Did you know that the basic order of the Mass, as it is celebrated today, can be traced all the way back to the second century? As early as the year 155, Christians would gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
St. Justin Martyr, an early Christian martyr, apologist and Father of the Church, wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius explaining how Christians celebrated the Eucharist then. After the word of God was proclaimed to the assembly, the faithful were encouraged to imitate and live God’s word.
Then, St. Justin Martyr recounts that the presider took bread and wine, offered praise to God the Father in the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the faithful received the “eucharisted” bread and wine as spiritual nourishment for the journey of faith.
Food is a basic human need. We need nourishing, fresh food in moderate amounts to be healthy. Too little or too much food makes us unhealthy, weak, even sick. Over recent decades, food itself has become a billion-dollar industry with health food fads that quickly come and go. Yesterday’s food craze eventually evolves into today’s food trend.
Just as our bodies cannot survive without healthy food in moderation, so too our spirits and soul cannot thrive without spiritual food. Our deepest longings for love and peace, written on our hearts by God our creator, are like the pangs of physical hunger for food that nourishes and satisfies. Only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger deep within the recesses of the heart and mind.
All four Gospels recount the miracle of Jesus multiplying a few loaves and pieces of fish to feed the hungry crowds gathered on a mountain. Perhaps it is because this miracle is central to Jesus’ earthly mission.
In Jesus, God gave of himself by becoming one of us. This divine gift of self-emptying, symbolized by the multiplication of the loaves and fish, continues in every age of the church in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
In St. John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus takes the loaves, gives thanks and distributes the blessed bread and fish to the hungry crowd. Jesus’ action of taking and blessing bread, giving thanks to God, breaking and giving it to his disciples and followers continues in our own day in the Eucharist.
Our deepest spiritual hunger is satisfied at the table of God’s word and the sacrament of his body and blood. Before this divine gift and mystery of faith, we are overwhelmed with “eucharistic amazement,” in the phrase of St. John Paul II.
Just as we need food for our bodies, we need spiritual food for the journey of faith. Each of us is called, like the disciples and the crowds who followed Jesus, to the spiritual nourishment of the eucharistic feast when we pray in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”