Light and Life – Nov-Dec 2020, Vol 73, No 6 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
“Then, taking bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying: ‘This is my body to be given for you. Do this as a remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19)
The Institution of the Holy Eucharist is one of the most profound mysteries of the Rosary. In the Fifth Luminous Mystery, the Lord Jesus, while at the Last Supper, gave Himself to us in his Body and Blood as food for our earthly journey to sustain us both in body and soul. This “Manna from Heaven” is a sacrament and a sublime mystery given to Christians, and as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, it is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”1 accordingly, “the other sacraments, as well as with every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are tied together with the Eucharist and are directed toward it.”2 So, the very life of the entire Church is linked to the Holy Eucharist and flows from it.Pope St. John Paul II says that each of the Luminous Mysteries is “a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.”3 [His emphasis] Nowhere is this statement more apropos than in the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, when on the night before he was to suffer and die on the cross, Jesus gave his Body and Blood to the Church as an everlasting remembrance. It was to be both a true meal and the living memorial of his sacrifice on the cross.
The Holy Eucharist perpetuates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Jesus died once for all time, and left his Church a memorial of his death and resurrection as “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”4 So, when we participate in the Mass, we are brought to the Last Supper, to the holy sacrifice of the cross.
But what was in the mind and heart of Our Lord when he gave us this tremendous gift? To uncover this mystery, we need to look at the Paschal Mystery in its fullness to see it. The Holy Eucharist is inextricably bound to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Though, we need to back up even further and look at the mystery of the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas to see the where the foundations of the Holy Eucharist lay.
We begin to uncover our mystery where it all began—at the crib. The Eternal Word, the divine Person who had no beginning and will have no end, took upon himself our human nature, body and soul, and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and placed himself under the obedience of Mary and Joseph to begin his journey to Calvary. In making himself vulnerable to mere human beings, God humbles himself and empties himself as he chooses an impoverished life on earth. So begins the ascent to the cross and our redemption.
St. Paul says it wonderfully:
Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross! Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name … JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! (Cf. Phi 2:6-11)
So, in the person of Jesus, we see vulnerability and sacrifice. As an infant, he understood what it meant to be hungry and thirsty—as we experience it. For the rest of his life on earth, he would experience these basic human needs; however, as he hung upon the cross, and cried out, “I thirst,” (John 19:28) his emptiness would reach its apex where his experience of real human hunger and thirst intersected with his thirst for the redemption of the world. Fittingly then, with his impending sacrifice in mind, Our Lord proclaims, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)
In the Old Testament there is a foreshadowing of the Holy Eucharist when God says to Moses, “I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you.” (Exodus 16:4) Psalm 78 describes this sacred event, “God rained manna upon them for food; grain from heaven he gave them. Man ate the bread of the angels; food he sent in abundance.” (Psalm 78:24-25)
The Prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of Jesus Christ with Eucharistic undertones, when he says, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy? Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, the steadfast loyalty promised to David.” (Is 55:1-3) In fulfillment of this prophecy, the Lord Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (Jn 6:35)
In John’s “Eucharist Chapter,” Chapter 6, there is a direct correlation with the Holy Eucharist and the manna of the desert received by the Hebrew people on their journey to the promised land. People from the crowd tell Jesus, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:31) Jesus responds by declaring, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (Cf. John 6:32-35)
In addition, Jesus proclaims, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). When the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52), Jesus doubles down and says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)
Thus, following the Lord’s teachings on the Holy Eucharist, it is a sacred truth of the Catholic Church that the Host that we eat and the Precious Blood that we drink, are truly the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—they are not just symbols!
The Catholic belief on the Holy Eucharist is well-defined in Sacred Scripture. To my Protestant brethren, I challenge you to look in your own Bible to find this sublime doctrine, because you will find it there lucid and clear. Do not be afraid of John 6: break it open and study it, and see how it correlates to other books in Scripture, especially the four Gospels, the miracles of the loaves, the writings of St. Paul, and the foreshadowings in the Old Testament.
In his article, “Unless you eat my body…: Is John 6:53 Symbolic or Literal?” Marcus Grodi, a former Presbyterian minister, speaks of his coming to understand and believe in the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. Through the Holy Scriptures, he discerns and accepts the Catholic belief in the Holy Eucharist.5 In doing so, he carefully reviews the following texts: 1 Cor 11:17-34, 1 Cor 10: 14-22, Acts 2:42, Luke 24:27-35, Luke 22:19-20, and, of course, John 6:32-71.
We can pour through all the books of Sacred Scripture that teach us about the Holy Eucharist, and reflect especially upon the words of Jesus in the Gospels, but perhaps first we should go back to the beginnings of our own human experience: every person, even from infancy, knows what it means to be physically hungry. We can also experience what it’s like to be spiritually hungry, though we don’t often recognize the true nature of spiritual “hunger pains” as an emptiness within, which can be a true suffering. On the other hand, many people understand the feeling of spiritual hunger—they just don’t know that there is an actual physical food that we can eat that satiates our hunger.
The gift of Holy Communion is God’s answer to our spiritual (and physical) hunger. It is a physical food that is ingested and digested by our bodies in the natural way; yet, it is also a unique food in that it feeds the soul. When we partake in it, we participate in the divine and human life of Jesus Christ. Moreover, through the Body and Blood of Jesus we receive from God the grace needed in this life to live, persevere and grow in God’s grace. It can be a daily remedy that fills our hunger and satisfies us. Also, receiving the Holy Eucharist in our final hours is the single most valuable thing we can do before we die. It is the “Bread of Angels” that carries us to the next life.
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the great saints of the Holy Eucharist, says, “Material food first changes into the one who eats it, and then, as a consequence, restores to him lost strength and increases his vitality. Spiritual food, on the other hand, changes the person who eats it into itself. Thus, the effect proper to this Sacrament is the conversion of a man into Christ, so that he may no longer live, but Christ lives in him; consequently, it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual strength he had lost by his sins and defects, and of increasing the strength of his virtues.”6
This special gift of the Holy Eucharist will remain with the Church till the end of time. So, when we doubt God’s presence in the Church and in our lives, we can always remember that Jesus Christ is present to us in a tangible way both physically and spiritually. God has not forgotten his people! He becomes present to us physically each time we celebrate the Mass. God knows our spiritual hunger and feeds us appropriately. He gives us Food for the journey.
As we pray and ponder the meaning of the Fifth Luminous Mystery, we can reflect upon the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and how God called her to enter into the Sacrifice of her Son. “The Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth.”7 When we approach the Lord to receive his Body and Blood at Mass, we also turn to Mary, who by her complete fidelity received Christ’s sacrifice for the whole Church. She is the model for each of us, who are called to receive the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist.8
1. Lumen Gentium, #11, Nov 21, 1964.
2. Pope Paul VI, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Dec 7, 1965
3. Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #21, Oct 16, 2002.
4. Pope Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, #47, Dec 4, 1963.
5. Cf. Marcus Grodi, “Unless you eat my body…: Is John 6:53 Symbolic or Literal?”, chnetwork.org/2015/12/10
6. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences, d.12.2.a.11
7. Lumen Gentium, #58, Nov 21, 1964.
8. Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, #33, Feb 22, 2007
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