Summary: Not through intellectual assent, wisdom, and knowledge, but through the act of love, the breaking of bread, do we recognize Jesus Christ and know him as our Risen Lord and Savior.
Hearing the message of the Gospel is not enough. Understanding, intellectual assent is not adequate. Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel at Pentecost did not result in the people exclaiming, “We agree with your reasoning,” or, “That makes sense to us.” Rather, “They were cut to the heart.” The Word of God will fill our mind, but it must first fill our hearts. St. Augustine said, “I believe in order that I may understand.” Understanding does not come first; belief does. Belief must be established before understanding can occur. Those of you who are married: did you first know your spouse or love them? You loved them. I often wonder if I actually knew anybody before I loved them, would I ever love them? As a teenager, I didn’t really understand (know) my parents, but I did love them, and now I begin to understand them.
So the people who heard Peter were moved by the message. “Brothers, what shall we do?” What shall we do? Response to the Gospel requires response. The good news of Jesus Christ—the fact that we are sinners and that Jesus has power to forgive our sins and has in fact offered this forgiveness to us, this Good News—demands that we be changed, and it has power to do so. Our love of God demands expression. Imagine telling someone, “I love you,” and pouring out all of your energies into something for them, and when you share it with them, they simply walk away.
XXXXX, my sister’s youngest, just celebrated his fourth birthday. His best friend, his “girlfriend” XXXXX, wanted to make him a cake. So she and her mommy spent Friday afternoon baking and decorating a cake that looked like Thomas (Thomas the train, not the disciple). So they bring out the cake, and XXXXXX sees it, and what does he say? “You forgot the smoke stack.” And, oh! XXXXXX's face was so downcast. All her work, what’s more, all her love, ignored. And that was just a birthday cake.
But God the Father sent His One and Only Son, Whom He loved. He sent Him to become nothing, to live in this valley of tears, to suffer, to die, and, yes, to rise again. How often do we half-heartedly appreciate what He has done for us? How God’s heart aches when we ignore the mighty works He has wrought for us. He wants us to live in thanksgiving because in turning to Him, we have fullness of joy, fullness of life, fullness of grace, fullness of every good and perfect gift.
Fullness. Grace. Gift. Thanksgiving = Eucharist
Let’s take a look at the breaking of bread—the ceremony’s meaning, what it entails, and what it signifies. “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me… This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24,25). There’s so much here, but we’ll just get one meaty morsel.
“This is my body.” The bread is the Christ’s very body. The manner in which it is such has been the subject of pious speculation and deep theological thought. At the most basic level, we understand it as God’s work. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “Since then He [Jesus] Himself has declared and said of the Bread (This is My Body), who shall dare to doubt any longer” (Catechetical Lectures 22). If Jesus can take me and you—weak, fallen, human creatures—and redeem and restore us such that “Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers” (Heb. 2:11), it seems almost simple in comparison to consider that He can become really present under the species of bread and wine. I know how low my own soul has fallen, and also how high God has called me. And He lifts me up to that place. Wow! Such love! So when the priest gives you the consecrated bread and says, “The body of Christ,” no response is more fitting than, “Amen,” for it is by faith alone that we receive Him.
The bread that we break is “a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16). When we make Eucharist, we join ourselves to the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the Church, the assembly of the saints from all times—past, present, and even future. Do you realize that, not only do we join together with our forebears, but also we unite ourselves with our grandchildren and great grandchildren who shall continue in the Faith? The Eucharist unites us to and unites us within the body of Christ. St. Augustine said, “If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive.” And again he said, “There you are on the altar; there you are in the chalice.” When we participate in the body of Christ, when we live as branches of the true vine, He lives in us and we in Him, and we are one. Praying over the offerings we say, “Blessed are you Lord God of all Creation: Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. It will become for us the body of Christ.” Our offering, the very symbol and token of our life and labor, becomes the body of Christ! Even as we died through baptism, and our “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), so when the priest says to you, “The body of Christ,” not only is he telling you about the mystery that has occurred in the bread, but about the mystery that has transformed you—that you are become the body of Christ. You, in receiving the one bread, become one with Christ, and one with each other. And again, no response is more fitting than, “Amen,” for it is God’s grace alone that can effect such marvelous change that surpasses our understanding.