The Holy Eucharist, which today’s solemnity wants to celebrate, is a very rich sacrament. The readings we have just heard illustrate some aspects of this wonderful mystery.
The first reading emphasizes the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. Melchizedek, who was a priest of God Most High, offers bread and wine, prefiguring what Jesus will do during the last supper. In the first Eucharistic Prayer we ask the Lord to accept the holy sacrifice of the Mass as once he accepted “the offering of [his] high priest Melchizedek.” The Eucharist is a real sacrifice, in which Jesus offers himself to the Father for the salvation of the world. The Mass is the bloodless renewal of the sacrifice of the cross. This sacrifice is represented not by the immolation of an animal, like in the Old Covenant, but by the offering of bread and wine, as Jesus did in the last supper and as, before him, Melchizedek had done.
The second reading reminds us of another aspect of the Eucharist. The passage from the first letter to the Corinthians is the most ancient account of the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus repeats: “Do this in remembrance of me.” At the end he explains the meaning of his words: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” That is what we mean when we say that the Eucharist is the memorial of the Lord’s passion and resurrection. When we celebrate the Mass we remember the passion and the resurrection of Jesus; but it is not just the recollection of past events; it is as if they were present and real.
Finally, the gospel presents the Eucharist as food. The multiplication of the loaves has always been considered as an image of the Eucharist. The gestures Jesus does on that occasion are the same as in the last supper. Jesus multiplies the loaves to feed hungry people; and he institutes the Eucharist to give them a spiritual food, without which it is impossible to live. The Eucharist is the true multiplication of the loaves: for two thousand years the Eucharistic bread has been multiplied through the words of priests, so that each one, in every time and in every place (even in Afghanistan), may be fed with that divine bread and find eternal life.