Communion with the Bread of Life – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

An angel touched Elijah and ordered him to get up and eat.

Central idea: Our Lord is the Bread of Life. Doctrine: The Mass as a memorial. Practical application: Worthy reception of Communion.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

To view Lectionary 116, click here.

Central idea: Our Lord is the Bread of Life

Reading 1 1 Kgs 19:4-8

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O LORD!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree,
but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.
Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake
and a jug of water.
After he ate and drank, he lay down again,
but the angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

  • Through the intercession of an angel, Elijah received food and drink from heaven so he could complete his forty-days journey to the mountain where he would meet God.
  • Elijah, who had fled to the desert to escape assassination, concluded that there was nothing special about him when he prayed for death saying, “I am no better than my fathers.” But he was wrong. He really was God’s prophet.
    • Like the Israelites he would be fed in the desert with bread from heaven.
    • Like Moses their leader, he would meet God on Mt. Horeb or Sinai.
  • We are like Elijah because we are ‘better than our fathers.’ That is, we are not just natural human beings; rather, we are saved and sanctified by Christ and made children of God. And we, too, are fed with heavenly food and drink in the Mass where we meet God. There we receive food and drink so we can accomplish our life-remaining journey to see God face to face.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.

Glorify the LORD with me,
Let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
And delivered me from all my fears.

Look to him that you may be radiant with joy.
And your faces may not blush with shame.
When the afflicted man called out, the LORD heard,
And from all his distress he saved him.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.

  • The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). The poor in spirit are the lowly, or the humble, or those “without material possessions and whose confidence is in God,” or all those “of whatever social rank, who recognized their complete dependence on God” (see NAB note for Mt 5:3).
  • Objectively, every human being is dependent on God. Subjectively, some of us accept this dependence and others resist it or reject it.
  • If we accept our dependence on God, we are receptive to God. In our receptivity, we receive from God and find it good. We taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Reading 2 Eph 4:30-5:2

Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

  • Paul continues to bring out what it means to have the mind of Christ and to imitate him. Remarkably, his advice is mostly about the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”
  • While there is such a thing as righteous anger aroused by and directed against injustice, our anger is usually sinful and displayed in “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling” resulting in “malice.” To have the mind (and the behavior) of Christ means to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving, even if our inclination or desire is the opposite. Christ forgave us and sacrificed himself for us, the fruits of which we receive in the Eucharist. Our kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are our own fragrant offerings to God the Father pleasing to the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Jn 6:41-51

The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
“I am the bread that came down from heaven, ”
and they said,
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Stop murmuring among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat 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.”

  • There are two things that bother the “Jews” referred to here. One is that Jesus is bread and the other is that he came down from heaven. (In this case, “Jews” refers to men knowledgeable about the Jewish religion, somehow officially responsible for Judaism, and defensive toward their Jewish faith.)
    • Jesus as bread. In light of the Deposit of Faith we possess, which includes the doctrines about the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and informed by the actual practice of the faith for over two thousand years, we have a pretty good understanding of how Our Lord is the bread of life. But even then, those men could have understood Jesus’ words metaphorically, that he was claiming that he was bringing them true gifts from heaven that would give them eternal life. His miracles were evidence that his claim was true. His miracles were also all about life: he gave people mental or physical healing or physical wholeness, rescue from danger of death, food when they were hungry, wine for joy, and above all, for a few, life again after death.
    • He came down from heaven. Again, we understand this in a more complete way thanks to doctrines like the Incarnation, the Hypostatic Union, and the Blessed Trinity. But the “Jews” could have understood “from heaven” as being sent by God, like John the Baptist or one of the prophets, even being formed from his mother’s womb to be a messenger of God. Again, Jesus’ teachings and miracles were evidence that they should take this claim seriously. Instead, their argument is that they know Jesus’ human ancestry and relatives. They know St. Joseph and they know Our Lady.
  • Jesus answers their objections with true but difficult-to-hear replies: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” and “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” These could be interpreted by them to mean that if they have a problem with Jesus it is because there is something wrong in their relationship with God the Father. That is the last thing they would want to admit.

Doctrine: The Mass as a memorial

  • Jesus in the Eucharist is the Bread of Life come down from heaven that we eat to gain eternal life.
  • The celebration of the Eucharist in the Mass has been “the center of the Church’s life” from the moment of Christ’s command to ‘do this in memory of me’ (CCC 1343).
  • In the Mass—what the early Church called “the breaking of bread”—the priest repeats Jesus’ actions and words at the Last Supper as “the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father” (CCC 1341).
  • By memorial is not meant its common contemporary definition of a remembering. The memorial of the Mass is not like a service when someone dies, or a national holiday in honor of some important event, or even a saint’s day in the Church calendar.
  • Rather, the Mass as a memorial means a real participation in the original event. To explain, consider how the Last Supper and the Passion of Christ are really one event: at the Last Supper Our Lord offered himself to the Father in an unbloody manner and in his Passion in a bloodly manner. In the Mass, the Church understands we are participating in that original one event.
  • This understanding of memorial was anticipated in the Jews’ understanding of the Passover event. To read more about parallels between the Jewish Passover and the Mass, click here.
  • The Lord also urges us “to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’” (CCC 1384).

Practical application: Worthy reception of Communion

  • To receive the Eucharist worthily we must examine our conscience. If we are aware that we have committed “a grave sin” we “must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (CCC 1385)
    • This is the teaching of St. Paul: “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.” (1 Cor 11:27-29)
  • We should also approach Communion humbly, which is why we echo the words of the Centurion before receiving: “Lord, I am not worthy . . .” (CCC 1386).
  • We should also observe the fast, which for us is to abstain from food or drink (except water) one hour before communion (CCC 1387).
  • We should have the proper dress and demeanor. Our “[b]odily demeanor,” that is our gestures and clothing, “ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (CCC 1387).
    • Many of us could improve in this regard.
  • Receive Communion. We don’t live in a time in which not going to communion by those who should is a wide-spread problem, but it has been a problem in other eras and could be a problem for some individuals. Thus, the faithful, “if they have the required dispositions [should] receive communion when they participate in the Mass” (CCC 1388).
  • Attend Mass. “The Church obliges the faithful to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily. (CCC 1389)
    • Once one is doing the minimum of what one should, why not do more? What about one more Mass and Communion each week?
  • Receive one or both species. The faithful “receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace” by receiving communion only under one species (normally the Host), since Christ is sacramentally present. In the Latin rite, it is now permitted to receive the Eucharist under both species as it is a more complete sign. (CCC 1390)

The Homiletic Directory offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 1341-1344: “Do this in memory of me”
  • CCC 1384-1390: take and eat: Communion






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