The Eucharist is food for today

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | June 21, 2019

One image Vatican Council II uses to describe the church is that of a pilgrim people. Pilgrimages in their most basic understanding are holy journeys. When one goes on a pilgrimage the destination is typically a holy place such as a shrine, church or cathedral. To make a pilgrimage one prepares by packing clothing, food and other necessities. When one sets out on the pilgrimage it is usually in the company of others who have the same destination in mind. The people who make the trip share joys, labors and difficulties together. Consequently, the church uses the image of pilgrimage to describe our life together as a journey toward God.

The church’s use of the notion of “pilgrimage” is based on the Exodus story from the Hebrew Scriptures. The people left Egypt to journey to the Promised Land. They experienced many difficulties during their journey. They received the law as they moved closer to their destination. They grew hungry and God provided them with the manna for their food. They could only collect enough manna each morning to sustain them for the current day. The manna never ran out until they arrived at the land God had promised to them.

Our celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is an explicit reference to the original pilgrimage of the Hebrew people of God. God feeds his people in the desert. We too are fed in the contemporary wilderness in which we live. By receiving the Eucharist, we are part of that great company taken care of by God throughout history. Just as the manna was supplied only on a day-by-day basis, so our Eucharist comes to us, not as something we store and hoard, but as food for today. This food, like the manna, requires absolute trust that God will continue to nourish us daily.

A hidden notion for the Hebrew people in the presence of the manna is the idea that God is constantly present to them as he feeds them in the desert. One aspect of the Eucharist is the assurance that Jesus is constantly present to his church. He is with us on our pilgrimage. Unlike the manna in the desert the bread that Jesus gives is the true bread of life, for it is the body and blood of Christ.

By giving us the image of the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek in the first reading, the earliest version of the consecration narrative in the second, and the multiplication of the loaves and fish in the Gospel, the church weaves together the themes of the pilgrim journey of the ancient Hebrews and our own Christian journey. Our Eucharist is food for our journey just as the manna was food for the Jewish journey.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

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