A.The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B.Reflection & Dialogue: The Message of the Eucharist Today
A.The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings
First Reading (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16).He fed them with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known.
The forty-years wandering in the wilderness is central to Israel’s religious tradition. There are many accounts and retellings of it in both the Old and New Testaments. The period could be looked on in a variety of ways, one being as an idealized time when no false gods came between Israel and her communion with her God. This is how it is often presented in the prophetic writings. Noteworthy memories of this desert period are the hunger and thirst experienced by the people of Israel and God’s remedy for these through the manna and the water from the rock. As just noted, in the biblical literature this desert period could be presented in a variety of ways. One of these is t hat given in this present liturgical reading: God’s relationship with his people during the desert wanderings was intended to humble them, to test them and see whether they were really faithful in their hearts to God, and prepared to keep his commandments. This reading lays stress on the manna, given them as food, but given with the purpose of having them understand that one does not live on bread alone but on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord. That which comes from the mouth of mortals or of God is the word, and God’s word means his commandments and every other divine word what will come through the prophets and other divine messengers. Jesus will use this Scripture text in his answer to Satan in another wilderness.
For Israel there was a real danger that they would forget all that God had done for them, in freeing them from bondage and in the miraculous food and drink of the desert period, once they had left behind them the trials of the desert and settled in the rich land of Palestine, experiencing new-found prosperity. In verses omitted before the final paragraph of today’s reading this danger is spelled out in some detail. In the final paragraph of today’s reading God pleads with Israel not to allow this to happen. His care for them during the trials of the desert wanderings should not be forgotten, with the saving gifts of the manna and the water from the rock.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 147). O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
Second Reading (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). That there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body.
This is a very brief and concise reading, with a deep message that is possibly best understood if placed in the overall context of the letter from which it is taken. This reading comes towards the end of a long passage in which Paul is warning the Church at Corinth of the danger of being unfaithful to their Christian calling. He gives them the example of athletes and runners in a race, who must exercise self-control in all things, if they were to win the prize, which then was but a perishable wreath. The Corinthian Christians were well aware of Israel’s early history, of the exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea under Moses, the gifts of the water and the manna in the wilderness – for Christians all figures of baptism into Christ, of baptism and the Eucharist. They would also have known of the sins of Israel during the desert wanderings, the murmurings, the idolatry and the licentious behaviour, and of how God punished them severely for all these. Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that all that happened to Israel during the Exodus and desert period – the good and the bad – served as an example for later Christian believers, as a warning to those who believe they were standing to watch out and not to fall. Apparently some of the Corinthian believers, converts from paganism, continued to attend pagan religious meals, part of which included sacrifices or oblations to their gods.
After these considerations we can turn to the brief and concise reading of today’s iturgy, which presumably in the first instance was intended to give the Corinthian community
guiding principles to help them assess their situation. The pleonasm “cup of blessing (or: “blessing-cup”) that we bless” is due to the technical term “cup of blessing”, used in the Jewish Passover liturgy, and from there by Jesus at the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. “That we bless” in the original Jewish context would mean “with which we give thanks”. It recalls the words of Mark, at the institution account: “Then he (Jesus) took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it, and he said to them: ‘This is my blood’” (Mark 24:23-24). From the Jewish liturgy and the Last Supper the phrase passed over into the Christian Eucharist. The “blessing cup” at the Eucharist was the cup of wine with which the congregation gave thanks. All believers would accept that this was a communion with the blood of Christ. The text also stresses that the Eucharistic bread is a communion with the body of Christ, and that there is only one bread or loaf. This one loaf, one bread, is a sacramental sign of the unity of all Christians in Christ and with one another. The communion with Christ, for the Corinthians and for all believers, is an indication that this communion must be total, and rules out any other incompatible communion, as was the case in Corinth, whether by idolatry or immoral behaviour. The reading is dense with meaning for all generations, and for us today, on the call of the Eucharistic communion with Christ for union with others through the necessary social involvement.
