Today’s Solemnity is one of the few Holy Days of Obligation that used to fall in the middle of the week, not to be restored to its rightful place. This great feast was always kept on the Thursday following the Most Holy Trinity. We hope that one day it may be restored to its rightful place, as its move to the Sunday removes the essential connection to the events of Maundy Thursday and the Last supper in the upper room.
At the dawn of salvation history, God revealed our future in certain figures. That’s what’s going on in today’s First Reading: a priest-king comes from Jerusalem (see Psalm 76:3), offering bread and wine to celebrate the victory of God’s beloved servant, Abram, over his foes. By his offering, Melchizedek bestows God’s blessings on Abram. He is showing us, too, how one day we will receive God’s blessings and in turn “bless God”—how we will give thanks to Him for delivering us from our enemies, sin and death. Melchizedek is one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible, one whose origins were unknown, who was a king, and yet had the power to bless. His gifts of bread and wine have always been seen to relate to the bread and wine blessed at the supper table by Jesus. In Jesus’ life on earth, his ministry was characterised by his close and loving concern for his followers. While he refused to change the stones in the Wilderness of Temptation into bread, he thought of people’s needs, and understood their physical hunger as a sign of spiritual need. He spoke of changing the bread of the Pharisees into the new leaven of his Word, and proclaimed himself the Bread of Life. The feeding of the 5000 was the greatest sign of his loving concern, and its full potential was revealed at the Last supper when Jesus’ identification of himself with the bread broken and blessed was completed in the offering of his Body and Blood on the Cross.
All who believe in him will accept this gift as Abraham did the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek. To Jesus’ roles of prophet, priest, and king is added that of the Suffering Servant who becomes the bread of life. The theme of the meal now assumes an eschatological (relating to the end times – death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind in heaven or hell) perspective, with fulfilment in the heavenly kingdom symbolised by the banquet. These ideas have great significance for us at the most basic levels of our humanity and social behaviour: the need for food, for sharing, for compassion, for future fulfilment. In the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood we are linked to the past, to the sacrifice of Calvary, and to the triumph of the Resurrection re-presented to us, unbounded by time and space; we are bound now in unity to him and to each other in the celebration of the Eucharist; and in this participation we have a pledge of our future glory when we will drink the new wine with him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
As Paul recalls in today’s Second Reading, Jesus transformed the sign of bread and wine, making it a sign of His body and blood, through which God bestows upon us the blessings of His “new covenant.” Jesus is “the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” that God, in today’s Psalm, swears will rule from Zion, the new Jerusalem (Cf. Hebrews 6:20–7:3). By the miracle of loaves and fishes, Jesus in today’s Gospel, again prefigures the blessings of the Eucharist. Notice that He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the Twelve. You find the precise order and words in the Last Supper (Cf. Luke 22:19) and in His celebration of the Eucharist on the first Easter night (Cf. Luke 24:30). The Eucharist fulfils the offering of Melchizedek. It is the daily miracle of the heavenly high priesthood of Jesus. It is a priesthood He conferred upon the Apostles in ordering them to feed the crowd, in filling exactly twelve baskets with leftover bread—in commanding them on the night He was handed over: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Through His priests He still feeds us in “the deserted place” of our earthly exile. And by this sign He pledges to us a glory yet to come.
For as often as we share in His body and blood. we proclaim His victory over death, until He comes again to make His victory our own.