By Fr. Peter Short, V.G.
Although these words refer directly to the Incarnation of Christ, they also reflect the intimate relationship between the Word of God and the Eucharist. The Scriptures are important in helping us understand the mystery of the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament reveals to us in grace the meaning of the Word.
Throughout the Old Testament, we can find important references to the Eucharist. We do not have the space in this article to mention all of them, but we will point out a few.
In the book of Genesis (14:18-20) at the time of Abraham there is already a mysterious reference to Melchizedek, the king of Salem (scholars place Salem at the place which later will be Jerusalem), who was also a priest of “God Most High” and offers bread and wine to bless Abraham for his victories. Melchizedek is seen as a precursor to the priesthood and is mentioned in the Psalms and in the first Eucharistic canon of the Mass. Notice how it is bread and wine that he offers as sacrifice.
During the Exodus (see chapter 16), the People of God found that in their long journey through the desert, very quickly they needed food, and God sent them each day a ration of bread from heaven called manna. This incredible miracle, which lasted 40 years, was so important to the Jewish people that at the end of their journey they placed a portion of the manna in the Ark of the Covenant to keep in the temple as a reminder of that miracle, which gave them food from heaven for the journey.
Food for the journey brings us to the third example in the Old Testament which is from the First Book of Kings (19:1-9) where the prophet Elijah, running for his life from Queen Jezebel who sought to kill him, finds himself exhausted and discouraged in the middle of the desert. As he lay under a broom tree ready to die, an angel arouses him and tells him to eat bread placed at his head with a jug of water. This was no ordinary bread however, but the bread of angels, and with it he is able to walk forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God.
So, we see in these references in the Old Testament how the scriptures describe a bread that comes from heaven and gives strength for our life. The strength repeatedly appears to be necessary until we reach our victory, when we arrive at the Holy Land, the mountain of God, heaven. This is all in preparation for the Christ who will give us the true Bread from heaven.
In the New Testament the reference of Jesus to bread becomes even more clear as the Bread of Life. In John 6, Jesus speaks of Himself repeatedly as the true Bread that has come down from heaven for the life of the world: “and the Bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh”. The Gospel describes the Incarnation as the Word of God made flesh, now cites Jesus telling us that this flesh is true bread from heaven.
The link between the Scriptures and the Eucharist is described eloquently also at the end of the Gospel of St. Luke (24:13-35), where he describes the disciples of Emmaus retuning home on the evening of that first Easter Sunday. Unrecognized by them Jesus walks with them and opens their minds and hearts by showing the references to Himself throughout the Old Testament. It is unsurprising that the disciples’ hearts were “burning” as Jesus opened the meaning of the Old Testament to them. Imagine Jesus Himself giving us a homily on the Old Testament! It was not until He entered their home and sat at table with the disciples, where Jesus, taking control of the situation, celebrates with them the Mass. That is when they recognize Him and He disappears from their midst. The disciples were prepared with the Scriptures, but they recognized Him in the “breaking of the bread”.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his marvelous hymn to the Eucharist says: “Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgement of You. But hearing suffices firmly to believe. I believe all that the Son of God has spoken; there is nothing truer than this word of truth.” (Adorote Devote). Hearing, which allows the Word to penetrate our minds and hearts so it can be received in faith, is what is necessary to begin to contemplate the great mystery before us in the Mass. What is the word of truth we hear in the Mass? “This is my Body, which will be given up for you, This is my Blood, which will be shed for you…” The Word is made flesh, and dwells with us.
Fr. Peter Short is the Vicar General of the Diocese of Gallup.