First Kings 19:4-8; Psalms 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9;
Ephesians 4:30--5:2; John 6:41-51
Today we continue the Bread of Life discourse from the 6th chapter of St. John in our Gospel readings. Jesus continues to teach us about the coming of the Eucharist, and how it is a necessary part of our life in, and with, Christ. In this passage Jesus is dealing with a crowd who has flocked around him after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. I think it is fair to say that he is being heckled to a degree, with people interrupting him and questioning his every word. Jesus has to tell the crowd to “stop murmuring” today. In the entire Bread of Life discourse, Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life of eleven times. He really wants to get the message across but the crowd keeps on trying to qualify his statement.
The truth is, there is no qualification to this. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and he commands us to eat that Bread in order to have eternal life. In other words, the Eucharist really is Jesus’ Body and Blood and we need to receive it in order to be sustained to make it to heaven. As Pope Bl. Paul VI reminded us in 1968, “We believe that as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His body and His blood which were to be offered for us on the cross, likewise the bread and wine consecrated by the priest are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven, and we believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord, under what continues to appear to our senses as before, is a true, real and substantial presence. (Credo of the People of God, PP VI)
And in case anyone is tempted to think this is only an interpretation dating from the middle ages, St. Justin Martyr in the 100s described a Sunday for the early Christians for us. He wrote “There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen….not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” (First Apology of St. Justin Martyr)
As we spend these Sunday’s praying and learning about the Eucharist, I think it is a good time to look at our actions around the Sacrament again. If someone who knew nothing about Catholicism came in here and watched and listened to us, would they understand that we know the Eucharist to truly be God? Would they understand from our actions that we consider to it to be the high point of our relationship with God? Or would they think it was just one action amongst many that we doing during a worship service? Would they think it they just saw people share a small meal? Or would they see people who were clearly in the presence of their Maker and Redeemer?
The Unites States Conference of Bishops, understanding the need to demonstrate our belief in the real presence by our actions has given us guidelines on how to do this they. They tell us: “The Body and Blood of Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine are treated with the greatest reverence both during and after the celebration of the Eucharist…According to the tradition of the Latin Church, one should genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the traditional practice is to make the sign of the cross and to bow profoundly. The liturgical gestures from both traditions reflect reverence, respect, and adoration. It is appropriate for the members of the assembly to greet each other in the gathering space of the church …but it is not appropriate to speak in loud or boisterous tones in the body of the church because of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle.” (The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers, USCCB) The Roman Missal tells us that when we receive the Sacrament “The communicant may choose whether to receive the Body of Christ in the hand or on the tongue. When receiving in the hand, the communicant should be guided by the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem: "When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost.” (Norms For The Distribution And Reception Of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds In The Dioceses Of The United States Of America, 41)
Aside from the honor we owe to our Lord in our actions around the Sacrament, there is a secondary element we need to consider: what we teach others by our actions. Have we perhaps taught others that we don’t take the Eucharist seriously by our actions or lack thereof?
Many a former Catholic has said they left because no one in the pews seemed to believe what the Church taught. This fall, through our Catholics Come Home program we will, God willing, be welcoming back people to our pews who have been away from the Catholic Church for years or maybe even decades.
Let’s show them through our actions that we take the Mass seriously, and that we truly believe that we need the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of Christ, to have eternal life, and we bow and kneel before our Lord with sincerity and thanksgiving. Once other people begin to notice that we know that we blessed to be in the presence of our Lord and God, people will begin to ask questions about how they too can meet the Lord in the Sacraments in His Holy Catholic Church.