More than Grace - God Himself
The Eucharist consists of bread and wine which are transformed into Jesus during Mass. But why did Jesus choose bread and wine? Part of the answer comes from studying the Passover where unleavened bread and wine were part of the meal.
By Ashwith Rego
On the solemnity of Corpus Christi (Sunday 23 June 2019) we celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Catechism teaches us that ‘in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained"’.
The liturgy points to the Scriptural basis for the Church’s belief in the Real Presence. In the acclamation Jesus proclaims, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). This is from the Bread of Life discourse in John where Jesus repeatedly says we must consume his flesh and blood in order to have eternal life. The crowd is scandalized at this but Jesus doesn’t clarify saying it’s a symbol. Instead he reiterates what he says. His followers go away but Jesus doesn’t back down – he was speaking in literal terms. Just before this, Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves which is connected to the Eucharist.
Firstly, the miracle recounts God feeding the Israelites with manna, bread from heaven. Jesus says that he is the true bread from heaven. During the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus “took” bread, “blessed” it, “broke” it and “gave” it to his disciples (Mt 26:26). The Gospel writers record that Jesus performed the same actions during the feeding of the five thousand showing that this miracle points toward the Eucharist.
Secondly, the miracle also recalls how David fed the people with bread and meat when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:19). We know this because of the people’s reaction in John’s account: “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king” (Jn 6:15).
Finally, the miracle also recalls the feeding of hundred men by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42:44. This is why the people call Jesus “the prophet who is to come into the world” (Jn 6:14).
The Eucharist consists of bread and wine which are transformed into Jesus during Mass. But why did Jesus choose bread and wine? Part of the answer comes from studying the Passover where unleavened bread and wine were part of the meal. But the first reading gives us a more ancient connection. When Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, the latter offered bread and wine. The letter to the Hebrews quotes today’s Psalm and tells us that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7). The old Levitical priesthood has passed and we have a new priesthood in Christ. As the body of Christ, we share in this priesthood. The ordained priests form the ministerial priesthood while the rest of us form the common priesthood. At Mass, when the priest says “lift up your hearts,” we unite the offering of ourselves to Christ’s perfect offering and respond “we lift them up to the Lord.”
The second reading recalls the institution. Here we see the core of our belief in the Real Presence. Bishop Robert Barron explains it as follows. First, we know that words have power. Our words can influence others’ thoughts and actions. Jesus is God himself. Therefore his words are infinitely more powerful. Next, when God speaks, what he says comes to be. In Genesis, God created the world through his Word. Finally, this same Word incarnated takes bread and wine saying “this is my body”… “this is my blood.” This same God who created the universe out of nothing, simply by saying “let there be…”, transforms the bread and wine into himself just by uttering those most powerful transforming words. At Mass, Christ speaks through his ministerial priest in the same way, transforming the bread and wine into his body and blood.
This is why Jesus calls himself the living bread that has come down from heaven. The same Jesus who walked, ate and shared with the apostles two thousand years ago is present in all his power and glory in the Eucharist. The same touch which healed lepers and made the blind see is available to us in the Eucharist. St. Paul talks about an incident where God told him that his grace was sufficient for him. Maybe sometimes we need something more and Jesus gives us more – he gives us himself, in the Eucharist. Blessed John Henry Newman summarizes this thought in his hymn:
“And that a higher gift than grace should flesh and blood refine,
God's presence and his very self, and essence all-divine.”
(Ashwith Rego writes reflections on Catholic themes to enrich the faith-life of people and their devotions.)
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