Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by John Chrysostom
They all ate and were filled. (Lk 9:17)
Christ gave us his flesh to eat in order to deepen our love for him. When we approach him, then, there should be burning within us a fire of love and longing.
Otherwise the punishment awaiting us will be in proportion to the magnitude of the graces we have received and of which we have shown ourselves unworthy.
The wise men paid homage to Christ’s body even when it was lying in a manger. Foreigners who did not worship the true God left their homes and their native land, set out on a long journey, and on reaching its end, worshiped in great fear and trembling.
Let us, the citizens of heaven, at least imitate these foreigners.
They only saw Christ in a manger, they saw nothing of what you now see, and yet they approached him with profound awe and reverence. You see him, not in a manger but on an altar, not carried by a woman but offered by a priest; and you see the Spirit bountifully poured out upon the offerings of bread and wine.
Unlike the wise men, you do not merely see Christ’s body: you know his power as well, and whole divine plan for our salvation. Having been carefully instructed, you are ignorant of none of the marvels he has performed.
Let us then awaken in ourselves a feeling of awe and let us show a far greater reverence than did those foreigners, for we shall bring down fire upon our heads if we approach this sacrament casually, without thinking of what we do.
By saying this I do not mean that we should not approach it, but simply that we should not do so thoughtlessly. Just as coming to it in a casual way is perilous, so failing to share in this sacramental meal is hunger and death.
This food strengthens us; it emboldens us to speak freely to our God: it is our hope our salvation our light and our life. If we go to the next world fortified by this sacrifice, we shall enter its sacred portals with perfect confidence, as though protected all over by armor of gold.
But why do I speak of the next world? Because of this sacrament earth becomes heaven for you. Throw open the gates of heaven—or rather, not of heaven but of the heaven of heavens—look through and you will see the proof of what I say.
What is heaven’s most precious possession? I will show you it here on earth.
I do not show you angels or archangels, heaven or the heaven of heavens, but I show you the very Lord of all these. Do you not see how you gaze, here on earth, upon what is most precious of all?
You not only gaze on it, but touch it as well. You not only touch it, but even eat it, and take it away with you to your homes.
It is essential therefore when you wish to receive this sacrament to cleanse your soul from sin and to prepare your mind.
Homilies on the First Letter to the Corinthians
24, 4: PG 61, 204-205
John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) was born at Antioch and studied under Diodore of Tarsus, the leader of the Antiochene school of theology. After a period of great austerity as a hermit, he returned to Antioch where he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386.
From 386 to 397 it was his duty to preach in the principal church of the city, and his best homilies, which earned him the title “Chrysostomos” or “the golden-mouthed,” were preached at this time.
In 397 Chrysostom became patriarch of Constantinople, where his efforts to reform the court, clergy, and people led to his exile in 404 and finally to his death from the hardships imposed on him.
Chrysostom stressed the divinity of Christ against the Arians and his full humanity against the Apollinarians, but he had no speculative bent.
He was above all a pastor of souls, and was one of the most attractive personalities of the early Church.
**From Saint Louis University