The food we eat affects us individually, and affects the world more generally. Whether we are meat eaters or vegans; whether it is processed or not; whether it is locally sourced or imported; whether we over-eat or over-diet, binge or fast—the food we eat, and how we eat it, has its effects on us and on the world.
Moses knew this truth in a particular way. The food of angels—the manna from heaven—which God’s people ate throughout their exodus journey, had the effect of sustaining them when nothing else was available to live by. Moses wanted them to remember this, that it was not their doing, but God’s, which allowed them to live. ‘Remember how the Lord your God led you … how, in the wilderness, he fed you.’
Paul also knew this truth. The Eucharistic bread of the Christian community was to be of a single loaf, making a single people, and feeding all. No one was to be excluded from this; there was to be no division of rank or claim to preference among Christ’s Body. All could eat of the Lord who came to his table. This is communion—sharing, without division, in Christ’s food. ‘Though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.’
Christ lived by this truth, and called us, in turn, to live by it. ‘The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’ Jesus gives himself for our lives, and for the world in which we live. He, himself, is God’s sustenance, God’s manna to live by. He is the loaf that lasts, and is given for all to eat of and live. Christ gives to us the food we need, from the gifts we offer—fruit of the earth and work of human hands, which becomes for us the bread of life.
Christ gives the food that is good for us, and for the world. He gives himself. And in giving himself as food for us to live by, we are called to give of ourselves that others may have life. The Body of Christ is that which is received, but also that which is formed in the receiving. That which is given and received is then to be lived out in us, for the life of the world.
As we make our way towards Christ in the Communion procession, in need of the food he offers, he is there waiting for us, in his need that we might want to come to him. We might come forward with empty hands to receive his gift into them, but they are hands ready to receive. Christ sees this, he sees us coming forward to him, and he responds by filling us with himself. This is thanksgiving—a mutual giving and receiving. This is the meaning of the word ‘Eucharist’.
As Jesus said, and continues to say, ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.’ The food we eat, and how we eat it, has its effects on us and on the world.
Main image: Master of James IV of Scotland (Flemish), Procession for Corpus Christi, illumination, c.1510–1520. (Digital image courtesy of the Getty Museum’s Open Content Program.)
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli17 November 2023