Reflecting on the Eucharist

I just finished reading Fire of God’s Love: 120 Reflections on the Eucharist, by Mike Aquilina, sent to me by the Catholic Company. The book contains a collection of thoughts on the Eucharist by figures ranging from St. Ambrose to G.K. Chesterton to Dorothy Day to Avery Cardinal Dulles. The Eucharist is so central to our lives as Catholics, both as a source of strength and of unity, that I was anxious to see what the book offered.

As is to be expected in a book of this type, some of the selections will speak to some readers more than to others. Some I read with very little reaction; others I found very provocative, causing me both to stop and reflect on them and to mark them to come back to again. Some offer less a reflection than advice to the followers of the writer.

One of the most powerful selections for me was one by St. Ambrose, speaking about the line in the Our Father in which we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Ambrose makes the point that the term used by Jesus describing the bread was epiousion, which is Greek for “supersubstantial.” The use of that term conveys more of an understanding than the English term that the bread of which we speak here “is not bread that passes into the body,” but “rather, the ‘bread of eternal live.’” While some of us may pray this line of the Lord’s prayer thinking of the Eucharist, I suspect many think in terms of asking God to provide for our daily material needs.

Another selection that struck me was by April Oursler Armstrong (the daughter of famous Protestant evangelists and a convert to Catholicism). Referring to Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” she suggests that it is incomprehensible that Jesus could have been anything other than completely literal in speaking those words. Jesus, she points out, was born a Jew and would have had full knowledge of the Jewish reaction to the idea of consuming blood. She observes that “Christ would not speak idly or carelessly, or in unexplained metaphor, when he spoke of his own blood. He could have watered down what he said. He could have said he spoke in a parable, that he didn’t really mean people were to eat him. But he wouldn’t do that. He watched hundreds of hitherto ardent followers turn their backs on him and go away rather than believe what sounded like repulsive nonsense. He let them go. Because what he said was true and couldn’t be explained away to accommodate those who were scandalized.” Armstrong writes that when she got that in her head, it changed everything.

There is much to reflect on in this book.