Circular Letter: Fall 1999

Father, give us this day our daily bread

The Bread God Gives us

The 4th petition in the Our Father – “Give us this day our daily bread”- is so simple a child can understand it. And yet, the bread God gives us is so rich that it satisfies every human need, both temporal and spiritual.

The first three petitions express our eternal aspirations: “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” We desire to participate already now in that heavenly union with the Blessed Trinity together with the Angels and saints – “on earth as it is in heaven!”.

In the second half of the Our Father we voice our temporal petitions for those things that we pilgrims need in this life. Although “the things necessary to human existence, or, at least, to its comfort, are almost innumerable” notes the Catechism of Trent, still, they can be resumed in four simple petitions: ‘daily bread’, forgiveness, relief in temptation and deliverance from evil.

The singularity of the 4th petition consists in this: here alone do we express our positive needs of body and soul in this world. This is, indeed, a most extraordinary bread that can meet so many needs.

The Bread of Daily Life

What, we may ask, is included in this request for ‘our daily bread’?

a.  Basic needs of Life

First of all, we are asking for bread as the basic food of the body. Biblically, bread is a synonym for food (cf. Gen 31,54; Job 42,11; Ps 147,9; Mk 3,20; Mt 15,2; Lk 14,1; Jn 13,18, etc.). Bread is the modest but sufficient means and measure for a respectable human form of life. In the broader spectrum, it also includes clothing and shelter.  St. Augustine points out, “we ask for these temporal things not as our goods but as our necessities” (Sermon 2 on Mt. ch.5). We should not be seeking luxuries. Rather, “having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content” (1 Tm 6,8). As Solomon wisely prayed: “Give me only the necessaries of life” (Prov 30,8).

Our Lord teaches us to ask the Father modestly and with filial trust for bread, assured that He knows best our needs. Surely, a disproportionate concern for our material well-being would distract us from the goal. Moreover, we do not know what best serves our eternal salvation. While we may ask for many things, we should do so in confident surrender to the loving providence of God (cf. Mt. 6,25ff; Rom 8,26).

“Jesus teaches us this petition, because it glorifies our Father by acknowledging how good He is, beyond all goodness” (CCC 2828). “The Father Who gives us life cannot but give us the nourishment life requires – all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual” (CCC 2830).

b.  The Gift of God

By requesting only our daily bread we cultivate a spirit of frugality and overcome the false solicitude against which Christ warns us: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ our ‘what shall we put on?’ (for after all these things the Gentiles seek), for your Father knows that you need all these things.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides” (Mt 6,31-33). In short, this petition is simultaneously a commitment to poverty in spirit.

Bread is the ultimate symbol of the gift of God. Whereas some things are given once (an inheritance) and other things seasonally (clothing), food [bread] must be given and received every day like the manna, the symbol of the gift of God, which was renewed daily and had to be gathered day by day as a sign of His [unending] prodigality.  We delight in receiving the bread daily, delighting in the continual experience of God’s paternity over us, His children.  “He is Your Father, Who created you” (Dt 32,6), and: “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you” (1 Pt 5,7).

c.  Communal Petition

Christ teaches us to request this bread precisely as ‘our bread’.  The plural form “‘give us’ also expresses the covenant. We are His and He is ours, for our sake” (CCC 2829). The reception of our bread daily at His hands is all the more delightful because He is the giver; we eat it in His presence and have communion with Him through His gift.

By asking for ‘us’ “we also acknowledge Him as the Father of all men and we pray to Him for them all, in solidarity with their needs and sufferings” (CCC 2829). The Catechism teaches: “This petition of the Lord’s prayer cannot be isolated from the parables of the poor man Lazarus and of the Last Judgment” (CCC 2831).

Remember, all that we have is from God; “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you boast, as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4,7).  Now, if it is a gift from God, then it is God’s answer to our prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Evidently, since I ask for ‘us’, I am not entitled to keep it simply for ‘me’. Who is ‘us’? Who is my neighbor? Ask the good Samaritan, he knows.

