The living Bread come down from heaven!
On Thursday evening, 22 June, thousands of the faithful gathered
in front of the Basilica of St John Lateran for the Holy Father's
Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi. Concelebrating with the Pope
were 38 Cardinals, over 200 Bishops and over 1,000 priests from Rome
and every corner of the world who had come to the Eternal City to
take part in the 47th International Eucharistic Congress.
At the end of Mass the Pope, prelates, clergy, religious and lay
faithful escorted the Blessed Sacrament in solemn procession to the
Basilica of St Mary Major, where Benediction was celebrated. Lining
the streets of Rome for the procession were thousands of city
residents and visitors, who joined in the hymns and prayers that
accompanied the Eucharistic devotion.
The Holy Father's homily was centred on the three themes
suggested by the Scripture readings of the feast: the institution of
the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Melchizedek and the multiplication
of the loaves. The Pope said that countless saints and martyrs drew
strength from this mystery to resist even the harshest sufferings.
Here is a translation of his homily, which was given in Italian.
1. The institution of the Eucharist, the sacrifice
of Melchizedek and the multiplication of the loaves:
this is the evocative triptych which the liturgy of the Word
presents to us today on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
In the centre is the institution of the Eucharist. St
Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians which we have just
heard, recalled the event in precise words, adding: "As often
as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's
death until he comes" (I Cor 11:26). "As often",
hence this evening too, as we celebrate the Eucharist in the heart
of the International Eucharistic Congress, we proclaim Christ’s
redemptive death and in our hearts rekindle the hope of our
definitive encounter with him.
Conscious of this, we will acclaim after the consecration, as if
in response to the Apostle's invitation: "When we eat this
bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until
you come in glory".
2. Our gaze expands to include the other elements of the biblical
triptych displayed for our meditation today: the sacrifice of
Melchizedek and the multiplication of the loaves.
The first account, very short but of great importance, comes from
the Book of Genesis and was proclaimed in the first reading. It
tells us of Melchizedek, "king of Salem" and "priest
of God Most High", who blessed Abram and "brought out
bread and wine" (Gn 14:18). Psalm 109 refers to this passage,
attributing to the Messiah-King an extraordinary priestly character
that God has directly conferred on him: "You are a priest for
ever / after the order of Melchizedek" (Ps 109:4).
In Christ our death is vanquished forever
The day before his death on the Cross, Christ instituted the
Eucharist in the Upper Room. He also offered bread and wine, which
"in his sacred hands" (Roman Canon) became his Body
and his Blood, offered in sacrifice. Thus he fulfilled the prophecy
of the old covenant linked to Melchizedek's sacrificial offering.
For this very reason—the Letter
to the Hebrews recalls—"he
became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being
designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek"
The sacrifice of Golgotha was anticipated in the Upper Room: the
death on the Cross of the Incarnate Word, the Lamb sacrificed for
us, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. In Christ's pain
every person's pain is redeemed; in his passion, human suffering
acquires new value; in his death, our death is vanquished forever.
3. Let us now turn our gaze to the Gospel account of the multiplication
of the loaves, which completes the Eucharistic triptych brought
to our attention today. In the liturgical setting of Corpus
Christi, this passage from the Evangelist Luke helps us to
understand better the gift and mystery of the Eucharist.
Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to
heaven; blessed them, broke them and gave them to the Apostles to
distribute to the crowd (cf Lk 9:16). "All", St Luke
remarks, "ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was
left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces" (cf. ibid, v. 17).
This is an amazing miracle which marks in a way the beginning
of a long historical process: the uninterrupted multiplication
in the Church of the Bread of new life for the people of every race
and culture. This sacramental ministry is entrusted to the Apostles
and to their successors. And they, faithful to the divine Master's
command, never cease to break and distribute the Eucharistic bread
from generation to generation.
The People of God receive it with devout participation. With this
Bread of life, a remedy of immortality, countless saints and martyrs
were nourished and from it drew the strength to resist even harsh
and prolonged sufferings. They believed in the words that Jesus once
spoke in Capernaum: "I myself am the living bread come down
from heaven. If any one eats this bread, he will live forever"
4. "I myself am the living bread come down from
After contemplating the extraordinary Eucharistic
"triptych" made up of today's readings, let us now turn
our mind's eye directly to the mystery. Jesus calls himself 'the
Bread of life', adding: "The bread I will give is my flesh, for
the life of the world" (Jn 6:51).
The mystery of our salvation! Christ—the only Lord
yesterday, today and for ever—wanted his saving presence in
the world and in history to be linked with the sacrament of the
Eucharist. He wanted to make himself the bread which is broken so
that everyone can be nourished by his very life through
participation in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
We profess our faith in Christ's real presence
Like the disciples who listened in astonishment to his discourse
at Capernaum, we also find this language hard to understand (cf. Jn
6:60). We might sometimes be tempted to give it a reductive
interpretation. But this would take us far from Christ, as was the
case with those disciples who "after that no longer went about
with him" (Jn 6:66).
We would like to stay with Christ and for this reason we say to
him with Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words
of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). With the same conviction as Peter,
let us kneel today before the sacrament of the altar and renew our
profession of faith in the real presence of Christ.
This is the meaning of today's celebration, which is given
special emphasis by the International Eucharistic Congress in the
year of the Great Jubilee. This is also the sense of the solemn
procession which, as it does every year, will shortly make its way
from this square to the Basilica of St Mary Major.
With humble pride we will escort the Eucharistic Sacrament
through the streets of the city, close by the buildings where people
live, rejoice and suffer; between the shops and offices where they
work each day. We will bring it into contact with our lives beset by
a thousand dangers, weighed down by worries and sorrows, subject to
the slow but inexorable wear and tear of time.
As we escort him, we will offer him the tribute of our hymns and
"Bone Pastor, panis vere ... True Bread, Good Shepherd,
tend us", we will say to him with trust, "Jesus, of
your love befriend us, / You refresh us, you defend us, / Your
eternal goodness send us.
"You who all things can and know, / Who on earth such food
bestow, / Grant us with your saints, though lowest, / Where the
heavenly feast you show, / Fellow heirs and guests to be".