The Meal of Melchizedek

Author: 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 seed."

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 Golden Calf.

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.