Friday, February 8, 2013

The Bread of the Eucharist: A Bland Reality?

 Some may say, whether they are Catholic or not, "Why is the ‘wafer’ and the ‘host’ so bland?"

Perhaps instead of us thinking of the Church as being cheap, stupid, or boring we should look at the intentionality behind the act. The host being “bland” is symbolic. See that the bread is, for us, a sort of deprivation. It is not special, it does not have an exceptional flavor, and with respect to other foods it is bland. But this is exactly the comment that the Church wants to make about Christ: that he became flesh like us. In comparison to the divine our flesh is cheap, and fallible, and bland. This does not mean that that our flesh is “bad” just as this normal bread is not “bad.” Christ, however, by his graciousness took on our weak and fallen humanity to raise it up. We proclaim through our very bread that humanity is simple and lacking, but not bad—in fact the body may be used for holy work and sacred things.

The bread that we receive is not merely a symbol, but it is a symbol given to us for our benefit—it is meant by means of earthly concerns to direct our mind to heavenly truths. Christ adopted our humanity so that God might adopt us. He “took the form of a slave” (Philippians 2:7) which is to say he was unassuming, common, and everyday. Even the people at the synagogue doubted his power when they asked “Isn’t he the son of Joseph?” (cf. Mt 13:55, Jn 6:42) In his common estate, however, Jesus expressed the power of the Spirit by virtue of his obedience to the Father.

God, incarnate in common humanity, confounded those who would never believe that the body could be redeemed or divinized. To those who believe, however, the bread we have stands as a powerful comfort to us who are still pilgrims.

More powerfully, Christ left us the Eucharist so we might partake of him for our whole lives. The Body of the Sacrifice was resurrected so that we might make continual sacrifice to the Father and that it might be one sacrifice all the same. This is because the Body we offer to the Father is His own, and the Body we offer can never be destroyed or pass away. For “when he became perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9). “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Mt 26:26). He did likewise with the cup, saying it was his blood.

The early Church herself attests to this reality. When Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies (circa 182 AD) the Eucharist was an important mark of the true Church:
The Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God. ...[and we truly offer the first fruits of creation, that which is most loved] ... how can they [the heretics] say that [our] flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? ... Our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly. (Book IV.18.iv-v)
Irenaeus of Lyon didn't treat it as if it were simple bread.
Indeed, the Gospel of Luke relates to us the power of this most precious treasure. As the men from Emmaus leave Jerusalem Jesus meets them. Jerusalem is the image of the heavenly city, it is the place where Christ proclaims himself the Temple and where he sacrificed himself. The cross stands there, and thus heaven through the cross. The men meet him and Jesus walks with them. Even Scripture is explained to them and their hearts are on fire, but they do not turn back. It is only when Jesus “was with them at table, [took bread], said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (Lk 24:30-31). Does it not seem strange that Christ should vanish? But in the end he did not vanish: “this is my body, this is my blood.” They set out at once back to Jerusalem to proclaim that “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (24:35). Yes, not even Scripture revealed this to them, but the bread.

Recognize our savior in the breaking of the bread in new ways. Reflect not only on the spiritual truths, but what the physical experience of it all relates to us.