Food of Pilgrimage, Pledge of Glory

Feeling hopeless? There’s medicine for that … the medicine of immortality!

When teaching about the change of the oblata of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, St. Ambrose recalls the fiery victory of Elijah over the prophets of Baal, saying, “For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements?”[1] Elijah speaks and God acts, consuming his offering in the sight of Israel; the priest speaks, and God acts, consuming the gifts of bread and wine in a total change of being such that they become the holocaust of Christ’s theophoric Body and Blood.

After his victory Elijah flees persecution, dwelling in the desert as a fugitive. An angel finds him there and brings him bread and water as food for the journey to Horeb, the mountain of God. At Horeb Elijah has his famous theophany: not in the wind that tears the rocks, not in the earthquake that breaks them, not in the fire scorching them, but in a tiny whisper—at which he covers his face before the God of glory. Elijah heard a whisper and recognized the God of Israel; we taste bread and wine passing over the tongue like a sigh, but confess the Word made flesh. Elijah’s food is a type of the Eucharist, the food of pilgrimage and the pledge of glory, a foretaste of heaven. In every other instance food is a means to keep living; this food contains life’s goal, Life himself: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”[2]

Eschatology is a keynote of the Sacrament. St. Ignatius of Antioch calls it “the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ.”[3] St. Irenaeus insists that “our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.”[4] St. Thomas teaches that “in this sacrament the Word is present not only according to his divinity, but also according to the truth of his flesh. Thus, he is the cause not only of the resurrection of souls, but also of bodies.”[5] The ultimate effect of the Eucharist in us is resurrection and glory.

In this, the Eucharist is the sacrament of hope—something the world desperately needs. It unites us to him who as our hope has gone before us, strengthening us on our pilgrimage. It “grants us the power to come to glory,” like the food and drink of Elijah who “walked in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God.”[6] There, we shall meet neither tempest, nor earthquake, nor fire, nor whisper, but God’s self. We shall see him as he is, and this sight shall redound to our risen bodies, filling them with the same glory which once descended upon Sinai.

[1] St. Ambrose of Milan, On the Mysteries 9.59.

[2] John 6: 51.

[3] St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 20

[4] St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, IV. 5.

[5] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 6:55 [lectio VII. 973].

[6] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIIa, q. 79, a. 2, ad 1um.

Elijah and the Angel by Juan Antonio de Frias y Escalante

Br. Columban Mary Hall, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE