“Give Us This Day Our Daily (Supersubstantial) Bread”

Fr. Ben Reese, S.T.D. Cand.

 The “Our Father” is the most common and the most important prayer in the Christian world.  Yet no matter how often we pray it, there remains a greater spiritual depth to be discovered since its very words come from the Son of God and lead us back to him as our last end.  Indeed, the baptized Christian (in a state of grace) is not merely doing what Jesus taught when he prays the “Our Father” but Jesus is praying in him.

The whole prayer, in a sense, can be understood as a summary of the Gospel and as the perfect prayer in which we are instructed to ask for all we need.  Furthermore, this perfect prayer was initially prayed by Christians thrice daily according to the Catechism of  the Catholic Church and is ideally prayed in a liturgical setting in which we pray in the name of the whole Church –  saying “Our”  not my “Father”.  Through divine adoption or filiation we enter into the very heart of the prayer of the Man/God Jesus to his Heavenly Father.  He is the first born and high priest of a new priestly community so this prayer reaches its peak intensity in the Liturgy and especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the priest in persona Christi offers the divine victim to the Father, the priest’s own prayer, and the sacrifices of the faithful in perfect thanksgiving for all the benefits which we, his Church, have received. 

In and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we have participated in the great sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, his resounding yes to the Father which has undone the sin of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. It would seem that only at the Mass, is it truly possible to say, “Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will be Done” because there we are all saying it in union with the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Mass, where the “Yes” of Jesus is being re-presented by a priest who has been sacramentally ordained to join his human yes and the “yes” of the assembled community to the perfect obedience of Jesus on the Cross and in heaven.   In his justly famous book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote,

     “As St. Maximus the Confessor showed so splendidly, the obedience of Jesus’ human will is inserted into the everlasting Yes of the Son to the Father. This ‘giving’ on the part of the Lord, in  passivity of his being crucified, draws the passion of  human existence into the action of love, and so it embraces all the dimensions of reality—Body, Soul, Spirit, Logos. Just as the pain of the body is drawn into the pathos of the mind and becomes the Yes of obedience, so time is drawn into what reaches beyond time. The real interior act, though it does not exist without the exterior, transcends time, but since it comes from time, time can again and again be brought into it. That is how we can become contemporary with the past events of salvation. Bernard of Clairvaux has this in mind when he says that the true semel (“once”) bears within itself the semper (‘always’). What is perpetual takes in what happens only once. In the Bible the Once for all is emphasized most vigorously in the epistle to the Hebrews, but the careful reader will discover that the point made by St. Bernard expresses its true meaning. The ephapax (‘0nce for All’) is bound up with the aionios (‘everlasting’).”[1]

In this way, by participating in the great obedience of Jesus on the Cross, we are joined to his reparation for the great disobedience of Adam and Eve.  We are refusing the temptation of the devil to be like God, deciding what is right and wrong for ourselves. Instead, we are offering the whole of our lives with its all its full assent to divinely revealed truth, specifically chosen moral acts, and salvific sacramental graces in union with the perfect offering of Christ in the re-presentation of  Calvary at the Sacrifice  of  the Mass.  By this mystical/ sacramental sharing in his obedience to the Father we are thus undeservedly given to eat of the fruit of the supernatural true tree of life, the body and blood of Christ which is the food of everlasting life.

It is no coincidence then that the Our Father is said after the consecration and before Holy Communion in all the ancient Eucharistic Liturgies of the Catholic Church,

      “In the Eucharistic Liturgy the Lord’s Prayer appears as the prayer of the whole Church and there reveals its full meaning and efficacy.  Placed between the anaphora (the Eucharistic prayer) and the communion, the Lord’s prayer sums up on the one hand all the petitions and intercessions expressed in the movement of the epiclesis and, on the other, knocks at the door of the Banquet of the kingdom which sacramental communion anticipates.”  (CCC 2770)

But is the Holy Eucharist of the Eucharistic banquet also the daily bread of the Our Father?  If the Our Father is the perfect prayer which is most perfectly prayed in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then does it not make sense that the daily bread which we most need and so ask for is the supersubstantial bread of the Holy Eucharist?

