The Early Church believed as we do

Friends in Christ, this week we’re reading in the gospel, John chapt. 6: The famous Bread of Life Discourse. It is here, in which Our Lord really teaches us about the Holy Eucharist. Having miraculously multiplied the loaves, to feed thousands,  he then begins to speak of another kind of miraculous bread, which will also feed the multitudes.  ‘I am the living bread come down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever.’
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He will tell the people that they must eat his flesh; that if they do, they will live forever.  Many left him, because of this teaching.  ‘This is a hard saying,’ they said. And they left. But the apostles, though not understanding this mystery, they trusted.  And he would show them what he meant at the Last Supper.   
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This belief in the Holy Eucharist therefore, goes back to the very beginning, it is part of the True Faith. Around the year 180AD, St. Irenaeus of Lyon  would himself write about this ‘Bread from heaven.'[i] Irenaeus, who learned from Polycarp who knew John the Apostle – he says: ‘When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the Eucharistic elements become the Body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow.’  
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He says, since our flesh is nourished by the Lord’s own body and blood, we too are capable of receiving the gift of eternal life.   St. Irenaeus then beautifully adds: ‘The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays, only to be raised up again by the Spirit of God’ – into wheat.  Then, when the wheat-made-into-bread receives the word of God (at Holy Mass), it becomes the Eucharist which is the body and blood of Christ.   
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So too our bodies, which have been nourished by the Eucharist, will be buried in the earth and decay;  but they will rise again,  for the Word of God will raise them up in glory.   

 

[i] The following is adapted from Irenaeus’ treatise against heresies found in the Office of the Roman Breviary, Thursday, the 3rd Week of Easter.

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