Elements of Christ’s Memorial
Life of Christ (Week 17 of 27)
To be honest, I’ve never given much thought to the why of bread and wine for Mass. Why do we use bread and not olives or hummus or crackers? Why do we use wine and not water or milk or beer?
Leave it to Fulton Sheen to smack me across the head with an explanation that not only explains it beautifully, but that also inspires further reflection.
I’ll be breaking up a paragraph that particularly struck me from Chapter 36 (around the 12th or 13th paragraph, by my count).
Why did Our Blessed Lord use bread and wine as the elements of this Memorial? First of all, because no two substances in nature better symbolize unity than bread and wine. As bread is made from a multiplicity of grains of wheat, and wine is made from a multiplicity of grapes, so the many who believe are one in Christ.
We call it Communion, after all, so bread and wine as symbols of unity seems to be obvious. And yet…I find myself floored by it. It’s so obvious! And yet…
When I think of it in a slightly different context, where bread has been replaced with pizza and wine could be Coke or beer, then I start to better live in this reality.
Those people on the other side of my family, the lady who wouldn’t scoot over for us to have an end spot, and the guy who always turns around and plays with the toddler: they’re no longer just other people at Mass, are they? They’re believers: they’re one with me!
Bread and wine: proof that those as different as me and that person three rows over can be ONE. The miracle of the Mass stretches before me, a promise of so much more than holding hands and fuzzy feelings. It is, instead, an eternity fulfilled.
Second, no two substances in nature have to suffer more to become what they are than bread and wine. Wheat has to pass through the rigors of winter, be ground beneath the Calvary of a mill, and then subjected to purging fire before it can become bread. Grapes in their turn must be subjected to the Gethsemane of a wine press and have their life crushed from them to become wine. Thus do they symbolize the Passion and Sufferings of Christ, and the condition of Salvation, for Our Lord said unless we die to ourselves we cannot live in Him.
Though I have a strongly agricultural background and even dabble in rural farm life now, it never cross my mind that bread and wine have to suffer to become what they are.
Suddenly Mass, that small participation we have in the heavenly banquet, becomes less about a particular set of actions and more about a state of mind. And just as suddenly, those two simple, humble foods we share — bread and wine — are reminders of the price Christ paid…for me, for you, for that lady beside me and the kid behind me.
And when I’m home, struggling along with whatever hilarity or chaos has me clutching my rosary, I can think of Christ within me — literally within me — and the suffering that that wheat went through to become the bread that became my Savior.
A third reason is that there are no two substances in nature which have more traditionally nourished man than bread and wine. In bringing these elements to the altar, men are equivalently bringing themselves. When bread and wine are taken or consumed, they are changed into man’s body and blood. But when He took bread and wine, He changed them into Himself.
What makes me what I am? At the most basic level, it’s the food I eat, which nourishes me and helps my body build cells and regenerate and stay alive. That food, eaten and crushed and digested, becomes part of me.
And there’s the thing that makes me pause: I eat Jesus in the Eucharist. So He’s part of me, too, in a way that’s intimate and more than a little unnerving when I stop to think about it.
That same Jesus took bread and wine, among the most normal and ordinary materials, and transformed them into Himself.
Just bread and wine. The same regular, everyday ingredients. Nothing special.
Until he made them special.
And isn’t that just like God? Not only does he create things beyond our imagining, but he also makes the ordinary and everyday into miracles.
The bread and wine are me; I am the bread and wine. The Bread and Wine are Him, and through some miracle, He is in me.
I don’t know about you, but that gives my day a whole new perspective.
1. How do the elements of Christ’s memorial, bread and wine, change your perspective of both Mass and life?
2. When you attend Mass next, how will your mindset be changed after Communion?
Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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