Why the appearances of bread and wine?

By Father Bernard Ezaki, Assistant Pastor of Notre Dame Church of Bethlehem

What follows is a presentation I used to give to my students, and this is itself based on a lecture delivered by one of my seminary professors, viz. Monsignor Michael Chaback, who now resides at our villa for priests. Thank you, Monsignor Chaback!

Lovers generally want to bestow enduring gifts on those whom they love. What could be more long-lasting than a diamond, or the value of gold and silver jewelry? What better symbolizes true love’s endurance than the circular shape of a wedding ring? If then, lovers want to give long-lasting presents, why does Jesus give us Himself in the Eucharist under the appearances of such fragile things as bread and wine? Why bread and wine? Why not diamonds?

First, bread and wine are forms of food and drink, essentials of life. Without food, we hunger; without drink, we thirst. Without each, we perish. Christ gives us Himself in the Eucharist under the accidents (sense perceptions) of bread and wine to signify that we need God to exist at all. The Eucharist also reminds us that we should hunger and thirst after God with our whole being.

The Psalmist says, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Psalm 42:2). In addition, the Eucharist is a reminder that Jesus is our ultimate satisfaction, the ultimate fulfillment of all our longings. Our Lord asserts, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

Second, bread and wine do not occur in nature. We cannot pick bread from a tree nor drink wine from a stream. Bread and wine are products of human society. The farmer, the miller, the baker – all have a role to play in the making of bread. The vinedresser, the vintner, the winery workers – all do their part in the production of wine.

Bread and wine are, to quote the words of the priest’s offertory prayer, the “work of human hands.” Thus the Blessed Sacrament should remind us that we human beings are social creatures. We need each other. Above all, the Eucharist is a tangible indication that we need to belong to the society of the Church.

Third, bread and wine are generally enjoyed as part of a meal. Meals obviously have a way of binding people together. Business deals are often struck over lunch. A man may propose to the woman he loves while the two are dining out. Relationships are cemented while people sit down to share a meal. That’s why regular family dinners are vitally important.

Even enemies are sometimes reconciled with one another in the breaking of bread. The Eucharist, then, is a sacred meal in which we Christians are bonded to one another and to God. This idea is expressed quite nicely in a prayer from the Didache, a writing of unknown authorship dating from the year 110 AD: “Father, … 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.”

To sum up, Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine to remind us: (1) that we must hunger and thirst for God, our ultimate satisfaction, (2) that we need to belong to the society of the Church, and (3) that it is precisely through our reception of Holy Communion that we are bonded to one another and united to God.

More articles by Father Ezaki are on his website www.apologyanalogy.com.