A reading from the Book of Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:17-24

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:24-35

The collective memory isn’t very long.  Fifteen days after Moses them through the divided Red Sea and into the desert, the Israelites grumble against Moses as they stress under the weight of their newfound freedom.  Food and water are not plentiful.  Hunger alters their perspective.  Already their days of slavery do not seem to have been that bad.  After all, though they were slaves in Egypt, at least they could indulge themselves regularly at the fleshpots and eat their fill of bread.  But here in the desert?  They whine about their plight and grumble against Moses.

God is a benevolent god.  All God wants is to prove God’s love for the people.  So comes the promise from God that every morning when the Israelites arise, they will find, scattered on the ground like hoarfrost, manna that will be their daily bread.  Each day they will be able to gather enough bread for that day’s need.  In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread.  God will provide quail as the sun sets.  God will provide manna as the sun rises.  The God of the Israelites loves with abundant signs.

Remember that last week the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand was proclaimed in the Gospel.  Jesus took the few loaves the lad offered, blest and broke the bread and distributed it to the crowds.  Jesus is the sign of the bounty of God’s love.  Remember that after all had eaten their fill, twelve baskets of leftovers were collected.  Where there had been want, now there is super abundance.

This week’s Gospel finds Jesus on the other side of the lake, again at Capernaum.  Some of those who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves made their way around to where Jesus is, only to hear him say: Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.  In other words, they saw the surface event but did not plumb the event for meaning.

Jesus tells them not to be satisfied with merely eating their fill.  They’ll be hungry again.  Rather they should work for the food that endures for eternal life.  These people seem as impertinent as their ancestors in the desert.  The multiplication wasn’t enough for them.  Now they ask for a sign that will enable them to believe in Jesus.  Remember that they are still crowds, just as they were when they were fed.  That means they have not yet decided to be disciples.  They have not yet come to faith.

So it is that Jesus links the multiplication of loaves to the manna in the desert.  He points out that their ancestors ate the manna and still they died.  My Father gives you the true bread from heaven…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.  Notice that the crowd does not ask Jesus to stay with them always.  Rather, they ask for the bread always.  They haven’t made the link.

For these several weeks we are contemplating Eucharist, symbols of which we recognize in the manna and in the multiplication of the loaves.  For us, the Eucharist is at the center of our faith life because we believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  Jesus is our life and our hope.  But it is important for us to recognize that as much as the Eucharist is the Bread, it is also the action of God’s people giving thanks to God through Jesus.  It is paramount that the sign works both ways in our lives.  It is important that we do not mute the power of the sign and hamper our ability to recognize and interpret what happens here.

In some churches something is happening that is problematic.  Tabernacles, where the leftover Bread is reserved, are placed in ever-greater prominence in the Worship Space, sometimes right behind the altar.  Vigil lamps burn by them attesting to the sacred Presence within.  So it can seem that the tabernacle is the point of primary focus in the space.  And therefore the church assembles to adore the Presence.

In reality, the primary focus in the worship space is the altar where the church assembles to celebrate Eucharist.  The people of God come together to celebrate Eucharist that results in the sacramental presence of Jesus in the Bread and Wine.  They come together also to enter into Mystery, and so themselves be transformed into the Body of Christ.  If, upon entering the worship space, the focus is on that Presence already realized, what is the meaning of the celebration?

The tabernacle ought to have its own space, a reservation chapel, if you sill, where the faithful can gather for prayer and reflection.  That place of reservation ought to be easily accessible, suitably adorned, and proper as a place for prayer.  It ought to be remembered that the primary reason for reserving the Eucharist in the tabernacle is so that the sick and elderly who are not able to be present for the Mass, may have the Eucharist brought to them, linking them to the Mass through the service of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist.

Signs challenge the witness to dig deep into their meaning and so be challenged to deepen their faith.  What is happening here?  Is it obvious that there is one Bread to be broken, from which all present will eat?  Is it clear that there is one Cup from which the Assembly drinks?  Remember the hymn?  One bread, one body/ one Lord of all;’ one cup of blessing which we bless/ and we though many throughout the earth/ we are one body in this one Lord. 

Another aberration occurring today happens during the Communion Procession.  Clearly it is the mind of the Church that the people of God receive Communion from the Bread consecrated at the Mass they are co-celebrating with the Presider.  Unfortunately, it is no longer unheard of that the priest is the only one to receive Communion through the bread consecrated at the Mass.  The rest of the Assembly receives from the reserved Sacrament.  They do not experience the Bread being blessed, broken, and distributed from the Altar.  They see it blessed, broken, and consumed by the priest, while they receive from the Hosts in the tabernacle.  The sad thing is that the people of God do not complain.  They do not understand the distinction between the living sacrifice and the reserved Sacrament because they are used to the way the Liturgy is celebrated.  They can come to think that the practice of receiving the reserved Sacrament from the tabernacle is normal.

The General Instruction to the Roman Missal at #85 states: It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the instances when it is permitted, they partake of the chalice…so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.

And we haven’t even talked about the sign value of the host versus something that more closely resembles bread.  One pundit put it: Sometimes I think it takes more faith to believe that the host is bread than it does to believe it is the Body of Christ.  But that is a discussion for another time.

In the mean time, remember, celebrate and believe.



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