“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” The Sequence that accompanies the readings for the Solemnity of Christ’s Body and Blood describes the Eucharist “as a living, life dispensing food, Christ’s parting legacy to his Church”.
What St Paul would later describe as the Lord’s Supper, the gospels describe as the last and most intimate gathering of Jesus with his apostles. The fourth Eucharistic Prayer, echoing the words of St John, beautifully describes the communion of love at the heart of the Eucharist: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end: and while they were at supper he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying: take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body which will be given up for you.”
This parting legacy was intended as something more than a passing gesture. It was Christ’s promise that the love that had sustained his disciples from the time of their calling would not end with his death. That same love, fully revealed in his saving death and Resurrection, would become his abiding presence in the Church whenever they came together to “do this in memory of me”. The Eucharist becomes for all time Christ’s living presence. Here we encounter Christ as the one whose body, his very self, feeds our deepest hunger – whose blood, life itself, is sacrificed for us.
How can we respond to such an overwhelming mystery? The first step is to recognise our own hunger, to understand that Christ alone satisfies our universal longing for love, forgiveness and understanding. We must also understand that Christ comes to us in the Eucharist as the one who is “given” and “poured out” for us. Only when we ourselves are given and poured out in the self-surrender of humble faith do we truly embrace his presence.
The Book of Deuteronomy prefigures the Eucharist with the hunger of God’s people in the wilderness. “Remember how the Lord your God led you for 40 years in the wilderness, to test you and know your inmost heart – whether you would keep his commandment or not. He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone, but on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
The hunger of a people in the wilderness had revealed their inmost heart: a divided heart. They had longed for the remembered delicacies of Egypt, and preferred a golden calf to the God who had called them to freedom. In like manner, we approach the Eucharist with divided hearts, split between a longing for instant satisfaction and the presence of God, failing to realise that superficiality can never satisfy the spirit. “As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.”
Jesus did not simply acknowledge his Father. The Father was for him, from all eternity, the Bread that fed and sustained his very being.
In the Eucharist Christ becomes for us all that the Father had been for him: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”