“Why do we eat and drink?” To this question, we can have as many answers as there are various individuals with their various approaches to food and drink. Some people may say that we eat and drink to settle our hunger and thirst. Some may say that we eat and drink so that we can live. Some may also say (more technically though) that food and drink give us strength and also help our bodies to maintain immunity against diseases and sicknesses. There may still be some who may say (from the materialist point of view) that we eat and drink simply to enjoy life! All these answers are correct though relatively.
Food and drink are universal phenomena. In fact, our daily life and activities revolve around the time we eat and drink that is why we have breakfast time, lunch time and dinner time. The fall of man was generally on account of disobedience but specifically on account of wrong nutrition; eating from the tree in the middle of the garden which was forbidden (Gen.3:3).
Today, we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; if you like the real food and the real drink. During one of the most outstanding teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ about the Holy Eucharist, he said, among other things, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you will not have life in you” (John 6:53). Furthermore, our Lord said: “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:55).
The First Reading (Gen.14:18-20), began by establishing the irreplaceable link between the Priesthood and the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist which we receive in the physical form of bread and wine. We are told about the King of Salem (king of peace) named Melchizedek who was at the same time a priest and possibly a prophet (fulfilling the three offices of Christ). It is important to note that the name Melchizedek means King of Righteousness and there is a great connection between Melchizedek and our Lord Jesus Christ as the letter to the Hebrews (7:1ff) made us understand that he resembles the Son of God.
The most significant action in the First Reading is that Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and giving thanks he made prayers of blessing. We can immediately relate this to what Paul recounted in the Second Reading (1 Cor.11:23-26) as a testimony he received from the Lord that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it, and said “this is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, the chalice also after supper, saying “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”.
With the foregoing background, we can now launch into a deeper understanding of the celebration we have today. Firstly, there is a need for us to pin-up the basic understanding of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist from our catechism. Here we are told that the Holy Eucharist is the sacrament through which we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ together with his soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine.
What is important here is that bread and wine substantially change into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ following the prayer of the priest. This is aptly related to the thanksgiving prayer and blessing of Melchizedek in the First Reading and that of Christ presented by St. Paul in the Second Reading. There will be the need for us to examine this substantial change very carefully and closely because it is at the heart of our celebration today.
Substance is what makes a thing what it is; that which lies beneath a reality. The substance of a thing is beyond its color, shape, taste and other physical attributes which are known as accidents. During the Eucharistic celebration as we shall be experiencing shortly, bread and wine are presented to the priest as gift offering. Then during the consecration (which is the highest point of supplication) the priest prays over the bread and wine and immediately they change substantially (the process of transubstantiation) and become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now this change does not affect the physical appearance of the bread and wine. They retain their outward appearances as bread and wine but they lose their “breadness” and “wineness” and become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This not what reason alone can comprehend unaided by faith because before and after the celebration we still see bread and wine though they have undergone substantial change during the prayer of consecration.
This substantial change is not what everyone can understand and accept easily. In fact, when our Lord himself was giving the teaching about his body and blood as real food and drink the people responded in disbelief to him asking how he can give them his flesh to eat (John 6:52). In fact, many of his disciples left him on account of this, saying that it is difficult teaching which no one can accept (John 6:60).
In our day and age many people are still in doubt how the bread becomes the body of Jesus Christ (while still appearing as bread) and the wine also becomes his blood (while still appearing as wine) at the very point of the prayer of consecration. Even a priest and a Monk was having the same doubt while celebrating mass many years ago (about the eighth century AD). During the consecration, the Basilian Monk noticed that the bread turned into real flesh and the wine into real blood. These species are still being preserved at Lanciano Italy till date and the event is one of the confirmed Eucharistic miracles in the Church.
From the Gospel of today (Luke 9:11b-17), we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ not only fed the people with the word of God, he also gave them food; that is the bread and fish which he multiplied. God is interested in both our spiritual and physical needs and He will supply all of them according to His riches in glory (Phil.4:19).
From the Gospel narrative, our Lord just concluded a session of teaching and healing and the people were really worn out. The disciples suggested that he send away so that they can go and take care of themselves. But our Lord Jesus Christ had a different opinion. He told them: “You give them something to eat”. This statement is both an instruction to the disciples and a challenge to us. God does not send his children away empty, He rather provides for them because He is our provider (Gen.22:14).
Today the instruction and challenge: “you give them something to eat” is as relevant as ever. This is a message to all of us. To those of us who have so much to eat and to throw away into the waste, this message is for you. To those who have poor people around them who cannot afford even a quarter of a meal, this message is for you. To various leaders in our contemporary world who continue to enrich themselves while the citizens languish in abject poverty and hunger, our Lord is saying to you, “you give them something to eat”.
The solemnity we are celebrating today calls us to the life of sharing just as our Lord multiplied and shared bread and fish to a multitude. To be able to share, we must be ready to break. If we look closely at Gospel Reading, we will discover that after blessing the bread our Lord broke it before the sharing. This breaking is symbolic. That is why we could see it happening again at the last supper (Luke 22:19). After the resurrection on the way to Emmaus he broke the bread and they recognized him at that instant (Luke 24:30-31).
This breaking has to do with selflessness. Giving up oneself for the sake of others. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived a “broken” life for our sake. He suffered and died so that we can live (1 Thess. 5:10; 1 Pet. 2:24). To be able to “give them something to eat” we must go through the path of “breaking ourselves” for the sake of others. We break ourselves in this wise when we practice charity and attend to others like our Lord Jesus Christ did for us.
Finally, Let us go a step further to personalize this solemnity in our lives. There is need for us to ask ourselves these practical questions and also try to give practicals answers to them:
- Do I believe that what I receive is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ?
- How often do I receive him? (note not “it” as some may say).
- Do I receive worthily or unworthily because others are doing so like Judas did?
- What are the practical effects of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that I receive?
May we become what we eat and drink (Christ-like) as we celebrate this most awesome sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.