We’ve been reading from John 6 over these past several Sundays at Mass. This chapter which begins with the miracle of the loaves and fish is often called, “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Jesus enters into a dialogue with his followers about himself as the “living bread come down from heaven.” I’d encourage you to take some time to read through all of Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. It will enhance your experience of Mass over these Sundays!
Scholars agree that this teaching about the Bread of Life is a teaching on the holy Eucharist. Written about 80 years after the death of Jesus we see that the early Christian community had a deep understanding of the significance of the Eucharist. Jesus will insist on the reality of his Presence in the Eucharist – “My flesh is true food and my blood true drink.” His description of disciples eating/chewing on his flesh is graphic in its literalism. In the end, some of his followers will leave him because of this teaching.
Over the centuries the Church has continued to wrestle with how Jesus can give us his Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. The best answer so far has been that of St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that the “substance” of the elements is transformed, while the outward appearance (the “accidents”) remains unchanged. In other words, what looks like bread and wine and tastes like bread and wine is no longer bread and wine at all but the true and living Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity. After the words of consecration what is present on the altar is the Lord Jesus himself under the appearance of bread and wine. The technical term for this is “transubstantiation.”
Other Christian groups do not always have this same understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They may understand Christ to be present in a spiritual way, alongside of the elements of bread and wine. For them the bread and wine represent Christ, but do not actually become his Body and Blood. Such differences in belief are part of the reason we Catholics do not share in communion with other Christian denominations. While there is much that we do hold in common, the Eucharist continues to be one of the issues that divides us. We pray that one day such divisions will cease so that all Christians will be able to share together in the one Bread of Life.
NOTE: Saturday, August 15th is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. Because it falls on a Saturday the obligation to attend Mass is dispensed this year. However, you are certainly still encouraged to join us for Mass on Saturday morning at St. Charles to honor our Blessed Mother.