In an episode of The Chosen, a child asks Jesus what his favourite food is. He replies that he likes many foods, but that his favourite is bread. This is believable! And we feel it today. Jesus was passionate about bread.
When at Mass the Institution of the Eucharist is narrated and the words of consecration are pronounced by the priest, the bread and wine are changed. The elements of bread and wine are seized by the Holy Spirit: they die to their natural identities and rise to another. They enter the Paschal mystery. To focus on the bread, it is now no longer ordinary bread. We can say that it becomes super-bread (cf. the Vulgate translation of Mt 6:11, “super-substantial”), a power-bread, bread that is ‘live’; it is now “truly” bread (cf. Jn 6:55). It is now “bread which comes down from heaven” (Jn 6:50), the “bread of angels” (Ps 78:25). The bread becomes a person: Jesus Christ, his flesh and blood (cf. Jn 6:53). . Thus, Christ fulfils the original purpose of bread, raising it to a new level, making it the source of eternal life and bodily resurrection (Jn 6:54) and of a new unity among human beings (cf. 1 Cor 10:17). Bread now becomes what it signifies. It really becomes bread, the bread God intended all along. This is the nourishment we have always longed for in every morsel of ordinary bread.
Jesus changes the bread, and this bread then changes us. It takes us into the Paschal mystery.
What is your favourite food? Whatever it may be, it always turns into you. Bananas, ice cream, sausage rolls. However many or much of this we eat, we never turn into it; it turns into us. But with this holy, consecrated bread, things work the other way. We become what we eat – Christ’s body. Christ changes the bread, and this new, special, different, ultimate Bread changes us. Ordinary food keeps us strong and gives us energy; it’s a good and necessary thing. It doesn’t, though, make us better persons. But, this bread, this Jesus-Bread, can. It makes us pray. It makes us kinder. It helps us love. It makes us good bread and good wine: so that we can support and sustain other people, like wholesome bread; that we can bring joy, like wine. It makes us part of Christ. It makes us what it is: the body of Christ. It can even, says Jesus, raise us from the dead, “He who eats this bread will live for ever” (Jn 6:51).
When we receive Holy Communion, it is not so much that we receive Jesus as that Jesus receives us. Jesus takes us on. He takes us into himself. He takes us on board. And, from our First Communion on, if we are regular about it, he carries us through life. He changes us gradually, so that our body and soul and humanity are more and more filled with him. They always remain ours, but they become more and more his too. Your first Holy Communion, please God, is the first of man. So, Christ enters into our life, shares it, accompanies us through all the ups and downs, shepherds us to eternal life.
Today we take the Eucharist in procession. That’s a good thing to do. We know the kind of marches that go on… but this is a different one. It’s a sign that we are not ashamed of being Christian, that we are proud of Jesus. And again, we can turn our thinking inside out. This procession is not so much us carrying him. Rather, it’s him taking us in procession. He carries us, like the Lord carried his people through the desert as he fed them with the manna. He carries us not just individually, but together. He is our head, and we are his body. He carries the Church through history to the Jerusalem above.
So let us put ourselves in him. Let us be members, part of him. Let’s be led by him.
Here’s one last thought for today. Sometimes people call the Mass “boring”. Never do that. Of course, a sermon may be boring, the music may be boring, a celebration may be lacklustre, rather tired. But the Mass itself, the Eucharist, is never boring. It is the most un-boring thing there is. There’s a story from the life of Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She would spend a lot of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying. Someone once said to her, “Don’t you find it boring?” Edith looked back at her with astonishment, and replied: “Boring? With Him?!”
What is the Mass? It is Jesus saying to us, individually and together, “I love you”. When we are in love, do we find it boring if our beloved says to us, “I love you”? And that is simply human love, the love of whose genuineness and shelf-life, as it were, we can never be completely sure. But in the words of consecration, in the change of the bread into his body and of the wine into his blood, in the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus is saying to us, with his whole self, body, blood, soul and divinity, that he loves us and lives for us and does so for ever. He is saying this, doing this, everywhere and every time the Church celebrates the Eucharist. There is nothing we so need to hear (and see, and touch, and taste) as this love, this sacramental word. There is nothing so reassuring, so sustaining, so reviving, so life-changing as this. No, it’s not “boring” to be loved like this. It is astonishing.
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, Sunday 11 June
(with First Holy Communions and followed by an outdoor Procession)