Giving the homily at Mass on 22 September, during the German bishops’ autumn plenary meeting in Fulda, Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker of Paderborn discussed the passage in the Gospel of John in which Jesus speaks about the Bread of Life (6:51-58). From that homily come some questions that we should all ask ourselves every now and again:
“The event of Jesus’ sacrifice in the mystery of the Eucharist is perhaps the most demanding in the faith life of every Catholic Christian.
Where do we stand, sisters and brothers? How do we relate to this gift of God, this legacy? How do we stand before this bread that is Christ? Am I aware that I so meet my Creator and Saviour and thus my goal? – “Whoever eats this bread will live forever!” Here I definitely see an occasion to draw attention to our actual behaviour in the celebration of Holy Mass. Do I really think, and if so, when, about whether I can approach the table of the Lord? Do I know the difference between normal food and the Body of the Lord that Christ gives me? Do I say my ‘Amen’ as a faithful response to receiving the food of eternal life?”
I don’t think there’s anyone who sometimes doesn’t come forward to receive Communion on autopilot. We know the deal: come forward, genuflect, kneel and receive the consecrated host on the tongue (or, if you must and where it has been allowed, in the hand). The actual movements are nothing spectacular anymore. But that is completely contrary to what is happening. As the archbishop asked, do we know the difference between normal food and the Christ-given Body of the Lord? If we do, how can receiving Communion ever be a normal thing?
The relevant Gospel passage is actually very clear:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
We are receiving the holiest thing imaginable in order to receive even more: eternal life and life in unity with the Lord at that.