Our Spiritual Bread

The Christian soul also stands in need of its own daily bread, just as much as the body. “This petition,… also applies to another hunger from which men are perishing: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but … by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Dt 8,3; Mt 4,4), that is, by the Word He speaks and the Spirit He breathes forth. … There is a famine on earth, ‘not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord’ (Am 8,11).  For this reason the specifically Christian sense of this fourth petition concerns the Bread of Life, the Word of God accepted in faith, the Body of Christ received in the Eucharist” (CCC 2835).

a.The Manna of Faith

Jesus compares the gift of faith to bread. After the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus told the crowd: “Do not labor for food that perishes, but for that which endures unto life everlasting, which the Son of Man will give you. … My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. … This is the labor of God that you believe in Him and in Him Whom He has sent” (Jn 6,27ff).

The crowd understands that Jesus is demanding faith, but they demand the labor of bread for their bellies.  Jesus responded: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. … whoever beholds the Son, and believes in Him, shall have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6,27. 32f. 34f. 40).

Therefore, we may conclude that Jesus, as the object of our Faith, is our daily bread for which we pray.

b.  The Life-giving Bread of the Eucharist

Jesus is more than our bread of faith; He is our eucharistic bread. Only after they first believe in Him can they believe in His presence in the Eucharist: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and have died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that if anyone eats of it, he will not die. … If anyone eats of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6,48-51).

Many disciples grumbled at this, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Note how Jesus confirms that they have understood Him properly, declaring solemnly, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 52-54).

To better appreciate this bread, we need to look more closely at the related terms: daily (epiousios) and this day (semeron) in their biblical context.

1. Meaning of ‘daily’ (epiousios)

The word for ‘daily’ (epiousios) that Jesus selects here is uncommon; in fact, it is found nowhere else in Scripture nor anywhere else in ancient Greek literature.  Since patristic times its meaning has been debated.  Some try to derive epiousios from epi-enai (to come near, approach), thus giving it a temporal sense, meaning the bread of the current or even of the coming day. And since this happens every day, we get ‘daily’ bread in our translation of the Our Father.
Following the tradition more common among the Greek Fathers, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Taken literally, it (epi-ousios = “super-essential”) refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the ‘medicine of immortality,’ without which we have no life within us” (CCC 2837). In this vein, St. Jerome already interpreted it as “super-substantial bread”.

2. Meaning of ‘this day’ (semeron)

The Catechism reinforces this eucharistic interpretation by underscoring to the theological and eschatological meaning of “this day” (“Give us this day our daily bread”). “Since it refers above all to His Word and to the Body of His Son, this ‘today’ is not only our mortal time, but also the today of God. ‘If you receive the bread each day’, writes St. Ambrose, ‘each day is today for you. If Christ is yours today, He rises for you every day. How can this be? ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten You.’ Therefore, ‘today’ is when Christ rises'” (CCC 2836; De Sacramentis 5,4,26).

This is practically an invitation to become a daily communicant, but even more immediately, it is an invitation to make a spiritual communion every time we ask the Father, “Give us this day our daily bread”, so that sharing in Christ we come to share in His resurrected life.

This points to the full meaning of ‘this day’, which is the entire Paschal Mystery of the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Glory of Jesus. St. Peter Chrysologus writes: “The Father in heaven urges us, as children of heaven, to ask for the bread of heaven. [Christ] Himself is the Bread Who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in Churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven” (Sermon 67; cf. CCC 2837).

c. The Bread that unifies the Body

1.  Unity with the Father

By receiving the sacramental Bread from the Father we receive Christ Himself. But it is also true to say that Christ receives us into Himself through the Eucharist, making us members of His Body. And by receiving us into Himself we are one with His Father. St. Hilary explains: “In the sacrament of His Body He actually gives us His own Flesh, which He has united to His divinity. This is why we are all one, because the Father is in Christ, and Christ is in us. He is in us through His flesh and we are in Him. With Him we form a unity which is in God. … He is in us through the mystery of the sacraments. This is how we attain to unity with the Father” (De Trinitate 8, 13-16). This is why the petition for the Eucharist is directed to the Father, because in Christ we come to the Father.

