Eucharist: Fruit of the Tree of Life

“… The fruit of the earth and the fruit of the work of human hands” would be a more literal translation of the prayer used during the preparation of the altar: … fructum terrae et operis manuum hominum. The bread we bring to be converted into the very Body of Christ is the fruit, or product, of both nature and human toil. This subtle grammatical fix opens for us a path to see the way that God in the wonders of His providence uses human cooperation in a divine work. In fact, it goes further: God uses the very punishment for our sins, the labors required of us and the suffering we endure, ito give us the immeasurable gift of the Holy Eucharist.

The punishments for Adam and Eve’s sin provide the perfect example. Adam must toil to acquire his daily food: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen 3:19). For Eve, the punishment is in childbirth: “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen 3:16). Conveniently, in both English and Latin, both punishments can be captured by one word, “labor.” And yet, the fruit of each kind of labor finds its place in the Most Holy Eucharist. As we saw above, the bread for which men suffered and worked on a cursed ground will provide the matter for the sacrament and the veil for the sacrament’s hidden reality. The fruit of one woman’s labor, however, provides the hidden reality itself: the human body of Mary’s divine Son —?“blessed is the fruit of thy womb”.

If one objects that Our Lady suffered no labor pains, then we can turn our attention to the time she certainly did suffer as a mother: at the Cross. There she placed her precious fruit on a cursed tree, a tree of death. There she endured the most intense suffering a mother could as she watched her innocent Son’s violent and humiliating death. There the Cross is revealed to be the tree of life and the fruit of her womb, the body of her Son hanging on this tree, is revealed to be its fruit. “Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” (Gen 3:22). “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).

In the Mass, we enter a New Eden, with the Cross as a tree of life in its midst, and we are finally permitted to eat of its fruit in the Eucharist. In His infinite wisdom, God takes the consequences of our sins and makes them the means by which we become united to Him and have eternal life. May this be a reminder to us to bring before the altar all our trials and suffering, that God might make of them something holy and salutary for us and for the whole world.

Br. Andrew Thomas Kang, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE