Body & Blood of Christ – June 2, 2013 – Feed Them Yourselves!
“They all ate and were satisfied.” Each year we hear different ways to interpret this text. Recently I came across a story about bonobos. Bonobos are like chimpanzees only smaller and more slender. They are among the closest primates to humans. I learned that Bonobos gladly will share their food with strangers and even give up their own meal when a stranger responds socially. 
Today is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. An Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liége, lobbied for the feast in the 13th century (c. 1264 CE). At that time adoring the eucharist was more important than sharing the eucharist. The priest was thought to have enormous power because he alone could turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The people gazed at the sacrament with awe.
Medieval philosophers and theologians debated over when and how the bread and wine is changed. Although the word transubstantiation was used as early as the 12th century the action was not defined as a doctrine until the 16th century.
The readings from the book of Genesis and Psalm 110 today are important in understanding how celebrating the eucharist as a sacrifice became the prerogative of the clergy. These texts are the only references in the Old Testament to King Melchizedek of Salem. In Genesis he exchanges gifts with Abraham who just returned from battle. Most scholars think these verses are not the work of the primary sources for Genesis. 
Catholic priests are ordained into the order of Melchizedek – a priesthood that is considered eternal. But, interestingly, Melchizedek did not have a priestly lineage. Scholars do not know where he came from or how long he lived. In Psalm 110, according to Reginald Fuller, “Melchizedek is taken as the prototype of the priest-king. The author of Hebrews takes up this psalm because it enables him to develop his own teaching on Christ’s high priesthood.” 
In the Letter to the Hebrews Jesus is presented as the new Melchizedek, an eternal high priest who offered himself, not animals, as a sacrifice. Some believe that this Letter was written by an unknown author to appease Christian Jews who longed for the sacrificial acts of their ancestral priests.
Jesus, however, was not a priest. He was a Jewish layman. He did not belong to the Levitical tribe of priests. He never offered sacrifices in the Temple and in fact he was critical of a corrupt priesthood of his time. What he did do was eat meals with all kinds of people — with his family and friends, strangers, misfit disciples and social outcasts. In doing so he embodied what he stood for — treat all people equally and eradicate injustice. We memorialize his actions whenever we gather to celebrate the eucharist, which, we believe is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
In the post New Testament period the leader of the community was accepted as the presider of the eucharist. Later, only bishops who were the overseers in communities, and then other elders called priests, assumed the authority to preside at the eucharist.
By the mid second century the liturgy was believed to be a sacrificial act. Ordained men continued to preside in the person of Christ. The laity were no longer involved in various ministries according to their gifts. They became spectators which was, in part, what paved the way for adoring the sacrament they were no longer sharing.
In today’s gospel when the disciples tell Jesus the crowd has nothing to eat, he tells them, “Give them some food yourselves!” Then the miracle took place. Just like the bonobos the people shared their food with strangers. There is the lesson for us. The eucharist is something we do together. It is what we are together. Fuller again: “We generally think of the last supper as the institution of the Eucharist … the New Testament sees two further bases for the rite — the meals of the earthly Jesus with his followers and the appearance meals after the resurrection.” 
The eucharist is not just about the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which we believe. It is also about our transformation. The mystery of faith is found in the church. We are called to share our resources, even giving up our own assets and supplies, so others can share in the favors, the graces, the gifts of God.
The role of the priest then is not to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ as if it were some solitary mystical magical act. Our role is to gather people of faith into the body and blood of Christ, to build up the church so we can bring justice to the world. It follows logically that all baptized persons share in this ministry. A priest cannot do it alone. As the late Father Andrew Greeley once wrote, even though the priest is the one who presides at eucharist, “the priest is not necessarily better than anyone else.” 
1 Bhanoo, Sindya. “Milk of Human Kindness Also Found in Bonobos.” The New York Times, 01/07/13, D3
2 See Wills, Garry. Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (New York: Viking) 2013
3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 444-46, 59.
4 Fuller. Ibid.
5 Greeley, Andrew. The Catholic Imagination. (Berkeley; University of California Press) 2000, 149