LITURGY CORNER #12
"Give us this day our daily bread..."
We are all very familiar with this passage from St. Luke (11:3) which records Jesus teaching us the Our Father. But what do we think it means? There are some who believe that it is an appeal to our heavenly Father to meet our daily needs, symbolized by meeting our need for bread. There is a certain legitimacy to that understanding, but in the ancient tradition of the Church, there is a much deeper meaning. Many of the Fathers of the Church believed that "daily bread" was a reference, not simply to our ordinary material needs, but to our greatest need, our need for the food of His Kingdom, our need for the Eucharist. They believed that that the daily bread we needed was the Bread of Life, Jesus Himself, without which we would not have life. (St. John, 6:54). The Fathers and Doctors of the Church encouraged the faithful to daily receive the Body of Jesus. For example, St. Augustine, writing in the 4th century, taught concerning the Eucharist: "This is our daily bread; take it daily, that it may profit you daily." In a similar vein, St. Ambrose, writing during the same time, taught: "If, whenever Christ's blood is shed, it is shed for the forgiveness of sins, I who sin often, should receive it often: I need a frequent remedy." St. Thomas Aquinas cites St. Augustine in reference to this passage from the Our Father in particular: "Hence it is that our Lord teaches us to pray 'Give us this day our daily bread': in explaining which words Augustine observes 'If you receive it, i.e. this sacrament, every day, every day is today for thee, and Christ rises again every day in thee....'" This daily reception of the Eucharist seems to have been the way of life for the Church in the very beginning, as the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates (Acts, 2:46): "Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple and they met in their homes for the breaking of the bread...." Scripture scholars have long understood that New Testament references to the "breaking of the bread" were in fact references to the Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas verifies that daily reception of the Body of Jesus was the practice of the early Church: "In the primitive Church, when the devotion of the Christian faith was more flourishing, it was enacted that the faithful should communicate daily: hence Pope Anaclete says: 'When the consecration is finished, let all communicate who do not wish to cut themselves off from the Church, for so the apostles have ordained, and the holy Roman Church holds.'" St. Thomas goes on to make the interesting point that it is because people's devotion to Jesus lessened, that they began going less frequently to Communion. What does the Church teach us about this today? Pope Paul VI eloquently sums up the Church's position in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei: "The faithful should, as we all hope, every day and in great numbers actively participate in the sacrifice of the Mass, receive communion with a pure heart, and make a fitting thanksgiving to Christ our Lord for so great a gift." He goes on to quote Pope St. Pius X: "The desire of Jesus Christ and of the Church (is) that all the faithful receive daily communion." It would be good for each of us to seek Jesus' will concerning this great opportunity for grace, that each of us would live in the fullness of the life He has for us.