Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we continue to reflect on the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, we hear again that Jesus is the Bread of Life. In today’s Gospel passage, our Lord makes clear that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. In the Jewish religious practices of the day, sacrifice, especially of animals, was a well-known component of their worship. In order for a sacrifice to be acceptable to God, it had to be unblemished, the blood of the animal had to be poured out, and the flesh had to be consumed – either by fire or by those who offered the sacrifice. Thus, when Jesus speaks of His flesh and blood as true food and drink, He speaks in the context of sacrificial language that is understood by all. Yet His words remain mysterious. The sacrifice of an animal was enough to feed a group, but Jesus states that His flesh is food, bread for the life of the world. How can this apparently limited flesh feed the whole world?
To understand this, we go back only a few verses to the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes that a great crowd might eat. The miracle foreshadows the plan of Jesus to give Himself to us in the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus will take bread and wine, give them to the Apostles saying “This is my body…This is my blood,” and will command them to “do this.” The Lord imparts to the Apostles His very own power, by which the substance of bread and wine is miraculously transformed. Thus, His flesh is true food, His blood true drink. Throughout history, the Church has taken simple offerings of bread and wine and by the ministry of the priest handed on by the Apostles, spoken the words of Christ, that bread might become our spiritual food and wine might become our spiritual drink. St. Thomas Aquinas, reflecting on this great mystery, coined a term to describe the miracle that occurs at every Mass: transubstantiation. In this, the substance of bread and wine are truly, sacramentally changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, while the accidents (appearance, taste, texture, etc.) remain unchanged. The presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a hidden yet real presence and with it, our Lord desires to feed His people.
It is fitting that we reflect on this Gospel today as this Tuesday (August 21) marks the feast of our parish patron, Pope St. Pius X. As you know, he has gone down in history as the Pope of the Eucharist. It was Pope Pius X who encouraged frequent reception of Holy Communion and who permitted children to receive Holy Communion at a younger age. He recognized the sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist and understood in a profound way the truth of our Lord’s words “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” Through our patron’s intercession, may we grow in our devotion to the Eucharist and by our faithful reception of the Bread of Life one day enter the heavenly courts in our Savior’s company for all eternity.