Life & Soul

The Eucharist is both destination and sustenance

The Multiplication of the Loaves, by a 17th-century artist from southern Italy

The Body and Blood of Christ
Gen 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11-17 (Year C)

“The Lord’s revelation to my Master: ‘Sit on my right, I will put your foes beneath your feet.’ The Lord has sworn an oath, he will not change. ‘You are a priest for ever, a priest like Melchizedek of old.’”

Jerusalem’s Temple priesthood traced its origins to Abraham’s mysterious encounter with Melchizedek, King of Salem. Here Melchizedek received the bread and wine offered by Abraham, and through this exchange became the intermediary of God’s blessing.

In the celebration of Christ’s Body and Blood, we understand the Eucharist as the fulfilment of this encounter between God and his people. Here Christ himself is both priest and offering. His self-sacrifice on Calvary achieved what lay beyond our sinful humanity, a perfect communion with the Father.

St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, predating both the Acts of the Apostles and the written Gospels (in their final formulation), is our earliest witness to the celebration of the Eucharist at the heart of the Church. “This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you.”

Paul’s careful choice of words indicated that, from the very beginning, the Eucharist had been celebrated as the sacrament of Christ’s living presence among his people. All that was done, was to be done “as a memorial of me”.

This “remembering” was charged with the power of the Risen Lord. Here, in a mysterious way, the “then” of Christ’s Calvary becomes the “now” of our communion with the Father. This real and enduring presence is not passive; it is deeply interpersonal. We encounter the Lord whose whole self is “given for us”. We, in turn, are empowered to become a people “given” to the Father. We encounter the Lord whose life itself is poured out for us, enabling us to live lives of selfless service.

More than this, the Eucharist is both an indication of life’s ultimate destination with the Father and the necessary sustenance for the journey. We, like the multitudes that flocked to Jesus, grow hungry in a world that cannot satisfy our longing. As Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish, so in the Eucharist he feeds our longing for peace, healing and forgiveness. As the Bread of Life, he himself becomes our life, the satisfaction of every longing. “Then he took the five loaves and two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them. Then he broke them and handed them to the crowd. They all had as much as they wanted.”