In Early Christianity, Eucharistic worship assumed the rite that the Lord instituted on the evening before his passion The Early Christian community referred to it as both “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42) and the “Eucharist” or thanksgiving.
We eat in order to live. We become what we eat. Bread is the staff of life and wine, part of a meal.
Jesus shocks the Jewish leaders by declaring: “I am the bread of life … If any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and abides in me and I in him.” (Jn 6:51, 54, 56)
The notion of consuming human sacrifice, a grossly repellent practice to human decency, was forbidden in the Law. But instead of moderating his words, Jesus only intensified the ultra-realistic verb trogein (Gr: to crunch, to gnaw); Jesus used the crude word four times in this instruction. (vv 54, 56, 57, 58) The verb connotes both the state of being torn to pieces and the mandate to consume the sacrifice. (W. Dewan, “The Eucharist,” New Catholic Encyclopedia 5:603-04) Eucharist means giving thanks (eucharistia), and we give thanks for the Eucharistic food, God’s gift of his Son.
Natural food perishes, but his food is the condition for life in God: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.” (Jn 6:54-56)
Jesus understands the relationship between eating and having life: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (Jn 6:22) Consuming his food is the condition for life in God because it sustains an energy motivated by love and for growth in the Spirit. Though rooted in the Passover meal, this new ritual transcends it.
‘I Could Eat You Up Alive’
Among our phrases of endearment we have the phrase, “I could eat you up alive.” It is most often reserved for an infant when a parent wishes to express inexpressible love for his or her child. This metaphor says more about the desire for intimate union between parent and child than the words themselves convey. It lends vividness to the fact that, as the bread of life, Jesus wants to unite himself to us, and we to him and to one another. Jesus has been placed at our disposal to be taken and incorporated into our very beings. We become what we eat.
Why Does Jesus Wash Peter’s Feet?
The washing of the feet is a central part of the Lord’s Supper. The meal becomes a lasting memorial of Jesus’ love and the context for a lesson the Apostles will not forget. The washing of feet was the typical task of a slave. Why, Peter asks, does the Master insist on washing his feet? He recoils, but Jesus admonishes him: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me.” (Jn 13:8) Peter is free to refuse, but Jesus presses for his consent. (The Von Balthasar Reader, 286)
If Peter wants to unite himself with his Master, then he must renounce status and all that is associated with status – glory, power, and prestige. The Lord will choose a servile but loving act to give the example. Peter realizes that what Jesus has done for and to him, he Peter must repeat to and for others. He too must share in the Lord’s redemptive work for the sake of others. (Ibid, 288) Henceforth, the mandate given to Peter will be the loving service that marks Christian discipleship. It is so explicit that it cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The Eucharist opens the door that leads to unselfish love.
The Eucharist: A Centrifugal Force
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The Eucharist is like the sun’s centrifugal force whose rays are thrust outward to warm and light the universe. Nourishment supreme begins and ends with the Eucharist. Thanksgiving par excellence begins and ends in the Eucharist. Unselfish love begins in the Eucharist but radiates outward with no limit. Such is the uncanny relationship between food, thanksgiving, and serving others.
It is from the dismissal “Go, in the peace of Christ” that one grasps the relationship between the liturgy and mission to the world. This dismissal, “Ite, missa est,” implies “mission,” succinctly expressing the missionary nature of the Church. In fact, the dismissal is a starting point from which every person brings nourishment, blessing and thanksgiving, and service to others. (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, #51)
A Eucharistic World
Eucharistic worship sends out the Eucharistic person to a world that cries out for nourishment, both physical and spiritual, for thanksgiving, and for unselfish care.
Mission, wherever and however it is carried out, emerges from the Eucharist, its starting point. Why go to the font and source of life? God shows the way to men and women. In the Eucharist, the calculating psyche needs to silence itself and listen to God speak.