the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly (Exodus 16:3).The people saw and experienced the mighty deeds of the Lord but they did not trust in his providential care for them.
They had plenty of bread to eat in Egypt – despite their great sufferings there – but no bread they had in the desert. Hearing their grumblings and knowing their plight, the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Exodus 16:4). The Lord would feed them till they were satisfied each day, but he would also test their faith through this manna from heaven.
But what was this manna that rained down from heaven in the morning? The manna was “a flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14); “it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). “The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land” (Exodus 16:35). It was their bread for the journey. As the lembas bread for the elves of Tolkien’s middle earth, the manna was the way bread for the pilgrim Israelites, just as the Eucharist is our way bread, our bread for the journey, on our pilgrim way “to a habitable land,” the kingdom of heaven.
Today Elijah begs for death because he feared the power of Jezebel after he killed 450 of the prophets of her false god. The Lord hears his cry and gives him food and drink and says to him, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” (I Kings 19:7). Elijah, “strengthened by that food,” journeyed then to the presence of God; so, too, do we (I Kings 19:8).
We know that the Christian journey is a “narrow road” upon which to walk, one that is filled with many difficulties, trials and temptations but one that leads to great joy and peace. How often do we, fully aware of our sinfulness and our many failures to love and to remove “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling” (Ephesians 4:31), cry out, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (I Kings 19:4)? As we cry out to the Lord he cries out to us, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
Jesus lovingly says to us:
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (John 6:48-51).Let us, then, “taste and see how good the LORD is,” he who gives himself to us so that we might live with him forever.
The Most Holy Eucharist is, indeed, our bread for the journey, our way bread. It is, as Saint Ignatius of Antioch calls it, “the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live for ever in Jesus Christ” (To the Ephesians 20). For those who receive it in faith and in love, the Body and Blood of the Lord is a safe passage through the perils of this world and a foretaste of the banquet of heaven. Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, the Bread of Angels, the true manna from heaven, we journey ever onward toward the new and eternal Jerusalem, but we do not journey alone.
One cannot be a follower of Christ by oneself, solitary and alone. Jesus calls us all to himself, he calls us to become one with him and a part of his Mystical Body. Says the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:
Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him and, thus, towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself (Deus caritas est, 14).Such is the power of the love of God.
It is because of the immensity of this great gift – the gift of God himself – that Saint Paul warns us:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (I Corinthians 11:27-29).This is why the Church still insists that all mortal sins must be confessed before one receives Holy Communion. This is why we must prepare ourselves spiritually and physically to receive Holy Communion. We must open our hearts to receive this great gift of love and we must fast for one hour before receiving the Eucharist as a sign of our devotion.
In addition to this, we ought to pay attention to the way that we are dressed when we come to the Mass, when we come into the presence of the King of heaven and earth. More often than not a failure to dress more appropriately for the Lord comes from a certain laziness, and laziness always demonstrates a lack of love. We need not dress in tuxedos or formal gowns – although there is nothing wrong with this – but we also should not come in clothes that we might wear to bed. To dress in one’s “Sunday best” is a fitting and proper way to show our respect for and love of the Lord Jesus Christ who gives himself totally to us. Before the Blessed Eucharist,
Let the whole of mankind tremble
the whole world shake
and the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the living God,
is [present] on the altar
in the hands of a priest.
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that for our salvation
He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look, brothers, at the humility of God
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves, as well,
that you may be exalted by Him.
hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves
He Who gives Himself totally to you
may receive you totally (St. Francis of Assisi, Letter to the Entire Order, 26-29).