Eucharist in the Scripture
The 6th chapter of the gospel of St.
John presents a discourse of our Lord which we may well call the preparation of
the disciples for their first communion. The Jews were impressed by the two
miracles of the feeding of the five thousand and the walking of Jesus upon the
Lake of Galilee, which they witnessed. They had come in search of Jesus.
However, Jesus was not impressed by their motives in seeking him: "You are
looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you
understand my miracles " (John 6:26). The Jews had seen in the miracles a source
from which they might derive earthly profit and advantage. Christ would have
them seek him for their spiritual nourishment, for "the food that endures for
eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you" (John 6:27).
The idea of receiving food from heaven was similar to the Jews, who well remembered the story of the manna that their fathers had eaten in the desert (Exodus 16). This had merely been a type of true bread that Christ himself had come to give. The manna had fed the Jews only; the bread of Jesus would give life to the world. But it was useless for the Jews to ask for this food unless they had faith in Christ. Like the sacraments, the Eucharist could produce no effect, could not give divine life which is its fruit, unless the recipient believed in what he or she was receiving. But the knowledge that his hearers were so ill-disposed to believe him did not prevent Christ from explaining still more definitely the nature of the heavenly food that he promises them: "the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:51). The food that was to give eternal life was nothing else than his won body which was to be offered for the sins of the world. At these words the skepticism of his hearers becomes open disbelief, but Jesus leaves no doubt, no chance for misunderstanding (John 6:53-59).
There could be no doubt that Christ meant what he said. There was no metaphor, no parable. Christ intended to give his own flesh and blood as food and drink. The life which is the fruit of this living bread is the life which the Son of God lives, the life of God himself. The life which, when shared by man, is called sanctifying grace.
The promise he made was fulfilled at the Last Supper. The moment to which the whole of his life he had been looking forward with loving anticipation, the moment in which he was about to give himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. It was the moment in which he would institute this sacrament as the great pledge of his love: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). The scene is described, with slight variations, by the three synoptic Evangelists (Matt. 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:14-23) and by St. Paul (1Cor 11:23-26).
In preparing his disciples for their first communion, Jesus left no room for doubt as to the meaning of his words: "for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink (John 6:55). His words leave no possibility of misunderstanding. Wishing to indicate that he was giving his own flesh and blood to his Apostles under the form of food and drink, he could not have expressed himself more clearly. The sentence, "this is my body," is one upon which it is impossible to make any commentary without weakening its force.
No other words could convey the same meaning, only at the cost of long involved explanations. Those who have related the incident, have not thought it necessary to give any such explanation, feeling that any amplifications of the words of Christ, far from clarifying, would obscure their meaning, and have left them to speak for themselves.