St. John, alone of the Evangelists, does not give us a description of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood at the last supper.
St. John does give us Christ’s great Priestly Prayer and shows Jesus, our High Priest, as servant, washing the feet of His disciples, an action every parish priest, every bishop and the Pope himself, repeats on Holy Thursday, a reminder of the servant dimension of Holy Orders.
Here as St. John continues to give us Jesus’ revelation of Himself as our Eucharistic food, which is Jesus Himself in all His glory, Jesus encounters resistance something frequent throughout His teaching life, indeed even during His suffering on the Cross.
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” [v.52]
Be it our ancestors in the faith who begged for bread in the desert, and then complained about having to eat so much of the manna, or those complaining here, or anyone who complains about the food placed before us, it is therein to commit sin: rejection of God’s gift; an implicit arrogance which convicts us every time we pray the Our Father and ask for daily bread, because our attitude is: just give us the food we like to eat. It is a form both of spiritual and physical gluttony!
Satan, the liar, the charlatan, the enemy of God and of us, is the absolute opposite of the one True God in that God is Light, satan is darkness; God is love, satan is hate; God is Divine Fire, satan is cold in the reality of his existence; Jesus, Our Lord God and Saviour, gives Himself to us as Bread and Drink for eternal life. Satan, who is a taker and incapable of giving, is the devourer: Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. [1Pt.5:89]
It is interesting that while in Vs. 25, 28, 30, 31, 34, 41, 42, 52, the people address questions, or argument, directly to Jesus, yet at this critical moment: The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” [v.52]
Certainly, Jesus would have seen the people’s agitation, heard their quarreling and the question they were asking among themselves.
Most of us, if challenged by someone about how we can, or plan, to do something, will give an explanatory answer. Jesus here, does not.
The immensity of the gift He is revealing to them, to us: Himself as Holy Eucharist, a mystery tangible in its reception, in the reality of His Presence in the tabernacle, yet the ‘how’ it happens that bread and wine become Him, remains invisible.
True we can observe the gestures, hear the words of the priest bringing, by the invocation of and power of the Holy Spirit transubstantion, but that is accessible to faith alone, not to scientific observation.
Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is also an act of trust that what Jesus offers is Jesus Himself.
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” v.53.
This is the immensity of the gift, as it were, within the gift of Jesus giving us Himself: The Eucharist is the centre and summit of the whole of sacramental life, through which each Christian receives the saving power of the Redemption, beginning with the mystery of Baptism, in which we are buried into the death of Christ, in order to become sharers in His Resurrection, as the Apostle teaches. In the light of this teaching, we see still more clearly the reason why the entire sacramental life of the Church and of each Christian reaches its summit and fullness in the Eucharist. For by Christ's will there is in this Sacrament a continual renewing of the mystery of the Sacrifice of Himself that Christ offered to the Father on the altar of the Cross, a Sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who "became obedient unto death", His own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection, since the Father is the first source and the giver of life from the beginning. [St. John Paul II, encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Part IV, para. 20.1]
Word made Flesh, by word He makes
Very bread His Flesh to be;
Man in wine Christ's Blood partakes:
And if senses fail to see,
Faith alone the true heart wakes
To behold the mystery. [Pange Lingua, St. Thomas Aquinas]
© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph