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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. Every high priest. He speaks first of the office of priests in general, before he speaks of Christ's priesthood. A priest is chosen and preferred before other men, as qualified for the divine ministry, to offer up gifts, oblations, sacrifices, in order to obtain forgiveness for his own sins and those of the people, who, by the experience he has of his own infirmities, may compassionate others who offend through frailty or ignorance, every priest (excepting our Saviour Christ) being a sinner. Nor must he take upon himself rashly and inconsiderately, for temporal motives, this sacred ministry, formidable (says S. Gregory) even for the shoulders of Angels; he must consult God by prayer, follow the advice of his spiritual guides and pious parents; by these means to know whether he has a call from God to this ministry, as Aaron had. Wi. — The priest and pastor should never forget that he is a man and a sinner; that he is honoured with this divine ministry, to offer sacrifice both for his own sins and for the sins of the faithful; that prayer should be his delight, the altar his centre, and the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ his supreme felicity. "This sacrifice of the Eucharist," says S. Austin, "has succeeded to all the ancient victims that were immolated of old, to signify the future sacrifice." l. 10. c. xx. de Civit. Dei. As to the word mass, it was in use to signify this holy sacrifice of the altar above thirteen hundred years ago. See the second C. of Carthage, can. 3. S. Jerom upon the Prov. c. xi. S. Ambrose, l. 2. ep. 14. Missam facere cœpi; I began to say mass. It was introduced into this country with Christianity itself. See V. Bede's history, c. xxvii. & b. 4. c. xiv.
Ver. 4. See in 3 Kings xiii. 2 Paralip. xxvi. and 1 Kings xiii. the manifest punishments of the Almighty on laics that impiously and sacrilegiously attempted the ministry of priests. In the Christian dispensation, archbishop Cranmer, the very soul of the pretended reformation, dictatorially pronounces, "he that is appointed to be a bishop or priest, needeth no consecration:" words quoted by Dr. Stillingfleet from his own handwriting, in his Irenicum, p. 391, 2d ed. But the Catholic Church has given a very different decision, which is confirmed by the testimony of Scripture, apostolical tradition, and the unanimous consent of the Fathers. See Acts vi. 6. and xiii. 3. and xiv. 22. 1 Tim. iv. 14. &c. See in the history of Socrates, who lived in the fifth century, how the usurpation of Ischyras, in taking upon himself the name and office of a priest without receiving holy orders, was reprobated as a crime worthy of death. l. 1. c. xxvii. Ed. Val.
Ver. 5. So also Christ, as man, did not glorify himself, by assuming this dignity of high priest, but had it conferred upon him by the divine decrees of his eternal Father, who said to him: Thou art my Son, and thou art a priest forever, &c. Wi.
Ver. 6. Some may perhaps wonder why S. Paul does not dwell more in this epistle on the eucharistic sacrifice; but until the Hebrews understood the bloody sacrifice on the cross, they could not be supposed to understand the unbloody sacrifice of the altar. The holy Fathers observe, that the sacrifice of Melchisedech, (Gen. xiv. 18.) offered in bread and wine, prefigured the unbloody sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ at his last supper. See Clemens Alex. l. 4. Strom. c. viii. S. Cyp. l. 2. ep. 3. ad Cæul. Euseb. of Cæsar. l. 5. Dem. Evang. c. iii. S. Jerom ad Marcel. S. Aug. ep. 95. ad Inn. Pap. S. Amb. Epip. Chrys. &c. apud Bellarm. l. 1. de missa. c. vi. Hence it follows, that the holy Eucharist is truly and properly a sacrifice as well as a sacrament, as the paschal lamb or passover of the old law was both a sacrament and sacrifice. For either our Saviour offered sacrifice at his last supper under the forms of bread and wine, or he cannot be called a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech. For the different orders of priests are chiefly distinguished by their sacrifice; (see v. 1.) and if it be supposed that our Saviour only offered a bloody sacrifice, he would with more propiety have been called a priest according to the order of Aaron, and not of Melchisedech. See S. Aug. l. 16. de Civitat. Dei. c. xxii.
Ver. 7. Who in the days of his flesh, of his mortal and suffering condition, even with strong and fervent crying out, and tears, offering up as man, prayers and supplications to him, to God, who could save him from death; to wit, in the garden of Gethsemani, and on the cross, yet with a perfect resignation and conformity of his human will to the divine will, was heard for his reverence. I leave this translation, which is in the Rhemes Testament, very literal from the Latin Vulgate, and which cannot be said to be any ways disagreeable to the Greek. As to the sense, there are two expositions in the best interpreters. S. Chrysostom and many others understand, that he was heard as to every prayer that he made absolutely, and not conditionally only, (as when he prayed that the cup of his sufferings might pass from him) and he was heard for that reverence, reverential regard, and just consideration which the eternal Father had for him, who was his true Son. This interpretation agrees better with the Greek text, in which is left out the word his. Others by his reverence, understand that he was heard on account of that reverential fear, that respectful submission and piety, which he always had towards his eternal Father. And if it be asked in what Christ was not heard, and in what he was heard: he was not heard when he said, let this cup of sufferings, or this death, pass from me, because it was not what he asked and prayed for with an absolute desire, but only thereby expressed the natural fear which, as man, he had of death, and therefore presently added, but not my will but thine be done, expressing what he knew to be the divine will. And to shew this, S. Chrys. on these words, brings all those sentences by which our Saviour, Christ, had declared that he had power to lay down his life, and power to take it up again; that no one taketh it from him, but that he laid it down of himself. See John x. 18. and S. Chrys. hom. vii. p. 475. But Christ was heard in all he prayed for with an absolute will, according to what he said to his Father, I know that thou always hearest me. Jo. xi. 42. He was heard as to all that he asked with an absolute will, either for himself or his Church. Wi. — What excellent dispositions these of Jesus Christ in his sacrifice, which we learn from his apostles. How truly worthy are these tears both of our love and our adoration! Hence it appears, that Jesus Christ in his prayer both in the garden and on the cross shed tears, though the evangelists are silent on this head. Menochius.
Ver. 8. He that was truly the Son of God, and knew all things, learnt practically, and taught us perfect obedience in suffering and dying a cruel death on the cross. Wi.
Ver. 9. And being consummated, or perfected as man in all kinds of virtues, and at the same time true God by his divine person, became the author of salvation to all those who both believe in him and obey him. Wi.
Ver. 10. There is but one eternal Pontiff, one universal Priest given by God all others are his vicars, but not successors, whom he associates to his priesthood, to continue those same functions on earth which he himself exercises in heaven, and which had been prefigured in Melchisedech.
Ver. 11. Of whom, i.e. of his high priesthood, according to the order of Melchisedech, we have mighty things to say, and very hard to be expounded or understood by you, at least many of you, who, though you ought to be masters after the gospel hath been so long preached, and even by the apostles of Christ, yet you are weak as to understanding it; (the Greek also signifies slothful and negligent) you stand in need of being taught the first elements and principles of the Christian faith, like children, who are rather to be fed with milk than with more solid meats. How many are there now in the like condition, who are for reading and expounding all the holy Scriptures according to their own way of thinking? Wi.