Trinity XI 2015

A long time ago, before bread rationing began in 1946, my Mother asked me to buy a cottage loaf on my way home from the library. The re was a very old fashioned baker on my way, where the bread was actually taken out of the oven at the back of the shop - just as in Venice to this day - and a cottage loaf was a round loaf with a smaller loaf stuck on the top. A loaf which could be neither sliced nor wrapped! So I bought the loaf just wrapped in rather thin paper and set off on the half hour walk home. Very soon the warmth on my hand and the smell for my nose proved too much and I had a little pick and only a little pick that led to lots more little picks and ultimately I arrived home presented the parcel to my Mother and was horrified to see that all that was left was a lump of dough with no crusts at all!  I have no recollection of any aftermath….

What makes up bread? It could not be more simple: flour, water, yeast and heat. The secret lies in the work of the baker, the kneading of the flour and water to just the right consistency, then adding exactly the right amount of yeast, more kneading and then covering with a cloth and leaving for the magic to happen; the mixture gets much bigger, then the mass is divided, the smaller lump on top of the bigger one and into the oven it goes and the wonderful smell tells when all is ready. It is very simple but skill is required at each stage and so it has been for ages. Significantly, even more skill is involved the making of wine and the discourses in John chapter 6 are dealing with two very basic foods that cannot be made without considerable human intervention. “ The Word was made Flesh” and the flesh is an essential partner in the making bread and of wine.

No wonder the people in the synagogue were bewildered: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This has bewildered many people down the ages. St. Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle’s hypothesis of substance and accidents: many are not happy with this but, seeing that the Eucharistic elements are indwelt with the Glory, perhaps Transfiguration might be a better word. At no time does it cease to be bread as the heretical Bishop Barnes of Birmingham and many others have shouted from the roof tops and even pulpits but just because it is simple, common for all and in daily use and without eating and drinking we shall surely die, so Jesus makes it easy for us and Dom Gregory Dix, in a wonderful purple passage in “ The shape of the Liturgy”, vividly describes the very different occasions for the celebration of the Eucharist. From the coronation to the condemned in their cell, times of happiness and times of grief, the transfigured bread and wine are not a nice option but an outward and visible sign of the hallowing of the occasion and, more importantly, of the individual or individuals concerned.

Ever since Jesus first uttered these words people have been confused, that the bread might be somebody’s flesh and the wine the same person’s blood but in the other Gospels it comes in their accounts of the last supper and in every Eucharistic celebration. We have only to reflect briefly on the use of the word “body “in the scriptures to appreciate that it means a whole lot more than a bag of flesh and bones while most Eucharistic hymns dwell lovingly on it: “Body of Christ, be Thou my saving guest” - there is compression for you! Or again from St. Thomas Aquinas:“O blest memorial of our dying Lord/who living bread to men doth here afford/O may our souls for ever feed on thee/and thou O Christ for ever precious be.”

St. John is the most Eucharistic of the gospels and yet there is no record of what are erroneously called “the words of institution”; instead we are commanded, several times, to “eat of my flesh and drink of my blood”. In all human intercourse having a meal together is our way of making relationships, celebrating birthdays, meeting up again after a separation, becoming one with another once again or just acknowledging the reality of that “oneness” and so it is with us and with Jesus.

This transfigured bread is indeed worthy of worship; indeed worshipping Him in this form makes us aware of the transparent simplicity of this gift. We cannot, normally, go to Mass and receive the Lord under the forms of bread and wine more than once in a day, nor does the liturgy provide us with much space for adoration other than with our voices and bodies as the liturgy gently progresses but the presence of the sacrament enables this to happen. Jesus must be focus of the Christian’s prayer and barely hidden He is here to help and encourage our prayers, our heartbreaks, our bewilderments as well as our thanksgivings and joys. Above all is the generosity of God in the Incarnation, becoming a man, experiencing humanity with its ups and downs; the small boy fascinated and delighted by the magic of helping his mother make bread, above all watching it rise and, a commonplace in the villages, the carefully tended vines that were to deliver the centrepiece of his first miracle - the most alcoholic wedding ever, all those water pots filled to the brim with vintage Merlot! When God acts he acts big, so just as bread and wine were in those days, the basics, the transfigured bread and wine are on offer for all, the good, the bad and the indifferent for in this life we shall never be worthy but we are invited. This well-known poem exquisitely sums up all that I have been trying to say.

Love by George Herbert  

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

            If I lacked anything.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

            Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

            I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

            Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord but I have marred them: let my shame

            Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

            My dear then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

            So did sit and eat.

         

            Aidan Mayoss CR