“‘On the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and said: ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’”
These words of St Paul, written to the divided church at Corinth, are the first witness to the celebration of the Eucharist in the early Church. It is significant that Paul’s first instinct, in times of difficulty, was to ground the community in what had become the familiar celebration of the Eucharist.
To us, too, his words are a reminder that the Eucharist, Christ’s continuing presence, is the foundation of the Church. When Jesus blessed the bread as his body given for us, his words reached far beyond those gathered around the table at that Last Supper. He was describing himself as given, sacrificed and broken for all succeeding generations who would do this in memory of him. Likewise when he spoke of the cup as the New Covenant in his blood, he intended this covenant of love not simply for those who were present, but for all who would do this in memory of him.
Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, memory is more than recall. It is a sharing in all that is remembered, a true encounter with Christ as the one given and poured out for us: “Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.”
For St Paul, of course, the proclamation of Christ’s saving death was not an end, but a beginning. In the celebration of the Eucharist we do more than acknowledge Christ’s presence; we become one with the very action of his death and rising to new life. We become those who die and are raised up in him.
The familiar Gospel accounts of Jesus feeding the multitude can be understood as a commentary on the faithful in their journey of faith. The experience of life will frequently confront us with our own frailty. Like the disciples, unable to feed the multitude from their own hunger, we become aware of our own inadequacy.
If we are to feed the hearts and the minds of the world, we ourselves must be fed. When we encounter Christ in the Eucharist, we bring the little we have. This is the faith that enables our living Lord to feed the world.
This article first appeared in the June 3 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here