“Being a Servant of the Eucharist Is … a Depth of the Priestly Mystery”
This is Part 2 of the “Lectio Divina” delivered by Benedict XVI to the parish priests of Rome upon receiving them in audience at the Vatican on 18th February 2010.
We say, rightly, that Jesus did not offer God some thing. Rather, he offered himself and made this offering of himself with the very compassion that transforms the suffering of the world into prayer and into a cry to the Father. Nor, in this sense, is our own priesthood limited to the religious act of Holy Mass in which everything is placed in Christ’s hands but all of our compassion to the suffering of this world so remote from God is a priestly act, it is prosphèrein, it is offering up. In this regard, in my opinion, we must understand and learn how to accept more profoundly the sufferings of pastoral life, because priestly action is exactly this, it is mediation, it is entering into the mystery of Christ, it is communication with the mystery of Christ, very real and essential, existential and then sacramental.
A second term in this context is important. It is said that by means of this obedience Christ is made perfect, in Greek teleiothèis (cf. Heb 5: 8-9). We know that throughout the Torah, that is, in all religious legislation, the word tèleion, used here, means priestly ordination. In other words the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that precisely by doing this Jesus was made a priest, and his priesthood was fulfilled. Our sacramental priestly ordination should be brought about and achieved existentially but also Christologically, and through precisely this, should bring the world with Christ and to Christ and, with Christ, to God: thus we really become priests, teleiothèis. Therefore the priest is not a thing for a few hours but is fulfilled precisely in pastoral life, in his sufferings and his weaknesses, in his sorrows and also in his joys, of course. In this way we increasingly become priests in communion with Christ.
Finally the Letter to the Hebrews sums up all this compassion in the word hypakoèn, obedience: it is all obedience. This is an unpopular word in our day. Obedience appears as an alienation, a servile attitude. One does not enjoy one’s own freedom, one’s freedom is subjected to another’s will, hence one is no longer free but determined by another, whereas self-determination, emancipation, would be true human existence.
Instead of the word “obedience”, as an anthropological keyword we would like the term “freedom”. Yet, on considering this problem closely, we see that these two things go together: Christ’s obedience is the conformity of his will with the will of the Father; it is bringing the human will to the divine will, to the conformation of our will with God’s will.
In his interpretation of the Mount of Olives, of the anguish expressed precisely in Jesus’ prayer, “not my will but your will”, St Maximus Confessor described this process that Christ carries in himself as a true man, together with the human nature and will; in this act “not my will but your will” Jesus recapitulates the whole process of his life, of leading, that is, natural human life to divine life and thereby transforming the human being. It is the divinization of the human being, hence the redemption of the human being, because God’s will is not a tyrannical will, is not a will outside our being but is the creative will itself; it is the very place where we find our true identity.
God created us and we are ourselves if we conform with his will; only in this way do we enter into the truth of our being and are not alienated. On the contrary, alienation occurs precisely by disregarding God’s will, for in this way we stray from the plan for our existence; we are no longer ourselves and we fall into the void.
Indeed, obedience, namely, conformity to God, the truth of our being, is true freedom, because it is divinization. Jesus, in bearing the human being, being human in himself and with himself, in conformity with God, in perfect obedience, that is, in the perfect conformation between the two wills, has redeemed us and redemption is always this process of leading the human will to communion with the divine will.
It is a process for which we pray every day: “May your will be done” And let us really pray the Lord to help us see closely that this is freedom and thus enter joyfully into this obedience and into “taking hold of” human beings in order to bring them by our own example, by our humility, by our prayer, by our pastoral action into communion with God.
Continuing our reading, a sentence of difficult interpretation follows. The Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus prayed loudly, with cries and tears, to God who could save him from death and that in his total abandonment he is heard (cf. 5:7).
Here let us say: “No, it is not true, his prayer went unheard, he is dead”. Jesus prayed to be released from death, but he was not released, he died a very cruel death.
Harnack, a liberal theologian, therefore wrote: “Here a not is missing”, it must be written “He was not heard”, and Bultmann accepted this interpretation. Yet this is a solution that is not an exegesis but rather a betrayal of the text. “Not” does not appear in any of the manuscripts but “he was heard”; so we must learn to understand what “being heard” means, in spite of the Cross.
I see three levels on which to understand these words. At a first level the Greek text may be translated as: “He was redeemed from his anguish”, and in this sense Jesus is heard. This would therefore be a hint of what St Luke tells us: An angel strengthened him (cf. Lk 22: 43), in such a way that after the moment of anguish he was able to go, straight away and fearlessly towards his hour, as the Gospels describe it to us, especially that of John.
This would be being heard in the sense that God gives him the strength to bear the whole of this burden and so he was heard. Yet to me it seems that this answer is not quite enough.
Being heard, in the fullest sense Fr Vanhoye emphasized this would mean “he was redeemed from death”, however not for the moment, for that moment, but for ever, in the Resurrection: God’s true response to the prayer to be saved from death is the Resurrection and humanity is saved from death precisely in the Resurrection which is the true healing of our suffering and of the terrible mystery of death.
