How the Eucharist Teaches Us to Read Scripture

There is the Liturgy of the Word and then the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the first, we hear the words of God. In the second, we eat the Word of God made flesh.

We think of one leading to the other. But the reverse also holds true: the Eucharist teaches us how to read Scripture.

Does this sound strange to say? Well, listen to what Jeremiah 15:16 says about the words of God:

When I found your words, I devoured them;
your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart,
Because I bear your name,
Lord, God of hosts (NAB, Rev. Ed.)

Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet to whom this happened. Ezekiel was commanded to consume a scroll. John ate a scroll the angel handed to him in Revelation. Rather than portray these acts as isolated occurrences, Scripture suggests they are models for us. Here for example is Psalm 119:103,

How sweet are your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (KJV)

And Job 23:12,

Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips;
I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (KJV).

Psalm 119 and Job point to two ways reading Scripture is like eating food.

It’s intimate. Eating a meal isn’t necessarily a private act, but touching our lips is an intensely intimate act. Our lips are the passageway for the food that is becomes part of our bodies and they are the place where we experience one of the most intimate acts of human nature: kissing a lover. We ought to strive for this kind of intimacy with Scripture.

It’s essential. Reading Scripture is essential to a healthy faith life. Hear again how it is described above: Jeremiah devoured the words of God, as a starved man might consume crumbs of bread. Job values the words of God more than his food.

Take joy in the word. We should delight in the word of God. Savor the sweetness of Scripture as you would a fine wine.

As sacred food, the Eucharist teaches us more about how to encounter sacred Scripture. Here are five ways.

  1. Seek the invisible. The paradox of the Eucharist is that Christ is fully present yet He is also veiled behind the Eucharistic bread and wine. While visible itself, the Eucharist bids us seek the invisible God. It’s a sort of handhold for us as we venture forth into the ‘luminous darkness’ of God’s presence. So also with Scripture: we ought to seek the hidden meanings beneath the surface of the text. Listen for the voice of Christ and the Spirit moving us through its words.
  2. Encounter a person. In the Eucharist, we meet Christ. Likewise, Scripture is always an encounter with a person—the living Christ of the gospels, the humbly earnest Paul of the epistles, the suffering Job, the devout David.
  3. Be transformed. The Eucharist transforms our whole selves into the image of Christ. It is the ‘medicine of immortality,’ flooding our bodies and souls with grace, purifying us of our attachment to sin, and preparing us for eternal life. And yes it is also real food, real bread that we digest and real wine that we can taste. Let it be so with Scripture. Let its beauty touch us while its profound truths penetrate to the depths of our souls.
  4. Let it read us. The Eucharist actually ‘eats’ us, as a discerning priest I knew once said. As one writer explains, “When you eat food, it becomes a part of you. With the Eucharist, however, the opposite happens. We become a part of it, that is, in Holy Communion, we are made a part of the mystical body of Christ.” So also with Scripture: let it ‘read’ our souls. Let it test us. Let it convict us, challenge us, and convert us. As the great Catholic poet Paul Claudel put it, “But to say that we question the Scriptures is incorrect. It is better to admit that the Scriptures question us and find for each of us, throughout every age and generation, the right question.”
  5. Let the word become flesh. The words of God are supposed to become so much a part of who we are that they ‘take flesh’ in us. When we live out Christ’s commands to deny ourselves and take up our cross, to show mercy to the meek and downtrodden, to welcome strangers as our neighbors, and to love our enemies, the words of God have become incarnate in us.

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • pbecke

    Another fascinating article, Stephen. Thank you.

  • In Scripture, the Spirit of Christ floods our bodies and souls with grace, purifying us of our attachment to sin, and preparing us for eternal life. Why the difference?

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