Bread and the Eucharist
Starting from this Sunday, we are going to immerse ourselves in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. It is also known as the ‘bread of life chapter’. Chapter 6 has a strong connection with the Eucharist banquet. On the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the first verses of the chapter (John 6:1-15) are read which tells the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish that feed a huge crowd. This sets up the rest of the chapter as a time for Jesus to teach us about himself being the Bread of Life. The term ‘the bread of life’ will be ‘boringly’ repeated for the next few weeks; this is because this term contributes significantly to understanding the theology of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.
The imagery of feeding the hungry, comforting the needy, and reassuring the presence of God in our lives are key messages of today’s Gospel and Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel as a whole. This Sunday’s Gospel introduces to us the very ordinary element of life: bread and fish. These elements are so ordinary that we never think of their contributions to our lives and our existences. Once again, the Gospel uses these simplest items in raising up for us the most important lessons of our lives and our faith.
The story of the “multiplication” of the five loaves of barley bread and two fish raises up the important things in our lives that can be so taken for granted that we never think about them. The bread that we eat daily, helps to keep us alive. The Eucharist that we celebrate at every Mass maintains our faith in the life of the Church. In Chapter 2, Bread and the Eucharist, of Fr Frank O’Loughlin New Wineskins: Eucharist in Today’s Context, actually emphasises the simplicity of bread, but it is such a significant element of life: “bread gives witness to our radical dependence on something outside of ourselves to keep us alive. We cannot give ourselves life. Every time we eat we acknowledge that we cannot maintain our own existence. We have to take something from outside of us into us if we are to remain alive…. We are utterly dependent for our very life on something outside of ourselves, something beyond ourselves.”
In drawing the important line between the ordinary bread and the Eucharist, Fr O’Loughlin also says: “the fact that the Eucharist takes bread into its celebration means that it makes it’s own what bread is and what this sign reveals about human beings and it uses that as the medium of Christ’s new gift of life to us. This sign is revealing; by its own nature, it leads us into what it signifies in the Eucharist. It has a certain transparency in regard to the mystery of Christ, which we are celebrating in the Eucharist. In its own human reality, it has something to say about the one who is the authentic bread of life. It leads us to and gives us the medium in which to receive the ‘true bread that has come down from heaven to give life to the world.’”
Next week, Victoria marks 6 months of lockdown in total from the beginning of the pandemic. We have to step in and step out of lockdown. Churches open and close. Our Sunday celebration of the Eucharist has been corrupted; our faith journey has been challenged with this current climate. Therefore, the more we have been restricted to celebrate the Eucharist regularly and physically together, the more we are encouraged to immerse ourselves in exploring the meaning of the Eucharist in our lives. Especially, from this Sunday reading from John’s Gospel, the Gospel encourages us to look at Chapter 6 again – the chapter about ‘bread of life’ – the chapter that gives us a spiritual reflection on our faith.
In addition to an understanding of the ‘bread of life’ chapter, I would like to encourage everyone to use our free time during this lockdown to read the book from Fr Frank O’Loughlin New Wineskins: Eucharist in Today’s Context*.
Let us pray for each other as we embrace this challenging reality together.
By Fr Trac Nguyen