Last week, the normal Sunday readings were interrupted because the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary fell on a Sunday this liturgical year (2021). Unfortunately, some of the most significant words of Jesus regarding the Holy Eucharist—found in Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse (John, chapter 6)—were bypassed as a result. Let me just quote a few of the most significant lines found there:
I am the bread of life . . . I am the bread that came down from heaven . . . 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 . . . My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink . . . .
Bread is indeed a staple of life for many people throughout history. In Jesus’ time it was part of the everyday meal as was table wine. He used both of these common elements in an extraordinary way when He was at table with his disciples before His death—the Last Supper.
Bread also had some spiritual significance throughout history for the Jewish and later Christian peoples. The Jewish people eat unleavened bread to commemorate their freedom from Egypt when they had to flee before they had time for the bread to rise (Ex. 34:18). When the Jews were wandering in the desert after their exodus from Egypt, God gave them manna to eat—mysterious “bread from heaven.” (Ex. 16) The Jews also kept showbread or bread of presence—twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes of Israel—before God in the sanctuary of the Temple. Later, Jesus famously multiplied the loaves and fish, to feed the hungry multitudes (Mt. 14:15-21, Mk. 6:34-42, Lk. 9:16-17, Jn. 6:9-13). The use of bread comes to a spiritual summit in Jesus’ designation of it as His body at the Last Supper (Mt. 26: 26, Mk. 14:22, Lk. 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:23-24).
However, in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6, as we read what is referred to as Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus makes some very profound and perhaps, disturbing, statements. Some people found His teaching hard to take and walked away from Him (see Jn. 6:66). This passage is seen as an essential commentary on the significance and value of the Most Holy Eucharist. We hear some of the most definitive statements of Jesus regarding the Holy Eucharist. The Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament is one of the core teachings of the Catholic faith. We do not believe in some mere symbolic presence, but take Jesus literally—at His word—in our understanding of this divine mystery. Over the centuries, the term transubstantiation—a change in substance (but not in appearance)—has been used to explain this essential dogma.
When we approach the Most Holy Eucharist, we approach Jesus—our Lord, God and Savior. He deserves our love, reverence and respect. Reverence and awe cannot be overstated or over-emphasized. Like the people in the Gospel, our attitude toward the Holy Eucharist should be one of desire, anticipation, thanksgiving and joy: “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6: 34)
Please realize Whom we are privileged to have on our altar and to receive: Jesus, the Son of God.
Fr. Ed Namiotka