Column: We encounter the living Christ in the breaking of the bread

by Father Mike Stubbs

At one time, Catholics were commonly known as “fish-eaters,” from their practice of eating fish on Fridays.

Because of our recent experience of Lent and the growing popularity of parish fish fries, that appellation might once again sound appropriate. We find ourselves in good company. After all, this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 24: 35-48, describes Jesus Christ himself as a fish-eater: “They gave him (Jesus) a piece of baked fish, and he took it and ate it before them.”

Ostensibly, Jesus’ reason for eating in front of the disciples reflects his desire to show that he is not a disembodied ghost: “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”

At the same time, the choice of fish, as opposed to some other kind of food, reminds us about another significant event in which fish plays a crucial role: the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. Because of the importance of that event, all four Gospels include it in their accounts (Mt 14:13- 21; Mk 6:32-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1- 15).

This allusion to the multiplication of the loaves and the fish is strengthened because our Gospel passage only a few verses earlier mentions a previous encounter with the risen Christ in which he eats bread with some disciples: “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” With this reference to bread, the allusion is complete.

The phrase “the breaking of the bread” also looks forward to other passages in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (2:42); “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes” (2:46).

These passages from the Acts of the Apostles describe the life of the early church in Jerusalem. Then, as now, the Christian community focuses upon the Eucharist, around which its life revolves. “The breaking of the bread” is the oldest term for what now goes by the name of “the Eucharist” or “the Mass.”

In the Eucharist, Jesus shares a meal with us, in which he offers us his own body and blood as food and drink. Many aspects of this holy meal refer to the Last Supper. After all, the actions and words of the presiding priest reflect those of Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body.”

At the same time, whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, those encounters the risen Jesus had with the disciples shortly after his resurrection continue — encounters which usually involved food. In the case of Sunday’s Gospel reading, the food was fish. In the Eucharist we celebrate, the food is the body of Christ, under the form of bread. But always, Christ is present — to reassure us that he is alive, that he is risen from the dead.

It is important for us to remember this aspect of the Eucharist, especially during this Easter season, when many parishes hold first Communion. The Mass puts us into contact with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In fact, sometimes we refer to it as the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

At the same time, we also encounter the risen Christ through the Eucharist. Like the early Christians, we recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

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