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Jesus Christ, Messiah Priest

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 18 February 1987 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The name "Christ" is, as we know, the Greek equivalent of the word "Messiah" and means "Anointed." Besides the royal character, which we treated in the previous reflection, it also includes, according to Old Testament tradition, the "priestly" character. As elements pertaining to the messianic mission, these two aspects, though differing among themselves, are nonetheless complementary. The figure of the Messiah outlined in the Old Testament embraces both elements by showing the profound unity of the royal and priestly mission.

2. This unity has its earliest expression as a prototype and an anticipation in Melchizedek, king of Salem, the mysterious figure in the Old Testament at the time of Abraham. We read of him in the Book of Genesis that in going out to meet Abraham, "He offered bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth'" (Gen 14:18-19).

The figure of Melchizedek, king and priest, entered into the messianic tradition, as indicated especially by Psalm 110 (the messianic psalm) by antonomasia. In this psalm, God-Yahweh addresses "my Lord" (i.e., the Messiah) with the words: "'Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.' The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!" (Ps 110:1-2).

These expressions which leave no doubt about the royal character of the one addressed by Yahweh, are followed by the announcement: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek'" (Ps 110:4). As is evident, the one whom God-Yahweh addresses by inviting him to sit "at his right hand," will be simultaneously king and priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

3. In the history of Israel the institution of the Old Testament priesthood traces its origin to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and it was hereditary in the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In this regard, it is significant that we read in the Book of Sirach: "(God) exalted Aaron, the brother of Moses...of the tribe of Levi. He made an everlasting covenant with him and gave him the priesthood of the people" (Sir 45:6-7). "[The Lord] chose him out of all the living to offer sacrifice to the lord, incense and a pleasing odor as a memorial portion, to make atonement for the people. In his commandments he gave him authority in statutes and judgments to teach Jacob the testimonies, and to enlighten Israel with his law" (Sir 45:16-17). From these texts we deduce that selection as a priest is for the purpose of worship, for the offering of sacrifices of adoration and atonement, and that worship in its turn is linked to teaching about God and his law.

4. In this same context the following words from the Book of Sirach are also significant: "For even [God's] covenant with David...was an individual heritage through one son alone; but the heritage of Aaron is for all his descendants" (Sir 45:25).

According to this tradition, the priesthood is placed "alongside" the royal dignity. However, Jesus did not come from the priestly line, from the tribe of Levi, but from that of Judah. Hence it would seem that the priestly character of the Messiah does not become him. His contemporaries discover in him, above all, the teacher, the prophet, some even their "king," the heir of David. It would therefore be said that the tradition of Melchizedek, the king-priest is absent in Jesus.

5. It is, however, only an apparent absence. The paschal events revealed the true meaning of the "Messiah-King" and of the "king-priest after the order of Melchizedek" which—present in the Old Testament—found its fulfillment in the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. It is significant that during his trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus replied to the high priest who asked him if he was "the Christ, the Son of God," by saying, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God..." (Mt 26:63-64). It is a clear reference to the messianic Psalm 110 which expresses the tradition of the king-priest.

6. It must be said, however, that the full manifestation of this truth is found only in the Letter to the Hebrews which treats of the relationship between the levitical priesthood and that of Christ.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews touches the theme of Melchizedek's priesthood in order to say that Jesus Christ fulfilled the messianic pre-announcement linked to that figure who by a higher predestination was inscribed in the mission of the people of God already from the time of Abraham.

We read of Christ who "being made perfect, became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:9-10). Then, after recalling what was said about Melchizedek in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen 14:18), the Letter to the Hebrews continues: "His name when translated means king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever" (Heb 7:2-3).

7. Using the analogies of the ritual of worship, of the ark and of the sacrifices of the old covenant, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all the figures and promises of the Old Testament, ordained "to serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary" (Heb 8:5). Christ, however, a merciful and faithful high priest (cf. Heb 2:17; 3:2-5), bears in himself a "priesthood that continues for ever" (Heb 7:24), having offered "himself without blemish to God" (Heb 9:14).

8. It is worthwhile quoting completely some particularly eloquent passages of this letter. Coming into the world, Jesus Christ says to God his Father:

"Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you take no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God'" (Heb 10:5-7).

