Jesus had said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever. The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The inquiring listeners asked: How? How can this man give us His flesh to eat?
He gave His flesh, when He underwent His bitter Passion and death. Without this gift—Christ offering His Body, for us, on the cross—without it, the world languishes in death. Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors. We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.
The Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh with a greater, more enduring life. Eternal life. He conquered death in His Body—not for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh through the Holy Mass.
The Blessed Sacrament of the altar provides eternal, divine “nourishment,” if might dare to put it this way. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, “nourishes” His eternal Son with divine life. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.
How can this man give us His flesh to eat? “This man.” Jesus. How can ‘this man’ do it? Well, this man is… God. That’s the decisive fact here
God made the cosmos out of nothing, after all–by an act of creation so powerful that we cannot imagine it. We cannot imagine God making everything out of nothing. We cannot imagine nothing. But that is what He did: make the universe out of nothing.
So, we reasonably figure, He can give us His human flesh and blood as nourishment, too. Not impossible for the Creator to do such a thing. The question simply is: How?
Well, we know the history. The Last Supper, the first Mass. Endowing His Apostles with this mission and this sacred ministry. The handing down of the unique office of the priest through all the generations… All this history is part of the answer to How? Christ gives us His flesh to eat by the ministry of Catholic priests, which began at the Last Supper and has extended in an unbroken succession to here and now.
Not all the priests, bishops, or popes have been saints. But even the bad priests—and the lame, boring priests, like me—every priest, when he has said Mass, has given Christ’s Body and Blood as food and drink. Some priests, certainly, have even wound up in hell, for their own sins. But they still gave the Body and Blood of Christ to their people, when they celebrated Mass.
But there’s more to the question of How? How can the God-man give us His flesh for us to eat? Yes, His flesh is uniquely life-giving; it offers the “nutrition” of God. But we human animals would not seem to be equipped to consume the living flesh of the resurrected Christ. We are used to eating tacos and fried chicken and stuff like that.
So: He works a double miracle. The consecration which Christ instituted at the Last Supper involves the double miracle by which…
1. The bread and wine we present to God on the altar become His flesh and blood, in accord with His own infallible divine words. 2. His flesh and blood retains all the sensible qualities of the simplest food and drink. So that we may receive this transcendent nourishment, using our limited natural capacities to receive food.
In other words, the Lord gives us sustenance that totally surpasses our capacities in a way that He has suited to our capacities. The life of God Himself, given to us as a little edible morsel of food, a sip from the chalice.
Let’s focus on this second aspect of the miracle—the fact that God Almighty comes to us in such an unassuming, humble manner; that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness. Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. It reflects the way it all began…
He exposed Himself to the violence of the evil men who cruelly scourged and crucified Him. He veiled His glory then, in quiet gentleness. He did not cry out; He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And in His silence then, He showed the greatest eloquence. He silently declared: I willingly die so that men may live. I willingly die for the very sinners who kill me unjustly.
So, likewise, in the Blessed Sacrament: He freely exposes Himself to people thoughtlessly receiving Him. To people receiving Him with un-confessed sins burdening their consciences. He even exposes Himself to people receiving Him without faith.
But He maintains His silence and vulnerability because it reveals the truth. The God Whom we worship in the Sacred Host wills only to build up, to fortify, to give life. He does not will to tear down; He does not will to destroy. He wills only gently to feed us. With Himself.