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Familiarity breeds contempt. We see this happening even with the most precious gifts. After being sustained by manna for nearly 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites grew tired of it. The divine provision they had once welcomed they now despised, complaining about the manna: “we loathe this worthless food” (Numbers 21:5). Their utter rejection of the manna brought the plague of fiery serpents among them, and many died as a consequence of their contempt for God and the heavenly food he had provided.
Type and fulfillment
Of course, we are in no danger of suffering a similar fate, right? I would like to think that if I were in the Israelites’ place, I would have appreciated the manna—even if it did grow a little monotonous after all those years. But St. Paul tells us that these things are written as “warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). And the Feast of Corpus Christi is a fitting time to heed the warning of the Israelites and renew our devotion to the heavenly food God has given us for our journey to the Promised Land.
In reflecting on the events of the Exodus the author of the Wisdom of Solomon praises God for the marvelous gift of manna:
“You gave your people the food of angels,
and without their toil you supplied them from heaven with bread
ready to eat,
providing every pleasure and suited to every taste.
For your sustenance manifested your sweetness toward your children;
and the bread, ministering to the desire of the one who took it,
was changed to suit every one’s liking.” —Wisdom of Solomon 16:20–21
The manna was a type (foreshadowing) of the Eucharist, and the fulfillment is always greater than what came before. So whatever Scripture says in praise of the manna is even more applicable to the incomparably superior gift of the Eucharist. If the manna manifested God’s sweetness toward his children, ministering to their desire and fulfilling every need, how much more so the Body and Blood of the Lord himself?
Fruits of the Eucharist
Jesus tells us that his Body and Blood are true food and true drink that will give us eternal life (see John 6:55–56). Just as the manna sustained the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land, the Bread of Life nourishes us in the wilderness of this life until we reach the eternal Promised Land of Heaven.
How exactly does the Eucharist nourish us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church enumerates the many fruits of this awe-inspiring sacrament in paragraphs 1391–1401.
- The Eucharist unites us ever more intimately to Christ. This communion is the principal fruit of the sacrament of Holy Communion.
- It “preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace” which we received at Baptism (CCC 1392). Just as material food nourishes us to grow physically, the Eucharist provides essential nourishment so that we can grow in our spiritual life.
- It separates us from sin by strengthening us in charity. The Eucharist washes away past venial sins and strengthens us against committing sins in the future.
- “The Eucharist makes the Church” (CCC 1396). When we are united to Christ in the Eucharist we are also united more closely to all other members of his mystical body, the Church. This sacrament that is the “sign of unity” and “bond of charity” (St. Augustine) also inspires us to pray ever more fervently for the unity of all Christians, as Christ himself prayed on the night he instituted this sacrament (see John 17).
- In our reception of the Eucharist we are committed to the poor and enabled to recognize Christ in those most in need. The Catechism quotes St. John Chrysostom in explanation: “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother, …. You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal” (quoted in CCC 1397).
What we don’t know can hurt us
Human language is woefully inadequate to describe the great power of the Eucharist. As with all the sacraments, it contains this power or efficacy in and of itself. The Church describes the sacraments as acting ex opere operato. This translates as “from the work worked” or “by the very fact of the action’s being performed. That is, the sacraments are objectively powerful, regardless of the knowledge or belief of the one receiving them (see CCC 1128).
But the sacraments also act ex opere operantis, “from the work of the worker.” This means that the disposition of the one receiving the sacrament plays a role in what effect the sacrament has on the person. While one’s understanding or belief does not change the reality of the sacrament, a greater awareness of what the Eucharist is can dispose us to a more fruitful reception of the sacrament, leading to a more profound transformation of our hearts.
May God preserve us from taking his magnificent gift of the Eucharist for granted, and may He open our hearts to be filled to overflowing with the graces of this glorious sacrament.