God is spirit (John 4:24). The angels are spirit (Heb 1:14). Animals are flesh given the breath of life (Gen 7:15). Man is unique in creation—formed from the dust in the image and likeness of God Himself as the pinnacle of creation, he was given the breath of life (Gen 2:7) and dominion over all other creatures (Gen 1:26). Man was made for communion with God. As a builder creates with an end purpose in mind, God rested after He had made man the capstone of His creation and saw that everything was very good (Gen 1:31).
By the power of His voice, God created all that is. He is the embodiment of truth because by His Word, it is so. When He says, “Let there be light,” there is light. There can be no falsehood in Him because His Word is creation itself!
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).
God gave man this creative spark in free will. Man was free to choose cooperation in the plan of God or to refuse and seek to make a god of himself—deciding what is good and what is evil. Why? There can be no love without free will. Love is a gift given from one to another. It can’t be demanded, commanded, or programmed. Man must be free to choose God as freely as God chose to create man in His image and likeness. Unique among the animals, man was created for communion with God in an everlasting bond of love since such a bond of unity requires a common nature between them. Man failed in the Garden of Eden and died in his sin. God Himself took on this physical nature of man to restore, redeem, and sanctify it for union with Him.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him (John 1:10-11).
In the fullness of time, God entered His creation as man. He did not come with the retinues of Heaven. He came humbly to walk among the sinful and call them back from their waywardness. He spoke of love. He spoke of Heaven. He spoke of communion. He taught that love requires sacrifice—giving of oneself for the one who is loved. He went to the cross to give his life in an offering of love that man might be reconciled with God.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
[through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven (Col 1:15-20).
This offering on the cross stands at the center of all history. All of history prior pointed forward to His sacrifice. All of history since recalls in thanksgiving our reconciliation. In His body and blood on the cross is the offering of the New Covenant between God and man. What had been lost by our first parents was restored by God in His own flesh—and far greater than before!
I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ez 36:25-28).
Prior to His offering on the cross, Jesus gathered with His Apostles to make an offering of Himself during the Passover celebration at the Last Supper. This offering is Eucharist because it is an action of praise and thanksgiving to God (CCC 1328). At this gathering, He gave His newborn Church the offering of Himself for all ages to come as a sign of this New Covenant.
Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you (Luke 22:18-20).
Here, the God of all creation speaks as He did at the world’s foundation… and what He says is true. This is His body. This is His blood. It is so because He says it is so. Why is this necessary? He did this for us who are living 2,000 years after His sacrifice on the cross. Through this offering of His body and blood, we participate in His sacrifice. At the institution of the Eucharist above, Jesus commands His disciples to “do this in memory of me.” It is not a simple remembrance of the mind. We are made members of the event. His glorified body will ascend to Heaven but He left us a participation in His body through the sacrifice of the Church. Through this sacrifice, we are united with Christ Himself and His body, the Church, across all of space and time in one moment of everlasting love.
“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’ [135 SC 47]” (CCC 1323).
The Liturgy of the Church is the Mass through which we glorify God and commune with Him. There are two principal parts of the Mass—but I see three in reference to the Trinity and the mission of the Church.
– In the Liturgy of the Word, we read of the will of God in Scripture. There is a reading from the Old Testament of the promise of salvation, a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving, and the Gospel for the fulfillment of the Father’s promise in Jesus.
– The Liturgy of the Word includes the homily of the presiding priest or bishop. In this part, we are taught to understand what has been revealed through the Magisterium of the Church by the Holy Spirit and we profess our faith.
– In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we affirm our faith in action by receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the form of bread and wine as He instructed His disciples in the Deposit of Faith (Tradition).
The unleavened bread of the Eucharist prior to consecration is just as lifeless as was man when he was but dust. It is the spirit of God that gives life to man and bread. As the priest lays his hands over the offerings, he prays for the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts that they may become the body and blood of our Lord. The words of Christ from the Last Supper are so powerful, they echo through time and space to consecrate these lifeless species into the living flesh of God sacrificed for us.
Jesus was challenged on this mystery in His day.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst (John 6:35).
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41-42).
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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” (John 6:48-51).
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” (John 6:52).
At this point in the conversation, Jesus could either soften His language to not lose those who do not understand or make His teaching clear and risk scandal. If He was speaking of consuming the Word in Scripture as many of our Protestant friends insist, Jesus could clarify for those who intend to walk away from Him at this teaching. Our Lord makes His intent clear.
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” (John 6:53-58).
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:60-64).
It’s hard to accept the words of a man who says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Even in our modern world, we would consider him a lunatic. To His Jewish listeners, Jesus sounds like He is contradicting God who gave many prohibitions against the drinking of blood. These disciples are not just walking away from Him in disgust, they are walking away in righteousness misunderstanding
Only meat with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat (Gen 9:4).
Only, you shall not eat of the blood, but must pour it out on the ground like water (Deut 12:16).
Do not eat anything with the blood still in it (Lev 19:26).
As Jesus said in many places, “You have heard it said… but I say…” here, in the Bread of Life Discourse of the Gospel of John, He reveals this mystery of His body and blood. If we trust who He is, we must trust what He says—especially when we don’t understand. His words and wisdom are far beyond our own. There is a reason not to drink the blood of animals and God included His reasoning in other places in Scripture. The life is in the blood. We were not meant to have the life of anyone other than Him.
As for anyone, whether of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing among them, who consumes any blood, I will set myself against that individual and will cut that person off from among the people, since the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement on the altar for yourselves, because it is the blood as life that makes atonement. That is why I have told the Israelites: No one among you, not even a resident alien, may consume blood (Lev 17:10-12).
The blood of Jesus is shed for the atonement of man on the altar of the cross. Although He would give us His body and blood in the species of bread and wine at the Last Supper, He would not compromise on the truth when challenged by those who could not understand. It was a truth hidden in plain sight to be understood in the person of Jesus. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) in trusting in the physical presence of our risen Lord in species of bread and wine. The term given by the Church to understand this transformation of substance by the Spirit is Transubstantiation.
How can He give us His flesh to eat—even now, thousands of years removed? It is the Spirit that gives life. As the Spirit gave life to the dust of the earth in man, the Spirit also gives life to the unleavened bread and wine of the Eucharist. The Eucharist completes the sacraments of Christian initiation (CCC 1322). Having been made a new creation through the waters of Baptism, and sealed with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, we are made one in flesh with Christ through communion with His body and blood. This is God’s doing. We respond in trust and gratitude.
I pray for the grace to approach Him at each Mass with a heart of love—longing to do the will of God. Through His body and blood, I truly am what I eat—a member of the body of Christ. In my communion with Him, may I faithfully exercise my spiritual priestly duty in offering Him to others through the sacrificial love I give.