The Letter to the Hebrews testifies that God has revealed a new form of worship in Christ, establishing through Christ a new temple, altar, priesthood and sacrifice.
We experience this new worship in the Mass, which displays to us in ritual, symbol and sacrament what the Letter to the Hebrews describes in a text. In others words, you see in the Mass what you hear about in the Letter to the Hebrews.
Insisting that Christ reveals a new form of worship was not without controversy. If Christ revealed the worship God really and truly wanted, what was the status of other forms of worship? In particular, what was the status of the worship that took place in the Temple of Jerusalem?
The Letter to the Hebrews insists that the worship revealed by Christ brings the worship of the Jerusalem Temple to its fulfillment. The worship of the Jerusalem Temple was intended by God to be a foreshadowing or pre-figuring of the worship revealed by Christ.
Many Israelites found this assertion impossible to accept and argued that the priesthood revealed by Christ was not legitimate, because the legitimate priesthood was exercised only by the ancestors of Aaron and Christ did not meet this requirement.
To counter this argument, the Letter to the Hebrews insists that Christ is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek”. What does this mean? It means that the Letter to the Hebrews is saying that Christ exercises a priesthood more ancient than that of the priests descended from Aaron, and this is the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Who is Melchizedek? He appears in a story told in the Book of Genesis in which the patriarch Abraham, meets the priest-king of Salem, a man by the name of Melchizedek, who offers as a sacrifice of peace, gifts of bread and wine. This priesthood is recognized as legitimate and it pre-exists the priesthood exercised by the descendents of Aaron by centuries.
The Letter to the Hebrews is arguing that the priesthood of the Lord Jesus is even far more ancient than that of the priesthood of Aaron and just as legitimate.
Why should any of this matter to us? Here is something to think about:
There is a tendency to pay lip service to the significance of the Bible, reading and listening to the scriptures at Mass, reverencing the Bible as being important, even sacred, but not engaging the Bible with the requisite attentiveness that would lead to understanding what the Bible is saying and why. The Bible becomes reduced to at best a self-help manual or archaic literature that is interesting, recognized as having cultural value, but otherwise irrelevant.
Because we become used to the Bible meaning so little, we come to think that it doesn’t mean much of anything at all.
What is the Bible for anyway?
The Bible is the means that God uses to introduce us to who the Lord Jesus is and what his mission is all about. The content of the Bible is all about him and through our study of the Bible as a route of access to knowing Christ, we can deepen our relationship with him.
This is why it is important to be attentive to how the Bible presents the Lord Jesus and tells us who he is and what he wants us to do. We might have our own ideas about the Lord Jesus, feelings about him, opinions about him, but none of this introduces us to Christ in the same manner that the Bible introduces us to Christ. In fact, what the Bible has to saw about the Lord Jesus measures and judges our ideas, feelings, and opinions about the Lord Jesus- it doesn’t work the other way around.
Christian spirituality is about getting to know who the Lord Jesus really and truly is. Remember, it is Jesus Christ “who fully reveals man to himself”. If we know Christ, we can become like him, and in becoming like him, we can become everything that God has created us to be.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us about the kind of priest that the Lord Jesus is. Knowing the kind of priest the Lord Jesus is we better know who the Lord Jesus is- and knowing better who the Lord Jesus is we can better know ourselves, and the way God wants us to worship, and what God wants us to do.