2.  Unity with the Members of Christ

Furthermore, as members of His Body, we are also joined to one another in Christ: “Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10,17). In a certain sense, therefore, we become ‘bread’ for one another in this mystical union, since all our good works and prayers are joined in the mystery of the ‘communion of saints’ and are at the disposition of the needs of all.

This union begins in Baptism, but is consummated in the Eucharist. One of the official catechetical texts in preparation for the Holy Year 2000 teaches:

“…by the Eucharist, … one is not only joined to Christ the Head but also to all of His members. … one cannot communicate with the Head, Christ, if in life one sets aside His Body which is the Church. One communicates with Christ the Head in the measure that one is also in communion with one’s brothers, and one cannot communicate with one’s brothers unless one is in communion with Christ, the Head. The Eucharist is the sacrament that creates this two-dimensional communion which, in the end, is but one and the same reality, the Body of Christ, that is the Church: this is why there is the saying that the Eucharist ‘makes the Church’. The principle of unity and cohesion in this ‘communion’ is the Spirit, as emphasized by the new Eucharistic Prayers, where the priest, after pronouncing the words of the institution of the Eucharist, proclaims a second epiclesis: he prays the Father to send His Spirit and to make all into ‘one body, one spirit in Christ’.

After the resurrection and Pentecost Christ exists only as a total Christ, head joined to His members…
The Eucharist as communion with the Spirit thus becomes ‘communion with the saints in a twofold way: communion with the holy things and communion with the saints, that is the people sanctified by the Spirit. (Your Spirit, Lord, Fills the Earth [YSL]. Pauline Publications, Africa, 1997 pp. 91-92)

For this holy union with Christ and the members of His Body, we also pray when asking the Father to give us our daily Bread.

The Holy Angels and the Bread of Daily Life

The mission of the Holy Angels with respect to our daily bread is threefold: 1) their solicitude for our temporal needs as stewards of the material creation; 2) their mission as guides in the spiritual life; and 3) their liturgical offices as friends and ministers of the Bridegroom of our souls. St. Ambrose teaches: “when the Body of Christ is present, it is not to be doubted but that the Angels are likewise present” (On Luke 1,12); they minister to Christ and help us to a more perfect union with Him. Naturally, it is especially for this eucharistic Bread that we pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”

a. The Holy Angels: Stewards in Creation

All tradition acknowledges the stewardship of the Angels over the material creation (cf. St. Thomas. Summa I.110,1,c). As such they also stand over the seasons and, in this way, contribute to the provision of our daily temporal bread. When God took Israel by the hand and led them out of Egypt, He did so through the ministry of an Angel. When God fed Israel for 40 years with the manna in the desert, He did this through the ministry of His Holy Angels. Such extraordinary interventions are not really more wonderful than the Angels’ ordinary ministry: the natural germination, growth and fruition of crops in the world.

And on the individual plane, did not St. Raphael teach Tobit and Sarah that it was he, Raphael, who had brought their prayers before the throne of God, and that he had been further commissioned by God to answer their prayers, thus providing for their well being (cf. Tob 12,12-14)?

b. The Holy Angels: Guides in the Spiritual Life

That the Angels provide us with spiritual bread, light and strength, is also well documented in Scripture.  Moses received the Law itself from the hand of a mediating Angel (cf. Heb 2,2; Gal 3,19).  The Exodus Angel was sent to guide Israel not only physically to the Promised Land but also morally: “If you listen to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and afflict them that afflict you” (Ex 23,22). The prophets Zechariah, Daniel and Ezechiel and St. John received visions and instructions from an Angel.

St. Anthony of the Desert, in turn, received the basic rule of heremitical and monastic life from an Angel, namely, the “Ora et Labora”, the rhythm of “Prayer and Labor”. St. Pachomius received his entire monastic rule at the dictation of an Angel.

