Without the priesthood there can be no Eucharist. It’s worth a moment or two to pause and to reflect upon this statement. Without the priesthood there can be no Eucharist. It is a bold assertion and not so popular in a world which seeks to be all things to all men. To hold to the clear and unequivocal teaching of the Church that only a priest can celebrate the Eucharist is, indeed, both a challenge and a comfort. Let’s hear what the Council fathers taught us:
"In the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice…the priests exercise their principal function…because the priests alone have received from Christ Himself the formidable power to render present, sacramentally, His Body and His Blood, to perpetuate through the centuries the sacrifice of the Cross."
As we approach, now, the close of the Year for Priests it is fitting that our reflection upon the Body and Blood of Christ should be within the context of today’s readings. Seemingly from nowhere comes the king and priest Melchizedek. Just as surely he disappears from our view and yet much ink has been spilt in trying to learn what God reveals to us in this mysterious person. He is a foretaste of the Christ to come. He is, in so many ways, like Jesus himself. His prominence is beyond doubt. Even our great Father in Faith, Abraham, recognises in Melchizedek the priest of God Most High and gives him one tenth of everything. Such is the love for the priest that we happily give 10% of all we have. It is a wonderful tradition of our Church that priests remain entirely dependent upon the people of God; it helps to keep us grounded and humbled.
All this hype of the value of the priest, however, can easily make us anything but humble. Recent scandals merely reveal the all too oft realisation that priests are only human and prone to err. Let us not, however, allow ourselves to be detracted from just how wonderful is the gift of the priesthood. Why is this so? Why is the priest held in such high regard? Why do you love your priests?
This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you. These words of St Paul to the Corinthians should be at the forethought of every action of every priest in every age. Why so: simply because it is what Jesus told us. Do this in memory of me. In these words he not only instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his Body and Blood, he also instituted the Priesthood to enable his beloved children to receive regularly this nourishment in their life: this strength which is beyond compare.
Thomas a Kempis wrote: "What a wonderful mystery is this great dignity of priests, to whom is given that which is not given even to the angels! Priests alone, being rightfully ordained in the Church, receive the power to celebrate and to consecrate the Body of Christ." This is why we love our priests. This and this alone is why the priesthood is. You would be mistaken if you think I mean by this that the priest’s existence is merely to celebrate Mass. Rather it is what the Mass is and it is nothing less than God himself coming amongst us in the real presence of his body and blood.
So the priest, then, brings to us the presence of God. This is the way we can judge our priests. Do they bring to us God? The celebration of the Mass, however, is also the means by which the priesthood is nourished. Jesus not only teaches us about our salvation through the celebration of the Mass, but he himself comes to us as the means of our salvation. This is why we need to regularly come to Mass. To share in his saving work; for the priest this has long been recommended a daily sacrifice and for the faithful we are ordered to weekly feed at the table of the Lord, at least. If we do not eat and drink, then it is but a matter of time before we will show the effects of malnutrition, we become ill, and we will eventually die. The Eucharist is no different. It is not only the real presence of Jesus; it is real food and drink to sustain our spirit.
Today of all days thank God for the great gift of the priesthood. Thank God for the most Holy Eucharist. Thank God for our daily bread.