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A man I know built himself an oven and bakes bread “the old way,” he told me. He goes about the process meticulously: the flour’s carefully chosen, the right amount of water is used, the fire that bakes the bread is just the right temperature. It takes time, but what a feast results!
I mentioned to him how so many homilies on the Eucharist from the days when they baked bread “the old way” see profound spiritual mysteries in this same process. The flour represents creation itself; the water and the fire represent the work of the Holy Spirit whom we invoke in this sacrament. “The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life.”(Laudato Si 235.) Simple created realities like water, oil, bread and wine speak for all creation.
In our prayer over the bread at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”
The bread we offer, the wine we offer are signs of creation and the human efforts involved in creation. They’re signs of everything that the “God of all creation” gives us and of everything that comes from our hands. “The word bread stands for everything,” Augustine said in one of his commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer. (Epistle to Proba) No wonder Jesus chose these two precious signs to give himself to us.
The bread and wine stand for everything. Think what that means. Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago. The bread and wine stand for the 15 billion years our universe has been in existence. About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The bread and wine represent that 3.5 billion years of life on our planet. When they’re brought to the altar the whole universe is brought here. About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in the bread and wine. Our lives are part of the human story represented in the bread and wine .
We believe that when Jesus sat down with his disciples at the Last Supper and took bread and wine into his hands he took all creation, all life, all human life into his hands.. “This is my body.” “This is my blood,” he said. He is God in human flesh giving himself to us and to everything that God made. In love poured out, he renews the covenant God makes with us and with creation.
Pope Francis in his letter “Laudato Si.” emphasizes the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist. Our created world is there with the dignity and purpose bestowed on it. As he takes bread and wine into his hands, Jesus takes the whole universe to himself. “ Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucha¬rist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards the unification with the Creator himself.” (LS, 236)
We celebrate this great mystery on the “humble altar” of our church. The created universe as it was, as it is and as it will be is before us. A marvelous sacrament, so simple in appearance and so tremendous in reality.