Thursday, April 28, 2016

Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek

Our Thursday journey through the Mass has now taken us deep into the Eucharistic Prayer, on the far side of the Consecration. And so we come to this little gem of a prayer:

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

What’s this about, and what has it to do with us and how we are to live our lives? I will leave aside the repeated prayer that God look with kindness open our offering and accept it—this aspect of things has been well covered in this commentary already. And last week I covered the whole reality of Jesus Christ the holy sacrifice, the spotless victim.

So why do Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek barge in here? What have they to do with what we are doing on this altar? And why these particular three, when the Old Testament is filled with examples of men offering various sacrifices to God? Why not Noah or Jacob or Elijah or David or Solomon?

To get that question out of the way, Abel was the first one recorded to make a acceptable sacrifice to God (Gen 4:4), Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac (which God did not ultimately ask him to make) shows that God desires not merely this or that offering from us but faith and trust (Gen 22: 1-19), and the offering of Melchizedek, the mystery man, of bread and wine (Gen 14:18) has always been seen (and indeed is developed at length in the letter to the Hebrews) as an type of Christ and his priestly offering.

The three together root the sacrifice of the Mass, what we are doing here and now this day on this altar in this church, with this whole unbroken line of humanity, all flesh coming before God to seek communion with Him. We are so often such petty little creatures, wrapped up in our own problems and concerns, living like ants who cannot see anything beyond the immediate near horizon.

At this moment of the Mass we are called to know ourselves as part of the vast body of humanity, extended through time and space, a single entity made by God and for God, seeking God, at times rebelling and running away from God, yet perpetually returning to the source who made us, who loves us, and who desires us to enter this offering of love and communion.

By calling us out of the here and now and reminding us of our spiritual ancestors the Church calls us to solidarity with all humanity. I would suggest that this especially means being mindful of our solidarity with those members of humanity who may be outside the immediate body of believers, the Catholic Church, or even of the whole Body of Christ that are the Christians spread throughout the world.

All people, whether they know it or not, are called into this communion. Furthermore, all people of good will are striving one way or another for this communion, although they may call it by very different words and understand it quite differently. But anyone who is sincerely striving for the good, the true, and the beautiful is essentially bringing their goods to the altar of God hoping that He will find it acceptable, whether they would put it that way themselves.

We know that it is only in the offering of Christ that this hunger and thirst for the good, the true, the beautiful, for communion in love and the final transcendence of our humanity into divinity is realized. But we also know that our God is a merciful God and that He looks with great pity and tender concern on every human being He has made, and that the whole action of His grace in every human heart is ordered towards making that person’s life-offering one with the Life-Offering of the Son.

And so this little moment of the Eucharistic Prayer which we may wonder at, not think too deeply about, and then move on from, in fact calls us to a profound solidarity with every human being on the face of the earth, a deep prayer that the Lord will find us all acceptable in his sight, and that all flesh will at last come into the Temple of God and make to Him the sacrifice pleasing to Him, which is our faith and union with Jesus Christ.

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