Gospel(John 6:51-58). My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
This reading is the end section of long discourse of Christ on himself as the Bread of Life, the New Manna that has come down from heaven to give life to the world. In the first part of the discourse Jesus is speaking of himself as the Bread of Life in his person and teaching. This end section, read today, speaks of Jesus in the Eucharist, as his body to be eaten and his blood to be drunk. The bread he gives is his flesh for the life of the world. In the fourth Gospel, from which this text is taken, Jesus lays great stress on the union and unity of himself with the Father, and of believers in him with himself and the Father. Echoes of that same doctrine are also found here. As the living Father sent Jesus into the world and Jesus lives because of the Father (or: draws life from the Father), so also those who eat him sacramentally in the Eucharist will draw life from him (or live because of him). The Eucharist is the pledge of eternal life. This reading stresses the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but such expressions as “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood” are to be understood sacramentally.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: The Message of the Eucharist Today
The words of Christ given as heading to today’s Gospel call for reflection at two levels: the message of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in our own lives and in the society in which we live, and the problems encountered by the young people and others today regarding belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist under the symbols, species, of bread and wine. Many find it hard to believe this, and fail to understand it. We can reflect on both points for a while.
The Eucharist has been at the source and centre of Christianity down through the ages, and still remains so. Reflection on it brings to mind many demands of Christian living, as many as belief in the living Christ himself does. Instituted at the Last Supper, the last of his meals with followers, it recalls the many meals during his life and the significance of these, eating with the marginalized and the outcast. Today’s second reading with its emphasis on the one loaf, and its significance for a central message of the Eucharist, invites us to reflect on a similar passage and message in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark’s gospel, after the multiplications of the loaves, in a journey across the Sea of Galilee the evangelist notes that the apostles had forgotten to bring bread with them, having only one loaf. Jesus warns of the danger of certain leaven (yeast). The apostles think that he is referring to their lack of bread. Jesus reminds them of his multiplication of the loaves, and of their lack of understanding of the significance of the miracle (Mark 8:14-21). It is a curious text, but the point seems to be that Jesus is calling on his apostles (and the church) to reflect on the miracles of the leaves, his meals, eventually the bread and wine become Eucharist and their significance as a signs and pledge of his saving and encouraging presence with the church, in times of need and always. There are so many aspects of the Eucharistic mystery that call for reflection.
The 2012 50th Eucharistic International Congress in Dublin had as its theme “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another”. The theme reminds us of the place of the living Christ in the Eucharist as a source of personal union, communion, with God and with one another, Christ’s brothers and sisters.
The real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine is a mystery, to be understood by faith. Already in Christ’s day, as represented in the text of John’s Gospel read today, his Jewish listeners objected: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus replies insisting on his teaching. When many of his disciples said; “This is a hard teaching; who can listen to it?” among other points Jesus replies: “What if you were to see the Sin of Man ascending where he was before?” (John 6:52-65). We grasp the mystery of his Eucharistic presence better when we consider it in the context of Jesus, true man and true God, his ascent into heaven, and enthronement at God’s right hand. Down the centuries the Church has taken Jesus’ words on the bread and wine as his body and blood literally and lived with the mystery, a mystery as ever hard to put in human words. She has refused the view that the bread and wine only represent the body and blood of Christ. At the consecration there is a transformation, in some way, of the elements bread and wine involved. Her belief was incarnated in the respect for the bread and wine after the consecration, in the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and in Eucharistic devotion. These were the manners in which the faithful expressed, and continue to express, their faith in Christ’s Eucharistic presence. When the belief was challenged by Berengarius, the Church formally responded in 1079 that at the consecration the bread and wine were substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) this change was referred to as transubstantiation. The Council of Trent (1551) took up the question once again at the Reformation affirming that this change at the consecration the “holy Catholic Church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation”, words repeated in the more recent (1994) Catechism of the Catholic Church. (paragraph 1376). Such Christian and Catholic beliefs as “consubstantial” and “transubstantiation”, not being words current in ordinary discourse, should not be the subjects of popular opinion polls. They are terms chosen by the Church to make clear her position on certain mysteries.