The Eucharist: the New Manna from Heaven
This Sunday, we will be celebrating the beautiful Eucharistic feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). On this day, the Church gives thanks to God for its greatest treasure: the amazing gift He gave us on the night before He died, the gift of His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.
In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy this Sunday, we hear about the hungry people in the desert during the Exodus being fed by God with manna. In the Gospel from Saint John, we hear part of the great discourse of Jesus on the Bread of Life in which He refers to the gift of manna and reveals that the bread He will give, also bread from heaven, is even greater since it is His “flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus says: “Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The great Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Saint Ambrose, wrote the following: “What is greater, manna from heaven or the body of Christ? The body of Christ, of course, for He is the Creator of heaven. In addition, he who ate the manna died but he who has eaten this body, it will become for him the forgiveness of sins and he ‘shall not die forever’.”
The manna from heaven given by God to His people in the desert during the Exodus is clearly an anticipation or foreshadowing of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is “the new manna.” In fact, the Jewish people expected that there would be a new miracle of manna when the Messiah came. As God fed the people with bread from heaven on their journey in the desert to the promised land, so God feeds us with bread from heaven on our journey through the desert of this life to the promised land of heaven. The bread is different, however, since the bread of the Eucharist is the Bread of Life; it is Jesus, His flesh that gives life through the Holy Spirit.
The “new manna” of the Eucharist is the food for our journey to heaven. That is why the Eucharist is called “Viaticum,” a Latin word that means “with you on the way.” The Eucharist is spiritual food. As the manna provided bodily nourishment for the Israelites in the desert, the “new manna” provides spiritual nourishment for us, satisfying our hungry hearts. As we sing so often in a popular hymn: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat, come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”
We are reminded of the gift of manna in the Second Eucharistic Prayer, especially with the more accurate English translation which now reads: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” During the Exodus, dew fell upon the camp of the chosen people in the desert and, when it evaporated, the heavenly manna was there on the ground. The dewfall yielded food from heaven for the Israelites on their pilgrimage. For us, in the Eucharist, the dewfall of the Holy Spirit yields the Body and Blood of Christ for our pilgrimage to heaven.
Another parallel between the manna and the Eucharist is that the Israelites conserved the manna in the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the Holy of Holies where God’s presence was adored. Though the manna was not God, it came from God. This foreshadows the tabernacle in our churches where Christ is adored in the Eucharist, His Real Presence. The hosts are kept in a golden ciborium, reminiscent of the gold jar in which the manna was kept in the Ark of the Covenant.
In Psalm 78:25, the manna is described as the “bread of angels.” It was not eaten by angels, but it was angelic in its supernatural origin. The Eucharist is truly the “bread of angels” because of its effect in our souls. As the angels have a participation in the divine life through grace and glory and thus can be said to partake of this bread, so we are nourished in sanctifying grace through Holy Communion, a participation in divine life. And so we receive the “bread of angels” in the Eucharist, the new manna. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote of this truth in the Sequence for the Mass of Corpus Christi: “Behold the Bread of angels, which became the Bread of wayfarers: truly the Bread of the children, not to be thrown to the dogs.”
Saint Thomas also wrote the hymn “Sacris sollemniis” for the Feast of Corpus Christi, one strophe of which is the text of the popular hymn “Panis angelicus.” In English, it reads: “May the Bread of angels become bread for mankind; the Bread of heaven puts all foreshadowings to an end; Oh, thing miraculous! The Body of the Lord will nourish the poor, the servant, and the humble…”.
The beautiful tradition of processions of the Blessed Sacrament on the feast of Corpus Christi remind us that the Holy Eucharist is truly the new manna for our journey. We walk in procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets, expressing our love and devotion, but also to bring the Lord’s presence with us into the world. The Corpus Christi procession reminds us of our mission to carry Christ with us when we leave Mass, to live the mystery of love we have celebrated and received. We are called, in other words, to live “Eucharistic lives.” The Eucharist nourishes us to live our faith with renewed energy and strength, so that our lives are authentic signs of the presence of the Lord.
If you have the opportunity, I invite and encourage you to participate in a Corpus Christi procession in your area or with me in Elkhart. I will be carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession from Saint Thomas the Apostle Church to Saint Vincent de Paul Church in Elkhart, beginning at 3:30 PM on Sunday, June 18th.
Let us rejoice in the Lord Jesus, the Bread of life, the New Manna, the Bread of Angels! Have a blessed Feast of Corpus Christi!