Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a); Ps 147:12-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
In the last three months we have celebrated three major events in our Christian life: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, his return to his Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics are the first Pentecostals since we go back to the first Pentecost, the birthday of Christ’s church. Last week we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday, three persons in One God.
This Sunday we celebrate the great miracle of making present in bread and wine what Jesus did at the Last Supper. He made himself present in a new way, changing bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. This is one of the most important beliefs of Catholics, the ancient churches of East and West. We celebrate Christ’s daily presence every day at some moment all around the world. This is a daily on-going miracle, the multiplication of bread and wine.
There are many scripture passages about this miracle, many books written about it and many Eucharistic processions. The shortest and clearest Biblical text for understanding Jesus in the “breaking of the Bread,” is from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks (to his Father), broke it and said, ‘This is my Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my Blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes,” again.
Origins of the Eucharist
Our Jewish ancestors celebrated their freedom from Egyptian bondage by a Passover Meal God commanded them to celebrate the night before they left Egypt. They had been doing that for about 1300 years before Christ’s birth. The Last Supper was an anticipatory meal. Jesus became the Paschal Lamb sacrificing his own life on the cross to take away our sins. Three gospels briefly explain Jesus changing bread and wine into his own Body and Blood at the Last Supper: St. Mark in 14:12-25; St. Matthew in 26:17-29 and in St. Luke 22:7-20.
St. John does not give a direct description of the Last Supper, as do the others since they had already been written. John places his description in Chapter 6 after the multiplication of the loves and fish to feed a great crowd. In verse 32 and 33, Jesus said:
“I solemnly assure you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven; it was my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread. God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The people asked for that bread always. Jesus replied: “I myself am the Bread of Life.” (v. 35) Jesus went on to say, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” (v.41) Let me firmly assure you, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” (48) In verse 51 Jesus said again, “I myself am the Living Bread, come down from heaven. …The Bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” And finally Jesus said, “For my Flesh is real food, and my Blood real drink. The man (person) who feeds on my Flesh, and drinks my Blood remains in me, and I in him.” (V. 55)
The real presence described
The (new) “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states:
“The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the (other 6) sacraments as ‘the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.’ In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the Body and Blood, together, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.’ ‘This presence is called “real” – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of Christ’s presence as if they could not be “real” too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.’” (CCC, 1374)
We have a number of terms to describe this mystery of Christ’s presence in Eucharist. They are “the Breaking of the Bread; the Lord’s Supper; the Eucharistic Assembly; the Memorial of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection; the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Holy and Divine Liturgy; the Eucharist Liturgy; Holy Communion; and the Holy Mass. (cf. CCC 1328-1332)
The Eucharist defined
The New World Dictionary Concordance to the New American Bible (1970) defines Eucharist as:
“Tradition and Christian theology have given the name Eucharist to the sacramental commemoration of the redemptive death of Christ. The word stems from the Greek word eucharistein: to give thanks. This commemorative rite which formed so much a part of the life of the apostolic Christian community was called by Paul ‘the Lord’s Supper’ 1 Corinthians 11:28. The very name suggests the real context of the celebration, its historic origins and its essence which was to be a commemoration of the last supper celebrated by the Lord with his disciples before he went to his death, ‘Do this as a remembrance of me’ (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24,25). The name eucharist underscores one of the fundamental elements of the celebration, and is derived from the frequent mention of thanksgiving as part of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”
Within the Eucharistic Liturgy (Mass) we are fed in two ways. We feed on the ancient Words of God to instruct our lives today. Then we come to the table of Jesus to be fed on our best and greatest “daily bread,” as the Our Father says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We receive divine nourishment empowering us to live our daily lives the way God directs and empowers us.
This Sunday is Father’s Day in the USA. At the Last Supper Jesus mentions His heavenly “Father” forty-five new ways. These give us clues as to how an earthly father, with a frequent connection to God our Father, is to care for his wife and children in a Christ-centered way. I pray for all earthly fathers today.
A helpful way a father can deepen his role as a father, is to frequently refer to “United States Catholic Catechism for Adults,” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It gives most of the understanding of our faith in simple words, as a parent would explain for their older children. Let us come often to be fed by such wonderful food.
Have a blessed good Solemnity. Happy Father’s Day to all fathers.
+ Fr. Bob Hilz
(© 2017 Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR)