Credo in Unum Deum

I Believe in One God

Catholic Priesthood and Eucharist

1.1 Of course, with a title like that, I am already going to disappoint since so much can be said (which for the last hundred plus years has not been said and is beginning to be said again). I do not have any grand notions that anyone will convert here because of this, but I do hope that, even if you disagree with it, you will see that the Church truly grounds Her beliefs in the revelation given to the Apostles by Almighty God. I thank you for reading this little offering.  It is really a summary of what I think Brant Pitre is getting at in some of his lectures and essays.  This isn’t my own work or original thought.  I don’t claim that I have come up with this on my own.

2.1 As I said before, what I will address is nothing new, but only “new” in the sense that we have forgotten about this “old” truth recently. Jesus was a priest. That is a fact we have known and have not forgotten. What that means truly is something that has been forgotten in certain quarters of the “Christian” world. I want to show that the fact that Jesus was (and is) a priest is related to the reconstitution of Israel around Himself; the renewal of Israel in the renewing of the covenant which he called the “New Covenant.” This has further implications as we regard His very mysterious words at the Last Supper in which He apparently offers Himself to the Father in a sacrificial act, a religious act, when He says “This is My Body, which is given for you; this is My Blood, which is poured out for you and for many.” It had not yet been done, yet He says His Flesh is and Blood is given/poured out; not will be but is. (Why this is best seen as a sacrificial act will be seen in Proposition 3, paragraphs 5.1 5.5.) Understanding Jesus’ Priestliness will help us to understand these most beautifully sublime and profound truths of the Faith.

Proposition 1: Jesus considered Himself to be the fulfillment of the Law, the Old Covenant.
Proposition 2: Jesus was a Priest and intended His disciples to be priests.
Proposition 3: The sacrifice which priests of the New Covenant offer is the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Precious Crucified and Resurrected Redeemer.

Brief Arguments in Support of the Thesis
Proposition. 1: Jesus Fulfillment of Law
3.1 He summed up the Old Covenant in a number of ways: first, by His very loud actions of calling out His disciples and numbering them in a special, yet very old way, which served as a sign to the Jewish leaders of the day that their time was up. (A Law Giver—Moses/Jesus; number 1 guy—Aaron/Peter; three in the “inner circle—Aaron, Nadab, Abihu/Peter, James, John; the 12—duh; and the 70—elders/disciples sent out; this would have been very upsetting to the leaders of the day… and it was; they did kill Him you know.) Second, He claimed through the use of biblical images and references that He was in fact the true Temple. (John 1:50-51: cf. Dan. 7:13-14 and Gen. 28:10-18; also, this follows from what is said in Proposition 2.) Third, that claim (to be the true Temple) coupled with His announcement that something greater than the (old) Temple was here (along with many other statements), He was claiming to be Israel’s God become man. Fourth, He offered Himself in a High-priestly, sacrificial, and liturgical-religious act at the Last Supper which guaranteed and informed the actual historical-temporal Passion and Crucifixion of our Blessed Redeemer (more on this in Proposition 2). Finally, for this discussion, He was a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, a Priest forever; unlike the temporal priesthood of the Old Covenant which was a shadow of (and a sign pointing to) the Priesthood of the New Covenant.

3.2 All of these examples, and many more, show just how Jesus summed up the Law.

Proposition 2: Jesus and Disciples are Priests
4.1 That Jesus is a priest was already stated in the last point of Proposition 1. Hebrews 5.10 and 7.21 recall Psalm 110.4, “The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’.” Also, we must note that Jesus claimed priestly prerogative when He and His disciples were accused of breaking the Sabbath. We rightly focus on the “I am the Lord of the Sabbath” part, but we forget the interesting quotes from the Old Testament which He uses to justify His disciples actions.

MATT. 12 1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

4.2 David does what only a priest is allowed to do, namely eat the Bread of the Presence (another very interesting topic, this Bread of the Presence, which actually informs some of Proposition 3). It seems that David was claiming the much older Melchizedekian priesthood as his own in the action. This is extremely likely and in the absence of a better explanation we’ll make use of it and note that Jesus is claiming for Himself and His disciples this Melchizedekian right as priests. Further, Jesus quotes from the Law which exempts priests from observing the Sabbath law. Now how would an appeal to priestly exemption get the disciples “off the hook” if they were not priests? and why would Jesus think that would fly with the Pharisees if the disciples were not priests? I find it unintelligible. It would be like me chastising a lady for belching in public, and you saying to me “Well, men will be men—just get over it.” Well that lady is not a guy, so why refer to the way men can be as a justification for her delicate belch? No reason at all!

4.3 Then comes the bombshell: something greater than the Temple is here. Who works in the Temple? Jesus just said priests do. (That’s another reference to priests. This section is replete with references to the priesthood.) He is greater than the Temple, greater than the actions in the Temple. What is in the Temple? The Holy of Holies. What was in the Holy of Holies (at least before the exile and hoped for still in Jesus’ day), but the Presence of God? What can be greater than that which contains the Presence of God, but God Himself? Jesus is claiming for Himself and His disciples a priesthood that trumps the Old Covenant priesthood which, with reference to the David passage and the Hebrews/Psalms passages, we find out to be after the order of Melchizedek. Further, he is claiming a Superiority proper only to God over the Temple and the Sabbath.

4.4 Much more should be said, but the final section will be the longest and I am already testing your patience. Suffice to say that Jesus intended to inaugurate a New Covenant priesthood.

