Doing the Eucharist
June 13, 2004
The Eucharist is not simply something we receive; it is something we do. The Eucharist is not simply a noun; it is fundamentally a verb, an action. Now we believe many important things about the noun of the Eucharist. We believe that the bread and wine become for us the real Body and Blood of the Lord. This is what we celebrate today on the Feast of Corpus Christi. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we receive into our hearts the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. This is a great mystery and a great treasure. We should receive the Eucharist often. But we cannot appreciate the Body and Blood of the Lord, the noun of the Eucharist, if we separate it from the verb of the Eucharist. For it is the action of the Eucharist that allows the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ for us.
So, what is the action of the Eucharist? It is what we do together every weekend. What do we do? We gather, we listen, we bless, we eat, and we go forth. All these verbs are verbs of Eucharist. We gather from our homes, from our work and come together in this place to create an assembly, a community of believers. The gathering is important because the action of the Eucharist is not the action of one person but of many. It is the action of the church. We listen: we hear the Word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures and in the homily and we remember what God has done for us, what God has promised us and how God is active in our lives. We bless: we bless God in the Eucharistic Prayer, we stand together from the Holy, Holy to the Great Amen and say this prayer of blessing and consecration. It is the priest who says the words but the prayer is not the priest’s prayer, it is our prayer, the prayer of the whole assembly and when we bless and pray this prayer together in memory of Jesus, the real presence of Jesus comes into our midst. We then eat the Body and Blood of the Lord, receiving the nourishment of Christ and then we go forth, forth from this place to bring Christ’s message to the world.
These are the verbs of the Eucharist: gathering, listening, blessing, eating, and going forth. Only in the context of this action is the true significance of the Body and Blood of Christ clear. So allow me today to point to two truths that flow from the action of the Eucharist, two truths that affect our lives—our dignity and our obligation.
The action of blessing in the Eucharist reveals to us our dignity as daughters and sons of God. The tremendous gift of Christ’s Body and Blood would not happen if we did not ask for it. It is in the Eucharistic Prayer, led by the priest, that the community asks for the gift of Christ’s presence. God’s willingness to honor our prayer reveals our dignity as God’s own children. The dignity we have is not an individual dignity but a dignity that we share as a community. Everyone who stands gathered around this altar is a holy person. Together, we form a royal priesthood, a holy people. As we bless together the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we recall our value and the value of one another. The action of blessing together reveals this dignity to us.
The action of going forth, of leaving this Eucharist is an action that reveals our obligation. Because if we have received the Word of the Lord and shared together in the Body and Blood of the Lord, we then have an obligation to bring that life of Christ to others. Going forth from this place reminds us that we have come her to be refreshed and recommitted to action for the Kingdom. We should go forth from this place willing to be more patient with our family, less critical of our neighbor, more committed to service of others, less fearful in our struggles with evil. The action of going forth from this place reminds us that the action of the Eucharist does not end here, it is meant to continue in our lives, in our efforts to build the Kingdom, to transform the world.
There is no doubt that the Body and Blood of Christ, Christ’s Real Presence, is a tremendous gift to us, but the meaning of that gift is not clear if it is separated from the action of the Eucharist. Eucharist is a verb: gathering, listening, blessing, eating, going forth. It is we the church, reminding ourselves of our dignity and obligation. We do not simply receive the Eucharist. We do it! So let’s do it now!
The Four Eucharistic Verbs
June 6, 2010
A proud grandpa was responsible for babysitting his six-year old grandson. They had a great day, playing games and having fun. Then the grandpa worked very hard to prepare a delicious supper for them to eat. But when he put the food on the table, his grandson wanted none of it. The grandfather pleaded and cajoled and threatened. All to no avail. Finally he threw up his hands and said, “What am I going to do? You don’t like soup. You don’t like meat. You don’t like bread. You don’t like vegetables. What do you like?” The boy thought for a moment and then with a clever smile said, “ I like you, Grandpa.”
Now there is no question that we need to eat food to live. But the comment of this boy points out that we need more than food. Our lives are ultimately about the people who are in our lives—our families, our friends, those who we love and serve. And that truth is an important one for us to remember today as we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord. In this feast we celebrate a wondrous food. We as Catholics believe that when we share the Eucharist together, the bread and wine on the altar become the body and blood of Jesus, the real presence of Christ for us. It is this wondrous food which we can receive and bring into our hearts.
But even though this food is miraculous, our Eucharistic food is not an end in itself. The Eucharist also offers us a pattern of living that we are called to follow. That pattern is very clear in today’s gospel. When Jesus feeds the multitude, his action is described by four verbs, four very important verbs. We might even call them the four Eucharistic verbs, because these verbs are used to describe Jesus’ action, not only in this scene but also at the Last Supper and in every Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer.
The four verbs are these: take, bless, break, give.
