by Father John P. Cush
Over the next five weeks, we will be reading from the Gospel of John. Normally in the readings offered to us for our reflection in this current liturgical cycle (Year B), we have the opportunity to read from the Gospel of Mark. The Marcan Gospel, as you probably know, is the shortest of all of the Gospels and is believed by most scripture scholars to be the earliest of all four of the canonical Gospels. Perhaps due to the simple reason that there isn’t enough material from the Marcan Gospels to cover all of the Sundays of the year, the Church gives to us this selection from the Johannine Gospel.
Maybe this Bread of Life Discourse from John is given to us because Mother Church feels we can never speak enough about the Eucharist! What a blessing, what a gift is the Eucharist in our lives! How often we fail to appreciate the gift and mystery that is presented to us daily in the miracle of the Mass!
Over the next four weeks, in light of the Bread of Life discourse proclaimed as the Gospel at the Mass, I would like to take the opportunity to present a short catechesis on the doctrines of the Eucharist and how best we might learn to appreciate the Real Presence of Christ in our lives. I’d like to do so first by placing this particular passage into context in the Gospel and then to go into a general understanding of exactly what our Church teaches concerning the Eucharist, especially in light of two important sources of our theological heritage: the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and the clear, concise and beautiful presentation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
First, let’s look at the fourth Gospel. This Gospel is considered a separate type of Gospel in comparison to that of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The term used for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is synoptic. That word, synoptic, comes from the New Testament Koine Greek and basically means “taking the same point of view.” John’s Gospel comes later than the Synoptic Gospels and has a very different style. Influenced by Greek philosophy, it presents a much more ephemeral view of the Lord’s life and ministry.
Look for a moment how the Gospel of Mark begins: “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is clear and direct. Now compare that to the opening words of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” A little more challenging stylistically, wouldn’t you agree?
The Maverick Gospel
Yes, John’s Gospel is a different species than that of the other Gospels, which is why some scripture scholars nicknamed it “the Maverick Gospel.” This Gospel begins in the high reaches of space and time and eternity and then quickly goes right to the Baptism by John of Jesus in the Jordan.
Its first 11 chapters are traditionally called the Book of Signs. Each sign Jesus performs in this Gospel calls for the people who encounter the Lord (and by extension, the reader) to make a choice — either Jesus is the Son of the Living God or He is something else entirely. Each of the signs build up, beginning with the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana to the last and greatest sign of Jesus (barring of course His own resurrection from the dead), the raising of the three-days-dead Lazarus.
The last 11 chapters of this Gospel are traditionally called the Book of Glory, detailing the final days of the Lord, the story of His passion, death and resurrection. St. Augustine of Hippo calls chapter 13 of this Gospel the “book of humiliation” because it is there that the Lord of all creation incarnate, the taking on of flesh of the Creator of the cosmos, washes the dirty feet of His friends, His apostles, at the Last Supper.
Interestingly enough, John doesn’t have the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper in His Gospel. This, of course, doesn’t mean that John didn’t believe in the Eucharist. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the prime reason many believe that John did not detail a theology of the Eucharist is because he’s covered it right here in the sixth chapter of his Gospel.
When we come back next week, we’ll begin to examine exactly what John is saying about Jesus in the Eucharist in this Bread of Life Discourse by placing it in the context of the Book of Signs in this fourth Gospel.[hr]
Readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4: 42-44
Psalm 145: 10-11, 15-16, 17-18
A former faculty member of Cathedral Prep Seminary, Elmhurst, Father Cush will begin studies for a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology this fall in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas while living at the Casa Santa Maria of the North American College.