By Deacon Louis S. Malfara

“Is not the cup of blessing we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” 1 Cor. 10:16

Last week, in the rectory, a man said to me, “They will be coming to church to get the bread. You know, the food.” I asked him what he meant. Smiling, he repeated what he has just said: “They will be coming for the bread, the food.”

I said, “Do you mean our Aid for Friends’ food that we have in the freezer?”

He smiled and said, “No. I mean the Bread of Life, the Eucharist. If everyone knew the gift that we have in the Eucharist, people wouldn’t hesitate to fill the church.”

He went on to tell me that he was a convert to the Catholic faith and it was the reality of the Eucharist that attracted him. He was right, of course. I marveled at his vision and the strength of his hope.

St. Paul views the Eucharist as the gift that builds the community and is the source of its unity and harmony. In fact, Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) said that Eucharist is animated in our lives by the way we serve others, especially the poor in our midst. The Eucharist is unleavened bread, perhaps so that we can be the leaven in the lives of others.

Pope Benedict XVI echoes his predecessor in Sacramentum Caritatis when he says that in Eucharist “we enter into the very dynamic of self-giving.” As Jesus draws us into Himself, we are then able to serve others.

St. Paul was visionary in that he saw very clearly that Christ’s coming to the assembled Church in the Eucharistic meal prefigures His coming in glory at the end of time. Those who eat this sacred food will share in the eternal banquet in heaven, as St. Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11: 26).

In other words, what is begun in the Eucharistic celebration here on earth will reach perfection in heaven.

The Eucharist is a sacred meal, and therefore, we must not consume the Eucharistic bread lightly. Never taking for granted Christ’s presence even when we receive communion frequently, we must always be mindful of our “communion” with Christ, receiving Christ with humility. This is the reason that St. Paul warns the congregation from Corinth to approach the Eucharist worthily (1 Cor. 11:27-32).

The Eucharist is transcendent, totally beyond our human nature, but at the same time, the Eucharist is intimately personal. Who can understand this great gift of Christ’s presence, so far above us, yet so intimately near to us? Who can fathom the depth of God’s love for each of us when He gives himself to us so unconditionally?

Yet, this sublime gift is practical and necessary because our faith journey is so difficult and so dangerous that we need nothing less than this spanine food in order to travel this life safely.

Viewed in this way, like St. Paul, our response is one of gratitude and thanksgiving to God. And isn’t this the very meaning of the word Eucharist?

Deacon Louis S. Malfara is director of parish ministry at St. William Parish in Philadelphia.