Vol. X, October 2004


Holy Eucharist—“Bread of the Angels” given to man.      

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

This month the EUCHARISTIC YEAR begins with the Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. God offers us a unique grace. Accordingly, we cannot but stop and interrupt our meditations on the angels in the Sacred Scripture in favor of a series of reflections about the holy angels and Our Eucharistic Lord. We wish to start with the very simple statement, that the Eucharistic Lord is the “Bread of the Angels” given to man (cf. Circ. IX, 10). This expression occurs repeatedly in the Divine Word; it is handed on to us through sacred Tradition and recalled again to mind in the new Catechism. But what does it mean?

1. The Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ Himself.

In the Middle Ages scholastic reflections sought to deepen our understanding of Christology, both with respect to the hypostatic union of the divinity and the humanity in Christ and also with respect to the mystery and efficacy of the Sacraments of salvation, especially the Holy Eucharist in which our Lord is truly present. One of the first important statements on the Eucharist was an act of faith issued by the Sixth Council of Rome under Pope Gregory VII in the year 1079. A certain Berengarius had expressed doubts concerning the real presence and was ordered to sign the declaration, which proclaims the perennial faith of the Church:

I, Berengarius, believe interiorly and profess publicly that the bread and wine, which are placed on the altar, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of our Redeemer are substantially changed into the true, proper, and life-giving Flesh and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. After the consecration it is the true Body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin, and which hung on the Cross as an offering for the salvation of the world, and which sits at the right hand of the Father. And it is the true Blood of Christ which was poured forth from His side. And Christ is present not merely by virtue of the sign and the power of the sacrament but in His proper nature and true substance. (The Church Teaches. Documents of the Church. TAN, 1973, pp. 275 -301)

The Council of Constance (1418) makes a similar profession of faith:

There is in the Sacrament of the Altar under the appearance of bread and wine no material bread and wine, but there is the very same Christ who suffered on the Cross and sits at the right hand of the Father. Likewise, ...the true Flesh and Blood of Christ, His soul and divinity, the whole Christ, are present...under each of these species taken singly.                   (ibid.)

The Council of Florence (1439) made the point with added precision: “The whole Christ is present under any part of the consecrated host or the consecrated wine when separated from the rest”; that is, He is present under any particle or drop.

Consequently, what we read from the Council of Trent (1551) was already the long established and repeated doctrine of the Church:

After the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the perceptible species of bread and wine. It is not contradictory to say that our Savior always sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to His natural way of existing and that, nevertheless, in His substance He is sacramentally present in many other places with us.                (ibid.)

2. “Christ is the center of the angelic world.”

Christ is the Lord of the angels (cf. Eph 1:10; Col 1:16-20). Present in the Eucharist, He continues to be their Lord. Thus, the holy angels are evidently servants of the Eucharistic Lord. Their decision in trial, “their free choice and preferential love” (CCC 311), did not regard God alone, but “God and His reign” (CCC 392). They decided to follow the Servant of Yahweh in the depths of this earth, saying with Him: We “will serve” (cf. Jer 2:20).

The Catechism teaches:

Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are His angels: “When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him...” (Mt 25:31) They belong to Him because they were created through and for Him... They belong to Him still more because He has made them messengers of His saving plan... (Heb 1:14).                                         (CCC 331)

Their relation to Jesus is rooted in His Incarnation. While He was on earth, “from the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels” (CCC 333). They announced His coming, and when He had arrived, they adored Him.

They protect Jesus in His infancy, serve Him in the desert, strengthen Him in His agony in the garden, when He could have been saved by them from the hands of His enemies as Israel had been (cf. Mt 1:20; etc.). (CCC 333)

It was the angels who announced Christ’s Resurrection even as they had announced beforehand His birth (cf. Mk 16:5-7). “They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce (cf. Acts 1:10-11), to serve at His judgement (cf. Mt 13:41; 25:31; Lk 12:8-9)” (CCC 333).

No proof is required to show that these faithful servants of the Lord will never leave Him. For the grace of glory makes them immutable in their fidelity. Wherever He will be, there they will be with Him (cf. Jn 12:26; 17:24). If He is the same in heaven as on earth, if He is present “in His substance” at the right hand of the Father as well as in the Blessed Sacrament, then they are with Him in heaven as on earth, and wherever He dwells under the Eucharistic species. They will adore and serve Him, announce and protect Him in the Holy Eucharist today as in His humanity 2000 years ago. All depends, of course, upon the will of God (cf. Mt 26:53) and, in a certain sense, upon the intercession of man. Does not “the whole life of the Church benefit from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (CCC 334)!

3. “Man ate of the Bread of the Angels.”

In the Old Testament we read that the manna that was given to Israel during their wanderings in the desert was called the “Bread of Heaven”, the “Bread of the Angels”. Tradition came to apply this also to the Eucharistic Bread: “Holy Communion…we also call it...the Bread of Angels, Bread from Heaven...” (CCC 1331).

a) We read in the book of Exodus that God let “rain bread from heaven” for the people of Israel, so that “the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Ex 16:4).

The Psalmist refers to this miraculous intervention of God in these words: “He rained down upon them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the Bread of the Angels...And they ate and were well filled” (Ps 78:24-25, 29). The Book of Wisdom calls it the “food of angels” which provided “every pleasure and suited to every taste” (Wisd 16:20). The same words can be applied to the Eucharistic Lord today.  

Jesus Himself referred very clearly to this manna, when He declared Himself to be the new Bread from Heaven. He explained the mystery of His Eucharistic presence thus: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died...I am the living Bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this Bread, he will live for ever; and the Bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (Jn 6:48-51).

Why, then, is the manna of the desert and that of the New Testament, Holy Communion, called “Bread of the Angels”?

b) The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Himself, the real “Bread from Heaven”. The holy angels are those in heaven, who contemplate Him. He in turn fills them with all bliss and heavenly joy. This contemplation is for them like a “taking in”, a real assimilation or what we may also call an “eating”. In this sense, Jesus is really the “Bread of the Angels” in heaven.

When St. Thomas analyses the relation of the holy angels to the Blessed Sacrament (cf. Summa Theologiae III, 80, 2), he observes that the holy angels “eat” Christ not as men do under the species of the Sacrament by faith (or “sacramentally”). They unite themselves with Christ through the perfect love and manifest vision, that is, in the way of His proper species. Thus, they “eat” Christ “spiritually”. In consequence, both, men and angels, are united with Christ, through Him and also in Him.

c) The holy angels in their super-abundant felicity are not just happy for themselves. They urgently desire and do all they can, particularly as Guardian Angels, so that their protegé receive Christ under the sacramental species. The angels want to be united with us all at the wedding feast of the Lamb (cf. Rev. 19:9). When Christ has once united all things in Himself (cf. Eph 1:10), He will surrender Himself to the Father, so that God be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). Will we not then all, saints and angels, be one with one another, having become one in God in the Beatific Vision, through Christ, our Eucharistic Lord?

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Eucharistic Year is a Jubilee that has been declared for our sake. The angels shall certainly celebrate it as well, but even greater will be their jubilation when we consciously unite with them in our Eucharistic devotion and praise.

As pastors, we desire very much that our parishioners be virtuous, zealous, disposed for every act of charity and victorious over the seductions of the devil and this world. They can reach this perfection only with the help of our Lord Himself Who wants to come to them in this most Blessed Sacrament and make them holy even as He is holy!

Consequently, in this year let us focus our efforts around the Holy Eucharist with solemn Masses, homilies and conferences (perhaps a mission or mini-Eucharistic Congress on a parish level), adoration and processions. All these manifestations of our thanksgiving and love will contribute to the renewal of the Church and the world, which for us begins locally among the souls entrusted to our care.

May our holy Guardian Angel and all the angels who help us in our ministry, enlighten and guide us to a fruitful eucharistic ministry in this Eucharistic Year.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC