Liturgical Reflection for Corpus Christi

“I am the living Bread…”

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, John does not record the last supper. Instead, John does it much earlier in chapter 6 and devotes a whole chapter to what we now know as the Eucharist. The Bread of Life discourse, as Chapter 6 is commonly known, starts with the miracle of feeding five thousand men with five barley loaves and two fishes with twelve baskets of food scraps left-over.

In John 6:51, Jesus says to the Jews, “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” These are bold radical statements. Upon hearing this, the Jews started to argue with one another. How could he say he came down from heaven? How could he give us his flesh to eat? Does he claim to be divine? Isn’t he the son of Joseph the carpenter, whose father and mother we know? (Jn 6:42) The more Jesus spoke, the more obnoxious it became, and they were incredulous. Jesus up the ante by solemnly adding that “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.” Jesus now tells them not only had they to eat his flesh, they also had to drink his blood in order to receive eternal life.

Even though the people had witnessed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, they could not see that Jesus was more than a provider for their material needs. To the listeners, this idea is thoroughly repugnant, cannibalistic. Drinking the blood of animals (much less human blood) is strictly forbidden under Old Covenant, for the blood is the life of the animal. (Lev 17:10,11,14) However Jesus really meant what he had said, for he stressed eating his body and drinking his blood four times in this short gospel passage, repeatedly using the word Trogo (Gk.), a verb meaning to “chew” or “gnaw” (Jn 6:54,56,57,58) instead of eating courteously esthio (Gk.). This teaching of Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews as prophesied by Isaiah, who “Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive. (Isa 6:9)

Sacramentally, Jesus was describing the giving of himself as the Eucharist which would become the source and summit of our worship. Jesus was talking about how receiving the Eucharist could unite us with his body and blood, his soul and divinity. “I am the living bread which comes down from heaven. Anyone who eats of this bread will live forever and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) By the power of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine is transubstantiated (CCC 1373-1377, 1413) into the body and blood of Christ when the celebrant acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) pronounces the words of consecration in the Eucharistic prayer. The manna from heaven and the multiplication of loaves prefigure the superabundance of the “unique bread” (Body of Christ) which we are invited to partake of, until He comes again. Even today, the Eucharist is mysterious, it defies our imagination, and only by the grace of faith can we believe.

These two halves of the Bread of life discourse work together, for without faith we can neither be united with Christ nor recognise his presence in the Eucharist. We also recognise these in every Eucharistic Celebration, when we come together as a community to participate in the celebration of the Pascal Mystery. In the first half, we have the Liturgy of the Word where we ‘eat’ (listen) the Word proclaimed, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we ‘eat’ His Body in Holy Communion. If eating is believing, then believing leads to eating (Jn 6:48-58, CCC161,162, 1381). How is Jesus, the Bread of life a source of nourishment for you? Do you recognise His Presence in the Eucharist?

With Gratuitous Grace,

Anthony C & Cecilia V