“Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the ‘one mediator between God and men” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” 1544).
On our journey through the Old Covenant background to the New Covenant priesthood of Jesus Christ, we have discovered some important points.
First, Adam was a priest-father of humanity.
Following on the heels of Adam, we discovered that priesthood leading up to Aaron and the Levites was a familial priesthood based on the father of the family, and the primacy of the first-born son.
However, because of the sinfulness of the Israelites in Exodus 32, there is a change in the priesthood; it now belongs to Aaron and the Levites. But the familial aspect of the priesthood continues. In the book of Judges we see this presupposed when Micah asks a certain Levite to, “stay with me…be a father and a priest to me” (17:10, cf. 18:19).
We have also learned that the primary role of the father-priest is to offer sacrifice. “Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices…” (Hebrews 8:3).
This leads us up to Jesus Christ, our heavenly high priest, “…who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up” (Hebrews 8:1-2).
Jesus’ priesthood is, in a sense, more linked with the familial priesthood before Aaron and the Levites. I refer you to the entire letter to the Hebrews. The priest of Aaron and the Levites was temporary and provisional.
Hebrews tells us, “…it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you,’ just as he says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:5-6).
We must realize that Hebrews is quoting Psalm 2:7 and 110:4. These are words written long after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. So God is saying that there will be, in a sense, a reestablishment of the priesthood prior to Aaron and the Levites. The letter goes on to say, “If…perfection came through the Levitical priesthood…what need would there still have been for another priest according to the order of Melchizedek…? (7:11)
This connection with the priesthood of Melchizedek leads us back to the priesthood of the father, and the primacy of the first-born son in the family. This by default leads us back to Adam.
Remember, God the Father created his first-born human son, Adam, a priest. Adam was called to offer the sacrifice of his very self for the sake of his bride, Eve. However, he failed. So, too, God the Father sends his eternally, only-begotten Son, Jesus, to offer his very self for the sake of his bride, the church (cf. Ephesians 5:25). Where the old Adam fails, the new Adam succeeds. This is one reason St. Paul emphasizes that Jesus is a new Adam, or the last Adam, and that he is the “…firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45).
Jesus fulfills the priesthood of Melchizedek as well. How? What was the sacrifice of Melchizedek? “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed him (Abram)…” (Genesis 14:18-19). Jesus, king-priest of the heavenly (Jeru)salem, will offer gifts of bread and wine in the earthly (Jeru)salem at the last supper, thus blessing Abram’s spiritual family. He also fulfills the priesthood of Melchizedek because, like Melchizedek, and unlike the Levites, he is a priest forever.
Jesus also fulfills the many sacrifices of Leviticus. “He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day…he did that once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27). The same letter continues, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (8:13-14).
These prefigurations come to fulfillment in Christ, beginning in the upper room, continuing on to Calvary and continuing forever in heavenly glory.
In the upper room Jesus begins his priestly act of self-sacrifice under the signs of bread and wine, of which he says, “…this is my body…this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed…” (Matthew 26:26-28). His body is given and his blood is shed on Calvary, thus continuing his once-and-for-all sacrifice.
But how do we reconcile his once-and-for-all sacrifice with the fact that Jesus is a priest forever, and every high priest being appointed by God to offer sacrifice?
We cannot say that Jesus’ priesthood ended on Calvary; he is a priest forever. And if continues to be a priest, then he too is appointed by the Father to offer sacrifice.
The answer is, “the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (CCC 1367). The Eucharist is a sacrifice, not another sacrifice, the once-and-for-all sacrifice offered eternally by the king-priest in the heavenly Jerusalem, “the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9), made truly and really present through the ministerial priesthood Christ established. This we will turn to next month.