Proposition 3: Sacrifice Which Priests of New Covenant Offer is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ
5.1 Before actually giving a brief argument for Proposition 3, I think I need to preface it by delving further into the mysterious actions and words of our Savior at the Last Supper. (Doing so will also give us the reason why, as I stated in 2.1, the action at the Last Supper is a sacrificial, religious action.) First, let’s recall the context of the Last Supper—Passover. What was the Passover a commemoration of? It is the Exodus from exile and slavery in Egypt. What happens at this meal? A lamb is slaughtered. A sacrifice is made, a sacrifice of remembrance. One could say, “Do this in remembrance of your release.” Many theologians from all sides have pointed out that the Jews considered this meal in some way connecting them to the historical Jews who actually came out from Egypt; this sacrificial meal was a way of re-enacting the Exodus. It was not a mere calling to mind what happened on that day (it was that, to be sure), but a bringing into the present what happened so long ago.

5.2 Now that may sound all very odd and some of you might wonder why I would bring up such a weird point. The reason is this: when Jesus said what He did at the Last Supper, there was a context in which it was heard and understood by the Apostles. For example, it is like us talking about “punting.” Now in 2,000 years, folks might wonder at that word, but we have a very clear understanding of what somebody means when they say they are going to have to “punt”, even when they say it outside the immediate context of a game of football. But imagine a culture that has never played football, never really heard of it (except a few of the sports history scholars). Then they come across that phrase. It might seem odd, or they might have a ready interpretation based on their own “modern” experience that renders the phrase for them understandable, but completely misses the point that you and I are trying to convey when we say that word or phrase “punt the ball.”

5.3 With that understood, let me delve just a little deeper into what it means to “remember.” As I have already indicated, it means more (but not less) than a recalling to mind what happened some time before. It is a participation somehow in the event. When Jesus says, “do ye this in remembrance of Me,” there is a whole context of Covenant making and renewing that is something like second nature to not just any Jew, but anybody in the ancient cultures. Again, just like anybody in our sports gorged culture knows what it means to “punt” or “turn a double play”, anybody back then would have known the following (well, almost anybody):

5.4 Part of making (“cutting”) a covenant was the separation of the sacrificial animal (you separate body and blood). As in Genesis 12, the two parties of the Covenant would walk in between the separated animal in an act of swearing to hold to the covenant. If either party was to break the covenant, he would be forfeiting his life. “Do unto me as has been done to this animal if I break covenant with you,” is what the parties were explicitly saying. (Sidebar: The beauty of Gen 12 is that God alone walks between the sacrifice pledging His own life to keeping the Covenant, swearing that if He broke it, He would kill Himself! Awesome stuff isn’t it!) There would then be a covenant feast, in which the sacrifice was eaten, and bread and wine (fruits of the earth) were also consumed and represented the body and blood of the animal sacrificed. They would also have feasts in remembrance of the covenant in which sacrifice was made renewing the covenant and bread and wine consumed.

5.5 Of course, we know that sacrificial meals in pagan cultures consumed the body and blood of the animal sacrificed. But the Law proscribed that practice for the Jews, because “The life is in the blood.” (Another mysterious saying… watch what Jesus does to it…) Pagans thought that by drinking the blood of the animals that represented the deity they were sacrificing to, that they were imbibing the very divine life of the deity! Thus, to add insult to injury, their idolatry was manifold. Not only did they worship what was not God, they further tried to become like their god (or gods) by drinking its (their) divine life. (While we can admire that they knew that they were not good enough in of themselves to please the deities but needed the deities’ “grace” and divine life to be acceptable, we must be sad at their misappropriation of those correct insights and their false worship of false gods.)

5.6 Let’s put this all together. Jesus tells His many disciples in John 6 that unless they eat His Body and drink His Blood they have no life. Keep the context in mind. What would think if you were a Jew? “Hold on buster! It is forbidden to drink the blood of any animal, let alone a human! What the heck?! The life is in the blood, and I don’t need your humanity, I already got it. Not to mention I’ll go to hell if I eat a human!!” “But I tell you, whoever eats the Flesh of the Son of Man and drinks His Blood will live forever; he who does not, has no life in him.” “But, rabbi guy, I got life in me! I am alive—” and turning to friends “he’s a freak!” (To which Judas silently agrees.) But Peter says “Where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

5.7 “Will live forever…” “What?” these poor Jews must have said to themselves. Can you imagine the controversy? These people were extremely well-versed in the ins and outs of sacrifice, they knew the language of sacrifice and they knew how the pagans did it. Jesus was using sacrificial terminology here. The eating of flesh and drinking of blood in relation to living forever only makes sense in the context of sacrifice, and I am convinced they got this and thought Jesus was mad. The deep trust of the 11 disciples is so utterly commendable here; because here Jesus is making one of His starkest claims at being Israel’s God, identifying Himself with Yahweh. He claims that His own Body and Blood, if consumed, will bring you Eternal Life.

Final Thoughts
6.1 This is completely insufficient and there are many gaps that need to be filled in. There is so much more that I wanted to write; so many more biblical texts I wanted to cite. But I only hope to maybe a) give some more support to those who already believe what the Catholic Church has always taught; and b) give those who are not Catholic food for thought, and maybe cause you think more about this. A further benefit may be that some of you who are of the opinion that the Catholic notion of a priesthood is not derived from the Bible may realize that nothing could be farther from the truth. Catholic theology grounds its teaching of the New Covenant firmly in Holy Scriptures.

Questions for Discussion
1. What do you find problematic in these propositions?
2. What do you find praiseworthy?
3. Can you please be specific in any refutations or clarifications or supplements to my propositions?

August 19, 2010 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment