Exodus 16:2 4,12 -15 Ephesians 4: 17, 20 24 John 6: 24 35 IN the introduction to the "Instruction on the Eucharist" (Eucharisticum Mysterium) we read "the mystery of the eucharist is the true centre of the sacred liturgy and indeed of the whole Christian life. Consequently the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, continually seeks to understand and to live the eucharist more fully."
When speaking about the eucharist it is important to keep these words firmly in mind. They remind us that what we are dealing with is essentially a mystery. They can help us avoid the temptation of oversimplifying or speaking in a banal way, about the eucharistic celebration and presence which is the heartbeat for the entire life of the church. "It is through the eucharist that the church continually lives and grows."
To-day's readings provide us with the opportunity to reflect upon and to grow in our own understanding of this mystery.
The passage from the Book of Exodus tells the story of a grumbling people who preferred to live under oppression in Egypt than to face the insecurity of life in the wilderness. Their lack of trust and disloyalty, however, did not get in the way of God's love. God provided for their immediate needs as a sign of his commitment to their future. God gave them bread to eat; he sustained them in a hostile environment.
Following their experience in the desert it became the Jewish custom that every time they gathered for a meal they would recall the wonderful things that God had done for them and they would thank him for his loving care. Jesus himself endorsed this practice and established it as the basis of our own eucharistic worship. Unlike the other evangelists, John does not provide an actual account of this. His reflections on the eucharist, however, provide us with an insight to its meaning in the everyday life of the Christian. His reference to the story of the manna which God provided for his people during their journey in the desert reminds us that Christ's own presence in the eucharistic food is to nourish and unite us on our journey as God's pilgrim people. "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst" (John 6: 35).
St Paul alerts the Ephesians to the risk of drifting along, holding on to old habits, and living "an aimless kind of life", like people without any identity or purpose (cf Ephesians 4: 17). He stresses the need to be renewed by "a spiritual revolution" (14: 24).
The eucharist (the mass) should be a source of continual renewal in our own lives. It should help us to avoid the risk of drifting and approaching our journey of faith in a half-hearted way. It keeps before us our true identity as God's people and enables us to live with a real sense of purpose. This of course will only happen in so far as we approach the eucharist in the way that God intended. Jesus rebuked the crowds who came in search of him because their expectations were purely materialistic. They were looking for the sort of miracle that would bring them immediate material benefits and comfort.
Their low expectations did not prevent Jesus from engaging them in dialogue and challenging them to think in an entirely new way. They had to learn to focus their sights on God.
Whatever our own immediate expectations in life may be participation in the eucharist should enable us to keep God's purpose for us in life firmly within our focus.