Already present here is a third level of understanding: Jesus’ Resurrection is not only a personal event. I think it would be helpful to keep in mind the brief text in which St John, in chapter 12 of his Gospel, presents and recounts, in a very concise manner, the event on the Mount of Olives.
Jesus says: “Now is my soul troubled” (Jn 12: 27) and, in all the anguish of the Mount of Olives, what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour… Father glorify your name” (cf. Jn 12: 27-28).
This is the same prayer that we find in the Synoptic Gospels: “all things are possible to you… your will be done (cf. Mt 26: 42; Mk 14: 36; Lk 22: 42) which in Johannine language appears: either as “save me” or “glorify” [your name]. And God answers: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (cf. Jn 12: 28). This is the response, it is God hearing him: I will glorify the Cross; it is the presence of divine glory because it is the supreme act of love. On the Cross Jesus is raised above all the earth and attracts the earth to him; on the Cross the “Kabod” now appears, the true divine glory of God who loves even to the Cross and thus transforms death and creates the Resurrection.
Jesus’ prayer was heard in the sense that his death truly becomes life, it becomes the place where he redeems the human being, where he attracts the human being to himself.
If the divine response in John says: “I will glorify” you, it means that this glory transcends and passes through the whole of history over and over again: from your Cross, present in the Eucharist, it transforms death into glory. This is the great promise that is brought about in the Blessed Eucharist which ever anew opens the heavens. Being a servant of the Eucharist is, therefore, a depth of the priestly myste
Another brief word, at least about Melchizedek. He is a mysterious figure who enters Sacred History in Genesis 14. After Abraham’s victory over several kings, Melchizedek, King of Salem, of Jerusalem, appears and brings out bread and wine.
This uncommented and somewhat incomprehensible event appears only in Psalm 110  as has been said, but it is clear that Judaism, Gnosticism and Christianity then wished to reflect profoundly on these words and created their interpretations. The Letter to the Hebrews does not speculate but reports only what Scripture says and there are various elements: he is a king of righteousness, he dwells in peace, he is king where peace reigns, he venerates and worships the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, and he brings out bread and wine (cf. Heb 7: 1-3; Gn 14: 18-20).
It is not mentioned here that the High Priest of the Most High God, King of Peace, worships God, Creator of Heaven and earth with bread and wine.
The Fathers stressed that he is one of the holy pagans of the Old Testament and this shows that even from paganism there is a path that leads to Christ. The criteria are: worshipping God Most High, the Creator, fostering righteousness and peace and venerating God in a pure way. Thus, with these fundamental elements, paganism too is on its way to Christ, and in a certain way, makes Christ’s light present.
In the Roman canon after consecration we have the prayer supra quae that mentions certain prefigurations of Christ, his priesthood and his sacrifice: Abel, the first martyr, with his lamb; Abraham, whose intention is to sacrifice his son Isaac, replaced by the lamb sent by God; and Melchizedek, High Priest of God Most High who brings out bread and wine.
This means that Christ is the absolute newness of God and at the same time is present in the whole of history, through history, and history goes to encounter Christ. And not only the history of the Chosen People, which is the true preparation desired by God, in which is revealed the mystery of Christ, but also in paganism the mystery of Christ is prepared, paths lead from it toward Christ who carries all things within him.
This seems to me important in the celebration of the Eucharist: here is gathered together all human prayer, all human desire, all true human devotion, the true search for God that is fulfilled at last in Christ. Lastly. it should be said that the Heavens are now open, worship is no longer enigmatic, in relative signs, but true. For Heaven is open and people do not offer some thing, rather, the human being becomes one with God and this is true worship.
This is what the Letter to the Hebrews says: “Our priest… is seated at the right hand of the throne… in the sanctuary, the true tent which is set up… by the Lord” (cf. 8: 1-2).
Let us return to the point that Melchizedek is King of Salem. The whole Davidic tradition refers to this, saying: “Here is the place, Jerusalem is the place of the true worship, the concentration of worship in Jerusalem dates back to the times of Abraham, Jerusalem is the true place for the proper veneration of God”.
Let us take another step: the true Jerusalem, God’s Salem, is the Body of Christ, the Eucharist is God’s peace with humankind. We know that in his Prologue, St John calls the humanity of Jesus the tent of God, eskènosen en hemìn (cf. Jn 1: 14). It was here that God himself pitched his tent in the world, and this tent, this new, true Jerusalem is at the same time on earth and in Heaven because this Sacrament, this sacrifice, is ceaselessly brought about among us and always arrives at the throne of Grace, at God’s presence.
Here is the true Jerusalem, at the same time heavenly and earthly, the tent which is the Body of God, which as a risen Body always remains a Body and embraces humanity. And, at the same time, since it is a risen Body, it unites us with God.
All this is constantly brought about anew in the Eucharist. We, as priests, are called to be ministers of this great Mystery, in the Sacrament and in life. Let us pray the Lord that he grant us to understand this Mystery ever better, that he make us live this mystery ever better and thus to offer our help so that the world may be opened to God, so that the world may be redeemed. Thank you.
© Copyright 2010 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana