56. NEW BREAD. The Lord’s Supper

Created: Monday, 18 February 2013 Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014
56. NEW BREAD
The Lord’s Supper


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1. That who has been able to discover that Jesus is the Lord (being born again, and he is so initiated in the meaning of the baptism), finishes his initiation participating of the living bread that feeds the community: “I am the living bread” (Jn 6, 51), says Jesus. Really, “the person who is in Christ, is a new creation; the old passed away, everything is new” (2 Co 5, 17). New birth, new bread, new temple. In effect, “that who is baptized washes already himself in a new world, and it is in a new world where the community eats” (NCA)
2. To begin with, several questions arise. What does this new bread mean? Which is the meaning of the Eucharist? Which most important changes had taken place along history? Is it necessary to revise the tradition in the light of the Scriptures? Which relationship does it exist between Jesus last supper with his disciples and the meals or suppers in which the Lord makes himself present among his people? Do we discern Christ presence in the Eucharist? Is it a question of communion? Does the new bread feed us?
3. Some data. Before the paschal feast, knowing Jesus that time has arrived to pass from this world to the father, he has supper with his disciples (Jn 13, 1 – 2), he celebrates the Passover (Lk 22, 15) in the night in which he is being delivered ( 1 Co 11, 24). The supper is paschal: the house and the preparation to eat the paschal lamb (Mk 14, 12), the ablutions and the washing (Jn 13, 5), the bread dipped in the sauce (13, 26), the coupe after dinner (Lk 22, 20), the singing of the psalms (Mt 26, 30), the ample conversation (Jn 13 – 17) in which Jesus reveals the meaning of that dinner. The table of the celebration is the table of the Passover, the “Lord’s Passover” (Ex 12, 11).
4. Nevertheless, the Eucharist, celebrated in the primitive Church the first day of the week or Lord’s day (Acts 20, 7; 1 Co 16, 2; Rev 1, 10), from the first moment becomes separated from the Jewish Eastern. Jesus does not tie his supper to the eating of the lamb, he is “Lord’s lamb” (Jn 1, 29), but to the fraction of the bread and to the blessing of the coup, gestures that, respectively, one preceded and the other one followed the Paschal supper and that in that supper they acquired a new meaning (1 Co 11, 23 – 26; see Gn 14, 18 – 20). In the Jewish world, the fraction of the bread like introduction and the blessing of the coup like conclusion highlight the meaning of the meal: the membership to the same community. The bread and the wine are the symbol of the whole meal. The one presiding, the head of the family or the one taking his function (in its case, the guest) break the bread and distributes it to everybody, delivering a praising and thanksgiving prayer.
5. Jesus is a prophet who “eats and drinks” (Mt 11, 19). To share the bread (with thanksgiving) appears in the passage of the bread multiplication: “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.” (Jn 6, 11). But the fraction of the bread acquires in the last supper an especial meaning. In the Jewish Eastern the unleavened bread is the bread of the pursued, the bread of misery and of the rush (Ex 12, 24. 39), symbol of the suffered difficulties. It is said so in the Jewish Eastern ritual: “Here is the bread of misery that our ancestors have eaten in Egypt, let that who is in need come to celebrate the Eastern”. Jesus refers to his violent death. This bread, symbol of suffered difficulties, “is my body that is delivered for you; do this in remembrance of me” (1 Co 11, 24; see Mk 14, 22; Mt 26, 26; Lk 22, 19). “The Greek Church uses leavened bread. In the Latin Church unleavened bread is dictated (Florence Council, 1439). The first undeniable witness of the use of the unleavened bread is Rabano Mauro (dead 859)” (Schmaus).
6. The first day of the week (Lk 24, 1. 13), the disciples of Emmaus recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (24, 35), The bread and fish meal that the resurrected Lord gives to the seven disciples (Jn 21, 13) appear in the primitive Christian art like a Eucharistic expression. The breaking of the bread is the oldest name of the Eucharist. The expression designates not only the fact of breaking the bread, but the whole meal, as a festive meal: “The first day of the week, being all of us assembled for the fraction of the bread”… (Acts 20, 7 – 11; see 2, 42. 46). It is Paul’s celebration in Troade. The community meets in the third floor of a house. Many lamps are lit. The meeting takes place at the beginning of that day, id est, in the night from the Saturday to the Sunday, according to the Jewish way to count. Paul dialogues with the brethren until midnight. Later on he breaks the bread and eats. Then he talks until dawn.
7. The expression breaking of the bread remains in use while the Eucharist is celebrated in the frame of a meal. It is also called the supper of the Lord (1 Co 11, 20). In that frame, says Saint Paul, no food eaten with thanksgiving should be rejected, since it becomes sanctified by Lord’s word and by the prayer (1 Tm 4, 4 – 5). In the epitaph of Abercius (in Hierapolis, Asia Minor, about 180) the meal of the Christians is described like fish, bread and wine (see Rouët de Journel, Enchiridion patristicum, Herder, 1969, 187). Nevertheless, more and more, the emphasis is placed in the thanksgiving: “Among us this food, says Saint Justin, is called Eucharist” (Apology I, 66). The Eucharist is separated from the dinner and moved to the morning: “The first time that we find this order is in the middle of the second century (Saint Justin, Apology I, 67). Then it was universally imposed” (Schmaus)
8. The habit of moving around a coup during the meals, in which all drink (Mk 14, 23), makes of it a symbol of communion with the God of the alliance and with the brethren. The brethren participate in the table of the Lord; the coup overflows (Ps 23, 5). The believer, grateful and hopeful, raises his salvation coup (Ps 116, 13). In the Jewish Paschal rite, the coup is drank after dinner (Lk 22, 20), the third coup called of Elijah, symbolizes the coming of the kingdom and it is the liberation coup for those oppressed believers. In the last supper it is also the coup of the agony that Jesus must drink (Mk 14, 36; 10, 38) and the coup of the new alliance sealed with his blood: “This is my blood of the alliance that is spilled for many” (Mk 14, 24; see Ex 24, 8). Jesus again refers to his violent death. His death will be fruitful: “My servant will justify many” (Is 53, 11).
9. Because of the general infidelity (Jr 22, 9), the old alliance is broken (31, 32), as a marriage that gets ruined (Os 2, 4). In spite of all, God´s project stays. There will be a new alliance, inscribed on the hearts. It is a question of communion, a mystery of communion: “I shall place my Law in their interior and I shall write it in their hearts, and I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jr 31, 33). The new alliance comes through the servant to whom God constitutes “alliance of the people and light of the nations” (Is 42, 6). “If someone loves me, says Jesus, he will keep my word and my father will love him, and we will come to him and we will make our home with him” (Jn 14, 23), In the new alliance God lives between us; “we are sanctuary of the living God” (2 Co 6, 16), “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (3, 6), Christ makes himself “a single flesh” with the Church (Eph 5, 32). We are invited to the wedding banquet (Mt 22, 1 – 14)
10. In Saint John’s evangel, after the multiplication of the loaves, people says: “This is the prophet who was due to come to the world”. Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone. Jesus avoids the strategy of the crowd. Now when the evening came, a strong wind was blowing and the sea was getting rough. The disciples caught sight of Jesus walking on the lake, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” The following day some boats from Tiberias came to shore near the place where they had eaten the bread. When the crowd realized that Jesus was not there, they went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. Jesus tells them: “You are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life, the food which the Son of Man will give to you.” (Jn 6, 15 – 27)
11. So then they ask to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires: to believe in the one whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus announces the true bread: “It is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven, for the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6, 28 – 33). It is written in the prophets: “All will be taught by God” (6, 45). God´s wisdom invites to her table. “Come and eat my bread, drink the wine I have mixed” (Pr 9, 5). Jesus presents himself as “the living bread”: “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me, will not be hungry, and that who believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6, 35), “anyone who listens to my father and learns, comes to me” (6, 45), “I am the living bread, who came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, he will live for ever, and the bread I am going to give him is my flesh for the life of the world” (6, 51)
12. People crashes against a coarse realism: How can this give us to eat his flesh? Jesus gives himself, he delivers himself, he announces in a veiled way his violent death. He is “the son of man”, torn to pieces by the bestial powers (Dn 7). Jesus goes from the symbolism of the “bread of heaven” (Ex 16, 4) to that of the paschal lamb, whose blood in spilled: “This is the blood of the alliance that the Lord has made with you” (24, 8). He is “the lamb of God” sacrificed the paschal day: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (6, 55). His new presence beyond the death is food, mutual inhabitation, new alliance: “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I in him” (6, 56). The resurrected Lord is inside us and we are inside him. And the eternal life (6, 47), to which the dead resurrect is already a possession of those alive who believe in him. Many of his disciples, as they heard him, said: “This is a hard language”. It is fruit of the spirit: “The spirit is the one who gives life” (6, 63). Without faith experience, it is not understandable. From then on many of his disciples back out and they didn’t go any more with him. Jesus told to the twelve: “Do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answers: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6, 68 – 69)
13. Jewish memorial makes present the fact of salvation in each time: “This will serve you like signal in your hand, and like reminder before your eyes” (Ex 13, 9). The Christian community accomplishes Jesus mandate: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22, 19). A reminder is not a simple evocation of an event that happened in the past. Its efficacy reaches the present. For each generation Christ’s memorial “is his own Pasch, the Lord who passes to liberate it” (Ligier). In the Eucharist the glorified Lord is present, who is the One crucified: “Every time that you eat this bread and drink this coup, you announce the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Co 11, 26). The Lord goes away, but he comes back: “Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me” (Jn 14, 19)
14. In front of the scandal of the cross and of the empty grave (Jn 20, 2), the Lord says to us: “This is my body”. It is to say, look for me in the Eucharist, in the meeting of the community: “You are the body of Christ, and his members, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Co 12, 27), he acts through you. It is fundamental to discern the body of the Lord, his presence. The divisions can prevent it. As Saint Paul says: “When you meet in common, that is not already to eat the supper of the Lord” (1 Co 11, 20). A revision, then, is needed: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself”. (11, 28 – 29). It is necessary to flee from the idolatry; it is not possible to participate of the table of the Lord and of the table of the devils: “Is it not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is it not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (10, 16).
15. One of the oldest testimonies of the Eucharist, the Didache, written in Syria at the end of the first century, points out the importance of unity: “Anyone who has a dispute with his fellow should not join you until he is reconciled, so that your sacrifice is not desecrated” (XIV, 2; see Mt 5, 23 – 24). The Eucharist performs the unity of the Church and it is a sign of it: “Even being so many, we are unique bread and a unique body” (1 Co 10, 17). It is said in the Didache: “As this fragment was dispersed over the mountains and united made itself one, in this way your Church will be united” (IX, 4). Jesus prays for that unity: “Let all be one” (Jn 17, 21). Participation is open to everyone: “When you meet, each one can have a psalm, an instruction, a revelation, a discourse in language, an interpretation” (14, 26), “all of you may make prophecies in his turn” (14, 31). Everything must be made “in a fitting and orderly way” (14, 40).
16. The community is the new family of the disciple where fraternal love is lived (Mk 4, 34). The unity of hearts leads to an effective goods communication (Acts 4, 32). In a society divided into rich and poor, Jesus announces the good news to the poor, the “harassed and helpless crowd” (Mt 9, 36), submitted to the powerful: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Lk 4, 18)
17. For the fathers of the Church, the Eucharist is at the same time “figure and reality”. The change takes place during the Eucharistic prayer taken as a whole, which includes Jesus words and an invocation to the spirit. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says: “ We ask God, who loves men, to send the Holy Spirit over the oblation and to change the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into his blood, since everything touched by the Holy Spirit becomes sanctified and transformed” (mistagogical Catechesis, V, 7). Saint Ambrose will influence the Western Church, insisting upon all in the words “of the Lord Jesus” (De sacr., IV, 14 – 15). German theologian Schmaus says: “In the period after the apostles, the Eucharist was celebrated for a long time as a thanks giving prayer, freely formulated, which connected with the blessing words pronounced by Jesus… In the century XIII the persuasion that the authentic consecrating manner is in the words of the Lord was totally imposed. Eastern Church evolution followed another course”
18. Berengario de Tours (+ 1088), who worked in the symbolic level, will be obliged in 1059 to sign an exaggerated formula: “Our teeth bite the own Christ’s body”. Besides, twenty years later he ought to sign another formula: “The bread and the wine placed on the altar, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and by the words of our Redeemer, substantially become the true, own and vivifying flesh and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ… not only by the sign and virtue of the sacrament, but in the property of the nature and truth of the substance” (D 355).
