Thursday, June 20, 2019

Corpus Christi 2019

Melchisedek, the king of Salem, the priest of God the Most High, bringing forth bread and wine, prefigured the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim of the Body of Christ. V. Jesus entered (the Holy of holies) for us, according to the order of Melchisedek, offering Himself once, the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim. (The third responsory of the Cistercian Office of Corpus Christi.)

Melchisedek and Abraham; mosaic in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, 440 A.D.
R. Melchisedech, Rex Salem, sacerdos Dei altissimi, proferens panem et vinum, praefiguravit Corporis Christi * sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam. V. Introivit Jesus pro nobis secundum ordinem Melchisedech, semel offerens seipsum sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam.

The mosaic panel shown above is one of a series of 42 (of which 27 remain), which date back to the original construction of the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God, the basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. This panel is located to the right of the altar from the point of view of the priest as he stands at it facing into the nave. The first few panels in the series are slightly out of sequence with the Biblical narrative; the next two are the apparition at the oak of Mamre (Genesis 18), and the separation of Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13). The placement of Melchisedek next to the altar is clearly deliberate, and may be taken as an attestation of the words of the Roman Canon “quod tibi obtulit summus sacredos tuus Melchisedech”, also attested in St Ambrose’s De Sacramentis, 4.27.

The three figures of the Old Testament named in the Supra quae propitio of Canon are likewise depicted in the mosaics to either side of the altar in the basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, which date to roughly a century later. (Both images from Wikimedia Commons by Roger Culos, CC BY-SA 3.0; click to enlarge)

The Apparition of the Trinity to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18) and the Sacrifice of Isaac.
The Sacrifices of Abel (Genesis 4) and Melchisedek (Genesis 14) 

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