"For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest" (Heb 7:26). "Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17). We have then, "a high priest...who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning," a high priest who is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses" (cf. Heb 4:15).

9. Further on we read that such a high priest "has no need, like the other high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself" (Heb 7:27). Again, "when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come...he entered once for all into the Holy Place...taking his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb 9:11-12). Hence our certainty that "the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, will purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb 9:14).

This explains why an everlasting saving power is attributed to Christ's priesthood whereby "he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25).

10. Finally, we can note that the Letter to the Hebrews states clearly and convincingly that Jesus Christ has fulfilled with his whole life, and especially with the sacrifice of the cross, all that was written in the messianic tradition of divine revelation. His priesthood is situated in reference to the ritual service of the priests of the old covenant, which he surpasses as priest and victim. God's eternal design which provides for the institution of the priesthood in the history of the covenant is fulfilled in Christ.

11.According to the Letter to the Hebrews, the messianic task is symbolized by the figure of Melchizedek. There we read that by God's will "another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life" (Heb 7:15). It is therefore an eternal priesthood (cf. Heb 7:3-24).

The Church, faithful guardian and interpreter of these and other texts contained in the New Testament, has reaffirmed over and over again the truth of the Messiah-priest, as witnessed, for example, by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), that of Trent (1562) and in our own time, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

An evident witness of this truth is found in the Eucharistic sacrifice which by Christ's institution the Church offers every day under the species of bread and wine, "after the order of Melchizedek."."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je suis heureux d’accueillir ici tous les pèlerins de langue française, et plus spécialement les groupes de jeunes, collégiens, lycéens et étudiants de France, et celui qui vient de la paroisse suisse du Saint-Esprit de Lausanne. Chers amis, vos catéchèses et le sacrement de confirmation vous permettent d’avoir une foi plus profonde dans le Christ Jésus, pour en vivre et en témoigner. L’Eglise compte sur vous. De tout coeur, je vous bénis.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like to offer a warm welcome to the groups of visitors from Scandinavia, especially the Swedish Catholics from the Parish of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Lund, the members of the Swedish Lutheran Church, as well as the student group from Nakskov in Denmark.

My heartfelt greeting also goes to the parishioners and choir members of the Church of Saint Eulalia in Winchester, Massachusetts.

It is a special joy to welcome the international group of Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, who are taking part in a renewals course at Nemi. Your vocation to religious life has great importance for the Church. In a unique way, you are living symbols of the redemptive love of Christ the Lord as you bear public witness to the Good News of salvation. May you always rejoice in your call to holiness and Gospel service in the Church.

And I extend cordial greetings to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. May God bless you all with his deep and abiding peace.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser Betrachtung über Christus unseren ewigen Hohenpriester, grüße ich herzlich alle heutigen deutschsprachigen Audienzteilnehmer; unter den genannten Gruppen besonders die Silberhochzeitspaare aus Dachau und die Theologienstudenten der Freien Universität Berlin. Möge euch dieser Rombesuch in eurer Treue zu Christus und eurer christlichen Berufung neu bestärken. Das erbitte ich allen anwesenden Pilgern mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora cordialmente los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, venidos de España y de América Latina. De modo especial, deseo saludar al grupo de Religiosas Hijas de Jesús que, procedentes de once países, tienen en Roma un curso de renovación. Os aliento a proseguir con renovado empeño el camino emprendido de entrega total a Dios y de servicio generoso a la Iglesia, siendo testigos incansables de su presencia en el mundo.

* * *

Saludo igualmente a los oficiales, cadetes y tripulación del Buque-Escuela peruano “Independencia”, así como a los oficiales, suboficiales y marineros de un buque de la Compañía Venezolana de Navegación. Que vuestra singladura por los mares del mundo conformen vuestras vidas al servicio de la Patria y de cada uno de vuestros conciudadanos.

* * *

Me es grato dirigir también unas palabras a los telespectadores del programa “Encuentro”, del canal 13 “ Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz ” de Argentina, así como a los telespectadores de los canales 13 y 11 de Chile. Sé que estáis preparando mi próxima visita pastoral a esas dos Naciones hermanas. Espero que los programas de esos canales, especialmente los dedicados a temas religiosos, sean una válida ayuda para la obra de evangelización y catequesis, los dos grandes retos que esas Iglesias locales tienen en la sociedad actual.

