Father Cantalamessa on the Many Dimensions of Communion

A Eucharistic Reflection by Pontifical Household Preacher

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ROME, MAY 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, talks about the Eucharist as a mystery of communion.

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John (6:51-58)

The Cup and the Bread of Life

The feast of Corpus Domini assumes an altogether special significance in the Year of the Eucharist. One of the fruits that Pope John Paul II (it is still difficult to believe that he is not among us) expected from this year was “to revive Eucharistic wonder in Christians,” namely, wonder before the “divine enormity” (Paul Claudel) that is the Eucharist.

In the second reading of today’s feast, St. Paul writes: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The Eucharist is therefore fundamentally a mystery of communion. We know different types of communion.

One, very intimate, is that between us and the food we eat, because it becomes flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. I have heard mothers say to their children, when they hug them in their arms and kiss them: “I love you so much that I could eat you!” It is true that food is not a living and intelligent person with whom we can exchange thoughts and affection, but let us suppose for a moment that the food is the living and intelligent one himself, would we not then finally have the perfect communion?

This is precisely what happens in Eucharistic communion. In the Gospel passage Jesus says: “I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. … My flesh is real food. … He who eats my flesh has eternal life.” Here, food is not a thing, but a living person. We have the most profound, though also the most mysterious, of communions.

Let us look at what happens in nature in the realm of nutrition. It is the strongest vital principle which assimilates the less strong. It is the vegetable that assimilates the mineral, the animal that assimilates the vegetable. This law is also verified in the relations between man and Christ. It is Christ who assimilates us to himself; we are transformed into him, not he into us. A famous atheist materialist said: “Man is what he eats.” Unwittingly, he gave the best definition of the Eucharist. Thanks to it, man truly becomes what he eats, namely, the body of Christ!

After St. Paul’s initial text we then read: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” It is clear that in this second case the word “body” no longer indicates the body of Christ born of Mary, but “all of us,” it indicates that greater body of Christ which is the Church. This means that Eucharistic communion is always also communion among ourselves. All of us eating from the one food, form only one body.

What is the consequence? That we cannot have true communion with Christ if we are divided among ourselves, if we hate one another, and are not disposed to reconcile with each other. “If you have offended a brother,” St. Augustine said, “if you have committed an injustice against him, and then you go to receive Communion as though nothing had happened, perhaps full of fervor, you are like someone who sees a friend arrive whom he has not seen for a long time. He runs to meet him, throws his arms around his neck, and stands on tiptoe to kiss his forehead. … But, while doing this, he does not realize he is stepping on his friend’s feet with shoes of nails. Our brothers, in fact, especially the most poor and abandoned, are Christ’s members, they are his feet still resting on earth.”

When giving us the host, the priest says: “The body of Christ,” and we respond: “Amen!” Now we know to whom we say “Amen” — that is, “Yes, I receive you” — not just Jesus, the Son of God, but also the one who is next to us.

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

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