This month we have twenty of our first readings from the Letter to the Hebrews, and although we recognize them to be of great beauty our ignorance of the Old Testament priesthood keeps us from understanding much that is in them.
Today’s reading contrasts the Jewish priesthood with the priesthood of Christ. While the Jewish priests offered sacrifices without number, Jesus offered only one sacrifice. How can that be?
The way I understand it is this. St. Augustine taught us that a true sacrifice is nothing but a complete subjection of ones will to God. It involves a total overcoming of selfishness.
So, rather than seeing Christ’s function as a priest as a distinct act he performs on our altars or on the cross, I see it as something he accomplishes through all phases of his life. We can see the kickoff of his sacrifice as taking place when the Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted for forty days. We can see all his days and nights as scenes from his battle against selfishness. I like to think of his last twenty hours as a unit. He culminated his life-long sacrifice at the Last Supper, saying, “This is my body—my blood, which is for you.” He ratified that sacrifice in the Garden of Olives, sweating blood in saying, “Not as I will, but as thou willest.” He finished his sacrifice on the cross.
He does nothing new on our altars. He is simply continuing the sacrifice that he was making of himself at the Last Supper, in the Garden, and on the cross. The sacrifice he continues on our altars s like a laser beam of love to the Father.