Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

Jesus: I am the bread of life

Last Supper San MarcoI love the gospel readings for the month of August because they give us the eucharistic theology of Divine Presence and the Divine Pledge for Eternal Life. These readings are known as the Bread of Life discourse taken from the Gospel of Saint John (chapter 6). You might say that the readings from Saint John’s gospel offers a timely reflection and orientation for eucharistic coherence. They indeed do, and this is no small gift these days when you hear more disagreement of what the Holy Eucharist is and why we receive Him. Faith informs me that sacramental Communion is Jesus Himself.

Whom do we receive in Holy Communion?

 

The question of what it means to be fed by the Bread of Life is not only a question for Holy Thursday, Corpus Christi or on the feast days of “eucharistic saints” like Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Today, the 19th Sunday Through the Church Year gives us the pericope that records the words of Jesus, and it is quite clear of who Jesus is and what the point is: “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” He also tells us: “I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”

Here is a paragraph from a Sermon by Eutychius of Constantinople:

No one, then, after the sacramental sacrifice and the holy resurrection, should have any doubt regarding the incorruptible, immortal, holy, and life-giving body and blood of the Lord. Once infused into the sacred elements through the liturgical rites, they communicate their own properties no less than do the aforementioned examples. They are wholly present in every part, for then the Lord’s body dwells corporally, that is to say, substantially, all the fullness of the divine nature of the Word of God. The breaking of this precious bread signifies his sacrificial death, and so he spoke of the passover as something to be longed for because it was to bring us salvation, immortality, and perfect knowledge.”

Transfiguration of the Lord

TransfigurationFor an instant on the summit of Tabor, Christ unveils the splendor of his divinity, manifesting to his chosen witnesses what he really is: the Son of God, “the radiance of the glory of the Father and the imprint of his substance”; but he also makes visible the transcendent destiny of our human nature, which he took on to save us as something likewise destined, because it is redeemed by his sacrifice of irrevocable love, that we too might participate in fullness of life in the “fellowship of the saints in light.” That body, transfigured before the astonished eyes of the apostles, is the body of Christ our brother, but it’s also that of our body called to glory; the light which floods inside of it is and will be our inheritance and our splendor. We are called to share that glory because we are “partakers of the divine nature.” An incomparable lot awaits us if we have honored our Christian vocation: if we have lived in the logical consequences of word and deed what the responsibilities of our Baptism demand of us.

Blessed Paul VI
Excerpt, Angelus address for 6 August 1978, only to never deliver it –he died that day.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Morgan Bible Give us this dayThe first reading today for the sacred Liturgy of 18th Sunday Through the Church Year, reveals the pouring out from heaven of manna for the people of Israel. The manna, you will recall, is an Old Testament type for what is revealed by Jesus in the feeding narratives and then as the Holy Eucharist. A central image of Jesus in the Gospel of St. John (John 6:24-35) is that He is the Bread of Life; later we speak of this as the heavenly banquet, the spiritual food for eternal life, as a holy sacrament. Christians believe the OT typology is a direct prefiguring of what is revealed in the NT narratives where we read of Christ’s multiplications of bread, signs of Eucharist (Thanksgiving, of heavenly food on earth), of Jesus Christ being the Bread of Life.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria teaches us that “In effect, Jesus is saying ‘I am the bread of life’, not bodily bread, which merely eliminates the physical suffering brought on by hunger, but rather that bread that refashions the entire living being to eternal life. The human being, who had been created for eternal life, is now given power over death.”

The good news here is that God, our Provident Father, provides for us in varied ways: He nourishes us and gives us the medicine of immortality.

The image is a striking one: it is a medieval illumination from the Morgan Bible called “Give Us This Day.” Indeed, may we worthily received the gift of the Bread of Life for our salvation.

Most Holy Trinity

Henrik van Balen, detail, The Holy Trinity (1620)Today, following the great feast of the Pentecost, we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. The proposes this feast day to remind us that God-Head has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ. On Pentecost day the Apostles spoke in many tongues when the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus as He ascended to heaven, descended upon them in the cenacle.

We know from the biblical narrative that Jesus revealed to His disciples the face of the Father and the power of the Spirit. The Pentecost experience reveals the complete revelation of the persons of the Trinity with the outpouring of  the Holy Spirit –manifestation of the love between God the Father and God the Son. This loves pours into the world.

With this feast we are keenly reminded that the Trinity is petitioned in our spiritual life each time we pray. Most of the time we begin and conclude our prayer with the Sign of the Cross and a Glory be. Also, I think it is right to recall that God deeply loves us first before we love Him. It is His initiative of love that makes great sense to the Church Fathers and I am pretty sure we can verify this experience.

What is it that we receive from God? What does the Church believe? The gift we receive from Jesus is “grace”; from the Father “love”; and from the Holy Spirit “communio.” The Pentecost teaches us that we are now members of God’s household, part of His family not by nature but by grace, this is what it means to be a part of  the Church; we are the divinely adopted children of God through Christ; his Spirit dwells in us; now we are “temples of his holy Name!”

Receiving Holy Communion these days

I am aware we’ve moved into the season of catechetical year of First Holy Communion. A rich and beautiful time. But it is also a distressing time for several reasons. As a sacrament, I look forward to being with Christ in this manner. I am aware that so many are not on the same page as I am or even Mother Church. For too many Holy Communion –and the first time a person receives– is more of a coming of age ceremony, a “right”, something that is owed to the child. All this  has nothing to do with a relationship with the Lord of Life, the Messiah who promised to be with His Church in a beautiful, unique and present way. Perhaps we have to look at what we are doing today and look at what was normative in our tradition. One of the Church Fathers taught the following to his flock:

“Thus, St Basil the Great refers to [receiving] communion four times a week as normative: ‘And to receive communion every day and to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ is good and beneficial, for [Christ] himself clearly says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life.” … We receive communion four times every week: on Sunday, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on Saturday, and on other days, if there happens to be a memorial of a Saint.”

(Letter 93 [89])

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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