The National Catholic Review

It is almost too much to comprehend: the ways in which the Body and Blood of Christ are present and real to us and nourish us. We have a type of this heavenly food in the manna in the desert, which Deuteronomy 8:3 says is food  “which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” while 8:16 states that God  “fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.” This physical food had a spiritual purpose, to direct the people of Israel to dependence upon God and God’s word.

Jesus refers to manna in John 6 after feeding a large crowd with barley loaves and a few fish. The crowd says to Jesus,

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' “Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who 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." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (6:31-35)

Again in John 6: 48-50 Jesus reveals himself as the fulfillment of the type of the manna: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”

Finally, Jesus speaks openly to the crowd he has just fed with bread and fish:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (6:51)

It is a challenge for the crowd who heard it then, as it remains a challenge to those who hear it today: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Indeed, how can this be? Yet, the “how” is less important than the “be,” even while acknowledging the difficulties inherent in accepting or explaining the reality then and now. Without question there is at the ground of Jesus’ claims a necessary willingness to believe and to have faith, that he is who he said he was, that he has come from the Father to bring us eternal life, and that we participate in this life through the reception of the body and blood.

It is not just that we participate in the reception of the body of Christ, but that, as Paul tells us, we who participate are a part of the body of Christ:  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). In this way, we are communally one body, as the people of Israel, dependent upon our spiritual food, wandering through this wilderness together toward the Promised Land.  As not just receivers of the body of Christ, but as participants in the one body, let’s not forget our duty to aid each other along the way. This is not a zero sum game, in which I win when you lose, but a help for each other  as we journey to eternity. Jesus multiplies our food as often as necessary so that all can be fed and so that the one body might be strong.

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens

Comments

Anonymous | 7/6/2011 - 11:52am
In the Gospels there is a connection made between the "multiplication" of loaves and fishes (i.e. creation ex nihilo of matter) and Jesus' discourse on his body and blood being "real food, real drink". There's also a link between "how" it is that God became man and "how" this Incarnate Word - which is two 'whats' (divine nature, human nature) can be one "who" (one person) - can offer ordinary bread and wine to us as his real body and blood.

I think the Hypostatic Union explains the Eucharistic Presence on the level of metaphysics.

It begins with the realities of substance and being which are CONCEPTUAL realities, not PERCEPTUAL realities. 

God, as Ipsum Esse Subsistens, as pure spirit, cannot be perceived by our 5 senses...but He can indeed be known by his action (theophanies) - and perhaps by a 6th sense human beings seem to have with respect to "presences" (hairs on the back of our neck standing up/feeling like we're being watched...). 

So how does Being himself 'become flesh'? Well, let's work backward from the one other known phenomenon involving spirits and flesh..... demonic possession. It's a well accepted fact that Satan apes God, all his temptations and all his works take a good thing and twists it, distorts it, (root for the word 'heresy' is twist). But a demonically possessed human being is still just a human being under bondage. Jesus was not a possessed human being, he was a divine person with a human nature. It's the willed presence of his person (the Word, the Logos) in that tabernacle of human 'flesh' at the moment of conception by the Holy Spirit (the Lord, the giver of life and origin of all our spiritual souls) that the Logos' personal presence became united with humanity.

What happens at the Mass? The Holy Spirit is invoked over mere "matter" - bread and wine - as at the Annunciation - and we say "fiat" through the priest to this personal presence of Jesus becoming one flesh with bread and wine.

Both Incarnation and Eucharist therefore are sovereign miracles of the Creator, the transsubstantiation of a Human "person" with the Divine at the moment of conception..... and the transubstantiation of the "is-ness" of corporeal bread and wine for this self-same Divine Person's presence. 

If you accept that Jesus can be God and man (because of his words and works), then it's not a stretch to accept that Jesus can be substantially present as God and man in bread and wine. 

Because God is creator substantial changes are possible (what else is a miracle if not substantial changes?) whereas angels or demons cannot create anything but merely occupy or control (possess or oppress or inspire or manipulate) matter - including our bodies and minds (to a degree). 

Going back to the phenomenon of demonic possession - one sees the power of the Eucharistic presence too.... if this were merely a 'symbolic' and not 'real, substantial' presence of God with us, the Eucharistic presence would not evoke such radical responses in the possessed humans.... nor drive out such invidious, malicious, invisible presences... ergo.... phenomenologically, whatever else Eucharistic species are, they can't be 'symbolic' only. Obviously they must be vessels of the divine presence (in some fashion).   
richard benitez | 7/5/2011 - 2:32pm
I often contemplate the mystical and inner meaning of the Sacred Heart of Jesus whose love, tolerance, and commitment to human creatures from time beginning throughout salvation history, and now finds His existence in me at the time of communion in both Body and Blood. What does this mean? Does the human self fall away with the Presence of Christ, or is the human (you or I) now walking and interacting with all creatures with God who now presents Himself each hour as Jose or Sam or Molly? I read somewhere that Dorothy Day, while working with the homeless, realized that each person she fed was Jesus Christ, most Sacred Heart.
Katherine Jordan | 6/28/2011 - 1:53pm
Very beautiful and encouraging. In those first Masses I attended about two years ago, when I saw the priest raise the host and heard those bells ring, I finally grasped a Truth I had never fully realized before: That Christ truly does give Himself to us.
Thank you for the article and especially the words: "Jesus multiplies our food as often as necessary so that all can be fed and so that the one body might be strong." Amen!