In modern times, St. Gemma Galgani was taught by her Angel. She writes: “My Guardian Angel began to be my instructor and guide. … He taught me many times how I should conduct myself in the presence of God; he taught me to adore HIM in His infinite goodness, in His infinite majesty, in His mercy and in all His attributes” (Autobiografia. Passionists, Rome 1988, p.251). Such a grace was given visibly for us to understand what is offered each one of us invisibly through the ministry of the Angels.

The enlightenment concerning the mysteries of faith and the admonitions in our conscience belong to the principal spiritual works of the Angels in our behalf. All this falls within our petition for our ‘daily bread’.

c. The Holy Angels: Ministers in the Sacred Liturgy

Finally, the Angels also exercise a holy ministry in the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Church: “It is especially in the sacred Liturgy that our union with the heavenly Church is best realized” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 50).  At the preface in every Mass we implore God to allow us to be joined with the Holy Angels in their adoration of Christ, saying “Holy, Holy Holy!” “Who among the faithful could doubt,” exclaimed St. Gregory, “but that with the words of the priest at the moment of the immolation the heavens are opened and that in this mystery of Christ the choirs of Angels are present, the least being united to the highest, the terrestrial are joined to the heavenly, and the visible becomes one thing with the invisible?” (Dialogues 4,60).

Conclusion: Communion with the ‘whole’ Christ

Pope John Paul II tells us: “The primary tasks of the preparation for the Jubilee [2000] includes a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit, Who acts within the Church both in the Sacraments,… and in the variety of charisms, roles and ministries which He inspires for the good of the Church” (The Coming 3rd Millennium 45; in YSL, p.94). Applying this to the Eucharist, the Theological Commission of the Jubilee 2000 exhorts us “to live it [the Eucharist] in all its wealth as a salvific work that involves all the mysteries of salvation. [It is fitting] to overcome a certain individualistic mentality, which, in practice, limits the Eucharist only to a communion with the Head Christ, ignoring His Body, the Church (cf. 1 Cor 11,17-33); a ‘communion’ that is not ‘communion’ with the whole Christ would be a flagrant contradiction of the very nature of the Eucharist, because the Body of Christ is the Church and, at the same time, the sacramental Body generates the mystical Body” (YSL p. 95).

The Angels are anxious to lead us to a more worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament and a deeper understanding of the ecclesial dimension of this the Mystery of the Faith. This will surely lead us to more perfect union with the Holy Angels, for they too are members of Christ’s Body: “The mystical body of the Church consists not only of men but of Angels. Now of all this multitude Christ is the Head,… and of His influence [grace] not only men but even Angels partake” (St. Thomas. Summa III.8,4,c).

What did the saints not owe to their angelic intercessors!  For her part, St. Theresa of Lisieux prepared for Holy Communion like this: “I picture my soul as a patch of bare ground and I beg the Blessed Virgin to remove the debris, which could hinder it from being free, and then I implore  her to set up a vast pavilion fit for heaven and to adorn it with her own splendor. Then I invite all the Saints and Angels to come and hold a magnificent concert. It seems to me that when Jesus descends into my heart, that He is pleased to find Himself so well received, and I am pleased as well” (Story of a Soul, ch. 8).

Yes, Heavenly Father, give us daily this heavenly bread, for it contains every spiritual delight and good within it, the entire good of the Church on earth and in heaven.

Fr. William Wagner, ORC

French text from St. Therese: “Je me figure mon Çme comme un terrain libre et je prie la Ste. Vierge d’Ùter les dÈcombres qui pourrait l’empÍcher d’Ítre libre, ensuit je la supploie de dresser elle-mÍme une vaste tente digne du Ciel, de l’orner des ses propres parures et puis j’invite tous les Saints et les Anges — venir faire un magnifique concert. Il me semble lorsque JÈsus descend dans mon coeur qi’Il est content de se trouver si bien reÁu et moi je suis contente aussi…” (L’Histoire, Manuscript A,79,v).

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