order. It means after the manner of Melchizedek's priesthood. The
writer goes on to make a big, sharp contrast between the Levitical priests who continue to
offer these animals in sacrifice. They had to offer. They had to kill. They had to
sacrifice millions of sheep, millions of goats and millions of cattle with millions of
gallons of blood running down through the temple. Why? It was all after and because of the
Golden Calf, whereas before all of that, you had a father and a son and a clean priesthood
that Melchizedek represents. "After the manner of Melchizedek" suggests that
Melchizedek's manner of priestly sacrifice was bread and wine. This is how all the early
Fathers understood this, as well.
Now, it says in Hebrews 7 in verse 18, "On the one hand a former commandment is
set aside because of its weakness and uselessness, for the law made nothing perfect. On
the other hand, a better hope is introduced through which we draw near to God." And
it was not without an oath and it talks about how God swore this oath, and the oath that
has been talked about is the oath that was sworn by God on Moriah where Christ was slain.
Verse 22: This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many
in number because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; whereas Jesus is
one. There's the single priesthood, and he lives forever up in heaven. But he holds his
priesthood permanently because he continues a priest forever. Consequently, he is able for
all times to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make
intercession for them.
"For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless,
unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need like those
high priests to offer sacrifices daily." In other words to kill and to have blood
shed continuously. "...first for his own sins and then for those of the people. He
did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their
weakness as high priests." That is the Levitical law that was given after the Golden
Calf, "...but the word of the oath which came later than the law appoints a son who
has been made perfect forever."
Now the point in what we are saying is this. We have such a high priest, one who is
seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. Notice that the Lamb is
the one enthroned in Revelation. The Lamb and the firstborn Son of the Passover is the
priest who ministers in a sanctuary, the heavenly sanctuary. He is a minister in a
sanctuary. It isn't complete. He is ministering in the heavenly sanctuary and the true
tabernacle which is set up not by man but by the Lord. "For every high priest is
appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. Hence it is necessary for this priest to have
something to offer."
I read that a hundred times before the obvious meaning hit me like a brick in the face.
He is a priest in heaven ministering now in the sanctuary and he's got something to offer
and he's continually offering it. He's just not bleeding and dying and suffering any more.
He's not killing any more animals, but he's continually offering the once and for all
sacrifice which is himself; but it's a continual sacrifice. It's a perpetual offering.
He's not dying, but he's still offering. That's exactly what the Catholic Church teaches
about the Mass.
In fact, we're going to be offering this sacrifice forever in and through and with
Christ. Not bloody animal sacrifices but our hearts and our souls and our bodies in union
with the One whose body and blood, soul and divinity are perfect and pure -- the only
acceptable sacrifice which makes our otherwise unacceptable sacrifices perfectly
acceptable. "Holy and righteous," Paul says. He goes on talking about the
superiority of the New Covenant that Christ established. "The days will come says the
Lord when I will establish a New Covenant with the House of Israel"
(Jer. 31:31). Verse 9, "Not like the covenant I made with your fathers on the day when I took them
by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. That covenant, they broke." When?
At the Golden Calf. The covenant that he made with them out of Egypt they broke at the
It won't be like that covenant because this firstborn Son won't break it, and that's
what makes it new. "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their
hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people." Verse 13, and in
speaking of the New Covenant he treats the first as obsolete and what is becoming obsolete
and growing old is ready to vanish away. The Old Testament only uses "New Covenant
one time. Jesus in the gospels only uses the phrase "New Covenant" one time.
When? At Passover time. Where? In the Upper Room. Why? To institute the Eucharist.
And so he goes on in Hebrews 9 to talk about the superiority. Back in the Old
Testament, verse 9, we read, "According to this Old Testament arrangement, gifts and
sacrifices were offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper. What is the
contrast implied? Back then sacrifices were offered which couldn't perfect the
worshipper's conscience, implying that in the New Covenant, what? Sacrifices are offered
which do perfect the conscience of the worshipper.
That's what the Eucharist does. It cleanses our soul. It wipes away all venial sin.
These Old Testament sacrifices, verse 10, deal only with food and drink and various
ablutions, baptismois, in the Greek, regulations for the body imposed until the time of
reformation. Do you know when the real Reformation came? Not in 1517. The real reformation
came in the Upper Room when the Eucharist was instituted, when the Catholic Church was
formed. The time of reformation wiped away the weak ineffective Old Testament sacrifices.
To do away with all sacrifices altogether? No. To initiate a new sacrifice which has
intrinsic power to cleanse our consciences.
Verse 11, now, "The one Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that
have come. Then through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with human
hands, that is not of this creation, he entered once and for all into the holy place, that
is heaven, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an
eternal redemption." He took his own blood up there. He's not bleeding in the sense
that he's suffering and dying, but he's up there as a Lamb looking as though he's been
slain, offering his own blood. That's a Eucharistic Passover sacrifice and that's why the
entire structure of Revelation is a Passover liturgy.
And it goes on to talk about the Old Testament's weakness in comparison with the New
Testament's power. "For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats
and bulls or with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how
much more shall the blood of Christ who through the Eternal Spirit offered himself without
blemish to God purify your conscience?" The body was cleansed externally in the Old
Testament sacrifices, but with Christ's Passover sacrifice which he continues to
administer up in the heavenly sanctuary, our consciences are cleansed as we offer and
receive that down here below on earth.
"Therefore," verse 15 says, "he is the mediator of a New Covenant."
He only said that word covenant one time. "This cup is the blood of the New
Covenant," when he instituted the Eucharist. That fulfilled Jeremiah 31. That's when
he offered what appeared to be bread and wine. That's when he became a new Melchizedek,
feeding the new children of Abraham so that through Abraham's seed, Jesus, all the nations
of the world, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Something which God had
sworn but had not performed until Christ, the son of Abraham, was sacrificed on Moriah on
the peak called Calvary.
And he began it in the Upper Room when he instituted the Eucharist which goes on and on
and on here on earth and in heaven above forever and ever. He is the mediator of this new,
everlasting covenant so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal
inheritance which goes back to the promise that God gave to Abraham. Verse 24, "For
Christ has entered not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into
heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf."
Abridged from Scott Hahn's audio and video tape presentation,
"Eucharist: Holy Meal" as it appears in the "Catholic Adult Education
on Video Program" with Scott and Kimberly Hahn.
Full text available in our library.
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Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.