In today’s gospel, we are told that Jesus took the loaves, blessed them, broke them, and then gave them to the disciples to give to the people. All ate and were satisfied. These four verbs do not only to describe Jesus’ action in the Eucharist, but also provide for us to a pattern that we are called to follow.
We are called to take and bless, to break and give. We are called to take and bless. To take is to recognize God’s blessing in our lives. When we own the gifts we have been given, we are led to bless God, to thank God for our gifts. So the first two verbs call us to take and bless, to take and be thankful. What do we have to be thankful for? Many things: our health, our time, our family and friends, our talents, our abilities, our faith. All of these things are gifts and blessings. We must not walk through life in a daze, ignorant of what we have been given. We must recognize our gifts. We must take them and bless God who has given them to us.
So first we take and bless, but that is not enough. The gifts for which we are thankful must also be given. But before we can give we must break. The image comes from the bread. Before bread can be given to others it must be broken, because one cannot eat a whole loaf at once. In the same way, the gifts that we want to give to one another must be broken so that they are accessible. They must be broken so that they can be received easily by those to whom we give them. We might truly love others but if we don’t have the words, if we don’t have the patience, if we don’t have the strength to tell others of that love, our love can never be given or received. So the first step for each of us before we can give, is to make sure that we allow our gifts to be accessible. That means that we need to break in ourselves anything that hinders the giving of our gift. We need to break ourselves by being willing to change, to change whatever is necessary to allow the giving to happen. For some of us, we must change by being more aggressive. Others will need to be more humble or quiet. Some of us have to speak louder. Others more softly. Whatever change is required to allow our gift to be given, we must enact it. Unless our gifts are accessible to others and freely offered, the giving will not have an effect.
The four verbs used to describe Jesus in today’s gospel are meant to remind us that the Eucharist is more than the miraculous change of the bread and wine. It calls for a change in us. The Eucharist offers each one of us a pattern of living. We must take the gifts that are given and thank God for them. Then we must break anything that hinders us from giving those gifts to others. Take. Bless. Break. Give. These are the four verbs that describe Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist. These are the four verbs we use every time we come together to celebrate the Mass. These are the four actions on which we must pattern our lives always!
The Two Sides of Bread
June 2, 2013
No one knows for sure when humans first began to eat bread. It was, however, a very long time ago. Archeologists have ascertained that 10,000 years ago the tribes around the Lake District in Switzerland were already grinding wheat, mixing it with water, and baking a kind of bread on hot stones. It was the Egyptians who first came up with the idea of making loaves of bread. They began doing this about 1,500 years before Christ. It was left to the Romans to make bread baking into a major business. We have documentation to prove that in the first century the city of Rome boasted 250 bakeries, producing bread on a daily basis. Today, bread remains a fundamental form of nourishment in most countries of the world.
But nourishment is only one side of bread. Bread has another side that becomes clear in today’s gospel. The other side of bread is unity. When Jesus offers bread to the crowds on the hillside, he not only offers them nourishment. Through his power, the bread that is shared unites the people in the crowd with one another. The gospel is clear on this. In most gospel stories, Jesus performs a miracle for an individual: curing a blind man, healing a woman with a hemorrhage, raising the son of a widow from the dead. But today’s gospel is different. The recipients of Jesus’ miracle are a vast crowd of people. The passage specifically points this out. It tells us that the crowd consisted of 5,000 men (and there were certainly women and children as well). So the very size of the crowd leads us to see the gathering as a symbol for all of humanity. This miracle tells us that Jesus’ power to nourish extends to every person and that Jesus unites all people as children of God. The crowd on the hillside is meant to represent the population of a new world in which all of humanity will be nourished and united. The multiplication of the loaves and the fishes is a foretaste of the great feast in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus uses bread in today’s gospel to nourish and to unite. The bread of the Eucharist—that we believe is the true Body and Blood of Christ—serves those same two purposes. Each week we come to receive the bread of the Eucharist because we need nourishment. We believe that this bread is Christ’s true presence to us, strengthening us so that we can believe, so that we can avoid sin, so that we can face disappointment and sickness, so that we can overcome sadness and despair. The bread of the Eucharist is Christ’s life for us. It nourishes us for living.
But it also unites us to one another. We do not come here each week as isolated individuals. We come as a part of a community gathered around this altar. So assembled, much like the crowds on the hillside, we represent the people of God. We are a people journeying towards God’s Kingdom. We do not journey alone. When we eat the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ, brothers and sisters united in one family.
Bread then has two sides, nourishment and unity. The bread of the Eucharist maintains those two realities. We are nourished with the real presence of Christ that gives us strength for living. We are united by the Eucharist to be Christ’s body in the world. This is the Bread of Life. This is the food of the Kingdom. That is why Paul tells us that we eat this bread and drink this cup, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again.