BREAD OF LIFE
The Body and Blood of Christ
The celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi was decreed for the universal Church in 1264. It was not known to St Francis, who died in 1226, but he would have loved this feast, which duplicates Holy Thursday in many respects.
In his writings, Francis often expressed profound reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ. Together with his great love of Christmas (the Crib) and of Good Friday (the Cross), he was devoted to the mysteries of Holy Thursday (the Cup). These three major celebrations provided expression of his total commitment to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.
In his First Letter to the Custodians, in 1220, Francis wrote: “With all that is in me and more, I beg you that, when it is fitting and you judge it expedient, you humbly beg the clergy to revere above all else the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy names and the written words that sanctify His Body... When It is sacrificed on the altar by a priest and carried anywhere, let all peoples praise, glorify and honour on bended knee the Lord God living and true” (1LtCus 2,7).
The SFO General Constitutions, 14.2, filling out the Rule, 8, state: "The Eucharist is the centre of the life of the Church. Christ unites us to himself and to one another as a single body in it. Therefore, the Eucharist should be the centre of the life of the fraternity. The brothers and sisters should participate in the Eucharist as frequently as possible, being mindful of the respect and love shown by Francis, who, in the Eucharist, lived all the mysteries of the life of Christ."
Let us consider how we too, like St Francis, are called to a eucharistic way of life.
In the Eucharist, bread is accepted, offered, consecrated, broken, and given out.
Bread is accepted from the people, and someone brings it forward to the priest celebrant on behalf of all present. Bread is the staple food of millions. It represents human life, especially the lives of us who present it. We are accepted on that plate with the bread.
The celebrant offers this bread to God the Father on behalf of all, as our own gift of ourselves. He prays the Jewish blessing: "Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made", with the Christian addition, "It will become for us the bread of life.”
The same bread is consecrated to be the flesh of Jesus Christ. The celebrant says: "Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread and gave you thanks. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, `Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my Body which will be given up for you'."
We are celebrating life that is given through dying to self. Dying is the price we have to pay for this kind of life. The bread is Jesus's flesh, that is, his body, his person, given in order to give life to everyone. The bread, then, is Jesus himself who laid down his life for us by dying of his own free choice.
The bread that is Jesus Christ obtains its life‑giving power only through death, his and ours. The life that Jesus gives is bought very dearly, by living and dying with his frame of mind.
The consecrated bread is broken into pieces. This is a death‑symbol. It symbolises his body, broken in death. The celebrant places a piece of the bread in the chalice, while he prays: "May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it."
Jesus is the true bread of life. This is only because he was crucified and rose again, he was broken and made whole again. Now he can give life that lasts and never fails.
The consecrated pieces are given out as food for all present. We say "Amen" to Body of Christ, meaning, "Yes. This is the sacramental Body of Christ, and I am the Body of Christ, and we all are the Body of Christ." The bread of life must be bread broken and handed round to fill up the needs of everyone.
Jesus invites us all to become that life‑giving bread, accepted, offered, consecrated, broken and given out, so that others may live by us.
The price of being bread of life is great. We must be eaten, even chewed up. We are given for others, given to others. Our flesh is given for them, our blood shed for them. Violence may be done to us. Death by the hands of others could be involved. Certainly, death to self‑ centredness is required.
The Eucharist places us as broken pieces in the hands of everyone we meet. Let us give our self, don't take back the gift, give generous service without sad afterthoughts.
Can we pay the price? There is more to sharing in the life of Jesus than a comfortable Catholic life and a monthly meeting of Secular Franciscans, and coming forward to receive the consecrated bread. The symbolic act is filled out with practical consequences.
We become the bread of life for others when we share in Jesus's offering his life to God and for people, being broken and dying to self in the process. We are given what we need in order to do this, through our hope of sharing Christ's new life. Then receiving the Eucharist has its full effect in our lives.