The Bread the Wine and the Power of the Cross to Transform Them

There is an engaging image of the Church contained in a passage from last week’s Office of Readings. It is instructive because it speaks not only of themselves but of the power that makes them.

It is appropriate that we should receive the body of Christ in the form of bread, because, as there are many grains of wheat in the flour from which bread is made by mixing it with water and baking it with fire, so also we know that many members make up the one body of Christ which is brought to maturity by the fire of the Holy Spirit ….

Similarly, the wine of Christ’s blood, drawn from the many grapes of the vineyard that he had planted, is extracted in the wine-press of the cross. When men receive it with believing hearts, like capacious wineskins, it ferments within them by its own power(From a sermon by Saint Gaudentius of Brescia, bishop, Tract 2 CSEL 68, 30-32).

Most of us are familiar with the image of bread as the coming together of many individual grains. The ancient Eucharistic hymn from the Didache, as reworked a bit in the modern hymn “Father We Thank Thee,” contains these lyrics:

As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
was in this broken bread made one,
so from all lands Thy Church be gathered
into Thy kingdom by Thy Son.

This is certainly a powerful image, however, grains brought together are still just a pile of flour. It takes water to truly unite them into a batch of dough. For us, the water that must unite us is the water of our Baptism. Thus, Gaudentius says, bread is made [first]by mixing it with water.In our Baptism we are made members of the Body of Christ by dying with Him and rising to new life. It is, then, and first of all, the water of Baptism that unites us.

However, bread is incomplete until it is baked, until it is subject to the fire. Thus, Gaudentius teaches more fully, bread is made by mixing it with water and baking it with fire … [and thus] the one body of Christ is brought to maturity by the fire of the Holy Spirit …. We know how the Lord gathered His disciples and apostles, uniting them to Himself, but we also know how weak and confused they often were until the coming of the Holy Spirit like wind and tongues of fire. It was the Fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that quickened them, that matured them.

I am aware that many like to speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, a saying that goes back to the Fathers of the Church. A birthday, however, brings thoughts of infancy and immaturity. I prefer, therefore, to see Pentecost more as a commencement or graduation of the Church, fully instructed and now brought to maturity by the Fire of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking also to the Blood of Christ transubstantiated from the “blood” of many grapes, St. Gaudentius reminds us of the source of the power that unites those many grapes: they are extracted in the wine-press of the cross. It is from this wine that He makes His Blood, this fourth cup of the Passover meal, this wine that He would not taste again until He drank it with the apostles anew in the Kingdom of His Father (cfMatt 26:29).

Consider well, then, fellow Catholics, the font that unites us, the Fire who matures us, and the power of the cross that brings forth the chalice of salvation.

The Prayer for Divine Mercy Sunday says all of this beautifully:

God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast,
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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