‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’ – The Sacrifice of the Mass
Catholics believe that we are redeemed by Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection. The Christ event was a onetime event that united heaven and earth, destroyed death and gave life to all creation. The events of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, all the many things he did during his life, his sacrificial death and his rising to new life are the center of the Catholic faith and are events that every Catholic is present at during their lives.
What is the sacrifice of the Mass and where did it come from? The sacrifice of the Mass is the one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary which is beyond time in all that it does and accomplishes. It is that same sacrifice that is made present in the Mass, not re-sacrificed but re-presented, for the salvation and edification of all the faithful. This perfect sacrifice is spoken about in Scripture from the beginning of the word through to the end but only finds its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection.
Can you find the sacrifice of the Mass in Scripture? Of course! In fact you can find it prefigured or spoken about in almost every book of the Scriptures. The offering of bread and wine is prefigured in the Old Testament by a priestly line that finds its fulfilment in Jesus:
“And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.” Gen 14:18
“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:4
“Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron?” Heb 7:11
“It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life.” Heb 7:15-16
We see then how Jesus is our High Priest (Heb 7, Heb 9) but not of the order of Levi, who offered all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, but of the order of Melchizedek, to offer the true atonement sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world (Lev 16, Heb 9): his own body and blood broken and shed for us on the cross.
The sacrifice of bread and wine that was offered by the Melchizedek priesthood and prophesied to be fulfilled was fulfilled in Jesus’ atoning death but so too was the sacrifice of bread and wine perfected:
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you, Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘his cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” Lk 22:19-20
So Catholics believe that the one sacrifice of Jesus is made present under the form of bread and wine whenever the Church gathers to celebrate the Mass. We share in the High Priesthood of Christ and so:
“From the rising of the sun to its setting…and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations.’” Mal 1:11
This one sacrifice is confirmed for us in the words of Jesus himself spoken in the Gospel:
“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” Mt 26:26-28
And confirmed again in the solemn profession of the Church throughout the ages:
“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans 7:3 [110 AD]
“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:2 [189 AD]