“The priesthood of the New Testament is closely tied to the Eucharist,” Benedict XVI told the faithful who filled Saint John Lateran. “Today, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi and near the end of the Priestly, we are invited to meditate on the relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood of Christ.”
Taking his cue from today’s reading and the Gospel, the Holy Father said, “The first thing that is always to be kept in mind is that Jesus was not a priest according to Jewish tradition. His was not a priestly family. He did not belong to the descendants of Aaron, but of Judah, and he was therefore legally precluded from the priesthood. The person and activity of Jesus of Nazareth do not find themselves in the way of ancient priests, but rather in that of prophets—and in this line, distanced himself from a ritual conception of religion, criticizing the approach that gave value to human precepts tied to ritual purity rather than observing the commandments of God, that is, to that love for God and neighbour, which is ‘worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices’ (Mk, 12:33).”
“Even within the Temple of Jerusalem, the sacred place par excellence, Jesus performed a purely prophetic act when he chased the money changers and sellers of animals, all of which were used for the traditional offering of sacrifices. So Jesus is not recognized as a priestly Messiah, but prophetic and royal. Even his death, which we Christians rightly call ‘sacrifice’, had nothing of the ancient sacrifices. Indeed, it was the opposite: a most infamous death, by crucifixion, which took place outside the walls of Jerusalem.”
“In what sense, then, is Jesus a priest?” asked the Pontiff. “The Eucharist gives us the precise answer. We can begin, again, from those simple words that describe Melchizedek: ‘He offered bread and wine’ (Genesis 14:18). That is what Jesus did at the Last Supper: he offered bread and wine, and in that gesture summed up His whole self and his whole mission. In that act, in the prayer that precedes it and the words that accompany it, there is the whole sense of the mystery of Christ” and the passion, which is “prayer” and “offering”.
“Jesus faces His ‘hour’, which leads to death on a cross, immersed in profound prayer, which consists of the union of his own will with the Father. This dual and single will is a will of love. Lived in this prayer, the tragic proof that Jesus addresses is turned into an offering, a living sacrifice.”
“The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus ‘was heard.’ In what sense? In the sense that God the Father freed Him from death and raised Him. He was heard precisely because of his complete abandonment to the will of the Father: God’s loving plan was able perfectly to fulfil itself in Jesus, who, having obeyed even unto death on the cross, has become the ‘cause of salvation’ for all those who obey Him. He has become the high priest himself, having taken upon himself all the sin of the world, as the ‘Lamb of God’. It is the Father who gives this priesthood to Him at the very moment in which Jesus goes through the passage of his death and resurrection. It is not a priesthood according to the order of the Mosaic Law (cf Lev 8-9), but ‘according to the order of Melchizedek’—according to a prophetic order, dependent only on its unique relationship with God.
The “passion was for Jesus as a priestly consecration. He was not a priest according to the Law, but He became so existentially, in His in its paschal passion, death and resurrection, He offered Himself in atonement—and the Father, exalting Him above all creatures, constituted Him universal Mediator of salvation.”
Going back to the other element, the Eucharist, the Pope said, “In it, Jesus anticipated his sacrifice, not a ritual sacrifice, but a personal one. Jesus, in the Last Supper, moved by the ‘eternal spirit’ with which He will then offer Himself on the Cross (cf Heb, 9:14), acts. Giving thanks and praise, Jesus transforms the bread and wine. It is Divine love, which transforms: the love with which Jesus accepts in advance the act of giving all of Himself to us. This love is nothing but the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, which consecrates the bread and wine, and changes their substance into the Body and Blood of the Lord, making present in the Sacrament the same sacrifice that takes place cruelly on the Cross. We may therefore conclude that Christ was the real and effective priest, because he was full of the strength of the Holy Spirit, was filled with the fullness of God's love, and this, precisely, ‘in the night he was betrayed,’ precisely in the ‘hour of darkness’(cf. Lk 22:53). It is this divine power, the same power that realized the Incarnation of the Word, which transforms extreme violence and extreme injustice into the supreme act of love and justice. This is the work of the priesthood of Christ, which the Church has inherited and carried through history, in the twofold form of the common priesthood of the baptized and that of ordained ministers, in order to transform the world with the love of God. Everyone, priests and lay faithful alike, are nourished by the same Eucharist, we all prostrate ourselves in adoration, for in the Eucharist is present our Master and Lord, the true Body of Christ, Priest and Victim, the Salvation of the world. Come, let us exult with songs of joy! Come let us adore Him! Amen.”