When we partake in a meal, the food we consume is broken down by the digestive process and converted into the materials necessary to sustain our cells and biological systems. In other words, the foods that we eat are absorbed into our very being. Yet, something entirely different occurs each time we participate in the Eucharist. When we consume the body of Christ, we are changed; we become more united to the body of Christ. The eucharistic miracle that happens upon every altar at every Mass consecrating bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ is brought to fruition by the change that it brings about in us.
Matthew’s account of the feeding of 5,000, which we hear on this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, provides an opportunity to take a closer look at the language of the eucharistic prayer and the change Christ seeks to make within us. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds (14:19). Notice the four actions of Jesus — he took, blessed, broke and gave — in this prefiguring of the Eucharist. These four actions are repeated in the Synoptic Gospel accounts of this miracle (Mk 6:41, Lk 9:16), in the institution narratives of the Last Supper (Mt 26:26, Mk 14:22) and in Jesus’ resurrection meal in Emmaus (Lk 24:30). Drawing on this scriptural tradition, we repeat similar words at every Mass. Before the bread and wine are consecrated into the body of Christ, the priest proclaims, “he himself took bread, and giving thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to the disciples” (EP II, emphasis mine).
As we ponder the miraculous change that occurs when a simple piece of bread is taken, blessed, broken and given, I invite us to reflect on the change that can occur in us when we are taken, blessed, broken and given by Christ. For a moment — now or each time you hear these words — imagine you yourself being taken into the hands of Christ. Allow yourself to rest in his arms — bring him your hopes and fears, your joys and anxieties. Rest in his healing and consoling embrace. And bring your entire self to him, hear his words of blessing spoken directly to you. Listen as he offers you blessing; accepting you and honoring you for who you are. Just as he breaks the bread, he breaks open your heart. At this moment you can share all that is broken within you — any sadness, any sinfulness, any regrets; he knows it all and he loves you. Witnessing your acceptance of his love, he gives you as gift. He offers you as gift to the Heavenly Father; he offers you as gift to those whom you will encounter as you go forth from this moment.
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned master of divinity and theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.