19. The Fourth Council of Letrán, in 1215, wants to defend at the same time the real presence of Christ and the sacramental mystery of his presence, “whose body and blood is truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the bread and wine species, after transubstantiated, by divine virtue” (D 430). The council of Trent (1551) uses a similar formula and introduces the word transubstantiation: “By the consecration of the bread and the wine the change of all the substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord and of all the substance of the wine into the substance of his Blood takes place; to this change, the catholic Church has rightly and appropriately called transubstantiation”. (D 877). The council of Trent wants to ensure the meaning that for the Church has the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, this presence is not tied to philosophic categories (Aristotle, in this case). Even more, the Aristotle theories applied to the Eucharist is a radical modification of the authentic ones, “which did not tolerate the separation between the substance and the accidents” (Schillebeeckx)
20. Augsburg confession (1530) affirmed for all Lutheran tradition Churches: “The true body and the true blood of Christ are truly present in the supper under the shape of bread and wine, and in this way are shared and received” (nº X). In the document of Lima (1982) about the baptism, Eucharist and priesthood, the Faith and Constitution Commission of the Churches World Council confesses the “Christ’s real, alive and operating presence in the Eucharist” (nº 13)
21. Between the XI and XIV centuries certain devotional practices taking place out of the Eucharistic celebration itself are spread: genuflexion, incense, adoration, communion, prayer before the tabernacle. “The tabernacle was first assigned to keep with dignity the Eucharist so that it could be taken to the sick and the absent out of the mass” (Catholic Church Catechism n. 1379). From the IX century the Eucharist is called mass (from Latin oblation missa, sent offering). It is “the saint sacrifice of the Mass”, where the cross sacrifice itself is represented, although “in a no bloody manner” (Trent Council, DS 1743 and 1743)
22. Medieval coarse realism (with stories of blooding hosts) goes too far. Whatever it is, that is not Christ´s blood, says Saint Thomas of Aquinas (ST, III, q. 76. a.8.c and ad 2). Christ is not “locked” in the tabernacle; there are the sacramental species (ST, III, Q.76, A. 7, C; SEE Acts 7, 48 – 50). The Eucharist entails a mystery of communion, a reality that shines in a signal, a sacrament of the body of Christ. “The sign consists in a meal. The meal includes the food, the action of eating and drinking and to talk, which is part of any human community. The fact of being a meal established by Christ distinguishes the Eucharistic supper from any profane banquet” (Schmaus)
23. Christ real presence in the Eucharistic is the fruit of his word, but this word is not a magic and automatic formula, acting by the mere fact of being pronounced. Without the action of the spirit in the Eucharist, the word would be dead letter. We ask the father the gift of the spirit so that the presence of God is made. According to the Second Vatican Council, Christ is made present in the Church in many ways: “above all in the liturgical action”, “in the sacrifice of the Mass”, “in the person of the minister”, “above all under the Eucharistic species”, “in the sacraments”, “in his word”, “when the Church pleads and sings psalms”, “where two or three meet in his name” (SC7). The Eucharist is the summit of the Christian initiation (LG 11; SC 10).
24. With the council one of the oldest names is recovered: Eucharist. What was there before the Council? Bishop Luciani says: “A kind of religious underfeeding in many places”, “we were satisfied with a popular religiosity, which was fed by traditional religious practices and habits, not vivified by the contact with the liturgy and God´s word, not placed into a deep religious instruction. In the same liturgy la people assisted passively, like object and not like subject of the saint rites, spectators, not authors: in the dimension in which the celebrant went further away from the community, following the altar placed more and more towards the end of the apse, the people did not speak any more and could not follow the lectures made by the reader who turned his back to them; the heart of the mass, the canon, was read by the celebrant in low voice, while individually, everyone was saying a prayer of its own without looking to the others”, “the renovated liturgy takes to the sense of the family, to the communitarian prayer” (Opera Omnia 4, 138 – 139)
25. Those presiding over the Eucharist are “Christ´s servants and administrators of God´s mysteries” (1 Co 4, 1; LG 21). His function is not to make up for the presence of Christ, but to be at the service of the community “as in the person of Christ head” (PO 2).Saint Ignatius of Antioch (+ 107) says: “Let only consider legitimate the Eucharist made under the presidency of the bishop or of that who he has assigned for it” (Ad Smyrn 8, 1)
26. The Eucharist is the meeting of the community, “the update of Christ´s presence amongst the community and up to the bottom of every heart” (Von Balthasar). What we call bread, wine, table, communion is inconceivable without the community. “The Resurrected is in the heart of the small things that make up earth’s life” (Rhaner). The community perceives and celebrates it. Christ´s presence transfigures the meeting (supper) into the supper of the Lord. The community is the most sensible means we have for listening God´s word, to acknowledge Christ´s presence, to embrace the gift of the spirit. In the community we can live, in a special way, the signals of the Gospel (Mt 11, 5)
*Dialogue: What does Eucharist mean? Is it a question of communion? Is it the meeting of the community? Does the new bread feed us?