A todos vosotros, así como a vuestras familias, imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Są tu pielgrzymi Z Polskiej Misji Katolickiej z Paryża razem z księdzem Rektorem, uczestnicy grup turystycznyc z Polski oraz inni pielgrzymi indywidualni . . . Pozdrawiam was wszystkich obecnych tutaj pielgrzymów z Polski, a także i z Francji, życzę błogosławieństwa Bożego wszystkim obecnym i waszym bliskim.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

E’ qui presente come tutti gli anni, un folto gruppo di Vescovi amici del Movimento dei Focolari provenienti da tutte le parti del mondo. Sono riuniti in questi giorni per il loro convegno spirituale nel nuovo “ Centro Mariapoli ” di Castel Gandolfo.

Carissimi Confratelli nell’Episcopato, voi siete venuti qui per esprimere la vostra comunione profonda con il Successore di Pietro,. Ho sentito che avete scelto come tema principale della vostra riunione: la Vergine Maria.

Sappiamo che Maria Santissima è uno dei punti fondamentali della spiritualità del Movimento dei Focolari basata sul Testamento di Gesù e sulla Sua promessa di essere presente là dove due o tre sono uniti nel Suo nome.

Per questa unità che la presenza di Gesù genera in mezzo a noi, non c’è un modello più chiaro, una via più diretta, una garanzia più sicura di Maria Madre di Gesù e Madre della Chiesa.

Vi auguro di essere sempre più ispirati e penetrati da questa convinzione e da un amore profondo a Maria, per essere costruttori di quella Città di Maria che vuole essere e deve essere la Chiesa, per portare come Maria e con Maria la luce di Gesù Cristo nel mondo di oggi.

* * *

Desidero rivolgere un cordiale saluto al gruppo di Religiose delle Piccole Suore della Sacra Famiglia, presenti con la Superiora Generale. La Famiglia di Nazareth, che dà il titolo alla vostra Congregazione, interceda per voi al fine di una vostra sempre più rigogliosa crescita nella ricerca della santità e nel servizio di carità agli uomini del nostro tempo.

Possiate voi sempre vivere lo spirito di questa Famiglia e diffonderlo abbondantemente attorno a voi, dovunque voi siete.

Di cuore vi imparto la mia Benedizione.

Ai giovani

Rivolgo ora un caro saluto ai giovani qui presenti. Vi ringrazio per la vostra visita. Essa è testimonianza della vostra fede: fede nella comunione ecclesiale. Fede nel fatto che Gesù Cristo, Fondatore della Chiesa, ci ha chiamati a costruire assieme alla sua Chiesa, ciascuno secondo il proprio dono e la propria responsabilità. Compito stupendo ed esaltante! Si tratta di lavorare per la salvezza del mondo, per la vittoria del bene sul male, per l’avvento del Regno di Dio. Ma Gesù è con noi, col suo Spirito. E io di cuore vi benedico.

Agli ammalati

Carissimi malati! A voi ora il mio cordiale saluto!

Anche voi siete giunti oggi, in questa sala, per compiere un atto di fede. Anche voi state esprimendo, qui, la vostra comunione ecclesiale. E quale parte profonda voi avete - lo sapete - in questa comunione, proprio in forza della vostra croce quotidiana! Il peso giornaliero dei vostri disagi o delle vostre sofferenze, se offerto a Gesù Crocifisso, vi porta nel cuore della comunione ecclesiale e, da questo centro di vita soprannaturale che è la Chiesa, voi operate potentemente per la salvezza vostra e per quella del mondo. Vi accompagna la mia affettuosa Benedizione.

Agli sposi novelli

E voi pure, cari sposi novelli, che ora cordialmente saluto, date oggi qui la vostra testimonianza di fede. Fate comprendere che il vostro amore è una espressione particolare di quella profonda comunione che lega tutti i battezzati nell’unico Corpo mistico di Cristo. Il vostro amore, simboleggia e rappresenta, come ben sapete, l’amore stesso della Chiesa sposa di Cristo per il suo Sposo divino. Fate dunque che il vostro amore abbia sempre questa trasparenza, questa meravigliosa significazione! Possa, chi vede il vostro amore, comprendere in qualche modo il mistero stesso dell’Amore che lega la Chiesa a Cristo! Vi accompagno con la mia Benedizione.

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