It may surprise many Catholics to learn that this indeed is the teaching of the Catholic Church as expressed by the Council of Trent and as re-proposed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Furthermore, many Protestants who say this prayer daily may be shocked to learn that they are truly praying to receive Holy Communion daily and that this interpretation goes back to very words of Our Lord in the “Our Father” — “Give us This Day, Our Daily Bread”.    The Greek word here is epiousion, a hapax or a word that is only used here and nowhere else in the Greek language,  and so presupposed to be the Greek equivalent of whatever word Our Lord may have used in Aramaic or Hebrew.  Most Protestant commentaries translate it as daily and this goes back to the Latin of St. Jerome who renders “arton epiousion” as “panis quotidianum” or daily bread in Luke.  However, he translated it as “panis supersubstantialem” in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  In other words, Jerome who realized  that this Greek hapax could not be expressed in Latin with both meanings at once, chose to give it one meaning in Matthew – “daily” and a another in Luke–“supersubstantial” so as to preserve both senses of the word for Latin speaking Christians, albeit in two distinct biblical locations.  In English, we have lost this second original meaning – supersubstantial, and so are usually unaware of this lost Eucharistic connotation in our recitation of the Our Father. 

Since Latin, also failed to express both meaning at once, St. Ambrose faced the same problem of expressing both significations of “epi-ousion” when teaching the “Our Father” to his catechumens in ancient Milan.  He asked them why we use the word bread after the consecration since he had previously explained that after the words of the priest it is no longer bread and wine, but the very Body and Blood of Christ.  Consequently, Saint Ambrose seized on the Greek, “epiousion” of the Our Father, commenting “He (Jesus) called it bread indeed, but he called it “epiousion”, that is, supersubstantial.  It is not the bread that passes into the body but that bread of eternal life, which sustains the substance of our souls.  Therefore, in Greek it is called epiousios.”[2] This concept of substance (epiousion) in the Holy Eucharist as applied above by him in De Sacramentis was very similar to the interpretation of St. Cyril of Jerusalem—supersubstantial food for the soul. Yet in a later quote from De Sacramentis (below), we will see how St. Ambrose interprets the concept of substance in a new way which will be crucial for the development of substantial change in the theology of real presence. Remember, too that Ambrose was combating Germanic Arianism in his diocese as he sought to defend the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son against the Arians who denied that Jesus was one in being (homo-ousion) with the Father.  Hence, it would seem only natural that the concept of substance or ousia would be in the forefront of his mind as he wrestled with the terminology of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

As Our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Son, not by grace in the manner of men, but as Son of the substance of the Father, so it is true real flesh as he himself said which we receive and his true/ real blood is imbibed.  But perhaps you might say what the disciples said when they heard him saying: “Unless one eats my flesh and drinks my Blood, he shall not dwell in me nor have eternal life—perhaps you might say “How is it true?  I see the analogy, but I do not see the true/real blood.’  First of all, I (Ambrose) told you of statement of Christ which acts so that it can change and convert the established species of nature (mutare et convertere genera institute naturae).  Then when Christ’s statement is not accepted by his disciples but hearing that he gave his flesh to eat and gave his blood to drink they turned away and only Peter said “You have the words of eternal life and how can I turn from you?’ Therefore, so that others could say this without the horror of experiencing blood but dwell in saving grace, you receive the sacrament in an analogous experience, but truly the grace and power of its nature. ‘I am” he declares the bread of life which comes down from heaven.  But flesh did not come down from heaven, this flesh he acquired on earth out of the Virgin.  How then did bread come down from heaven and be living bread?  Our Lord Jesus Christ at the same time shares divinity and corporality, and you who partake in this food receive the flesh of his Divine Substance. (emphasis mine)[3]

The concept of ousia or substance in regard to the Eucharist seems to be used for the first time by St. Ambrose in De Sacramentis.  Yet is nothing more than an elaboration of the very term “epi-ousion” of Christ in the “Our Father”, rethinking the concept of “ousia” as it came to him from the Council of Nicea.

This theology of substantial presence and substantial change will continue to develop in the subsequent centuriesThe term substance will officially appear in the oath prescribed to Berengar of Tours by the Council of Rome. Meanwhile the term transubstantiation will be used for the first time by a theologian named Roland Bandinelli who later became Pope Alexander III (1140-42), and it will be used again by Innocent III in a papal document. The Fourth Lateran Council will formulate it more precisely and hence it will be demanded of the orthodox by the Profession of Faith at the Council of Lyons.  Finally, it will be fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas and enshrined as Catholic dogma at the Council of Trent.  Pope Paul VI will strongly insist on the continuing dogmatic value of this term in his Encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.

The declaration of the Council of Trent about the dogma of transubstantiation seems to be well known, even by many opponents of Catholicism, even if not well understood by them or even by many modern Catholics.  Yet what is less well known is that the Council of Trent also insisted that the words “epi-ousion” spoken by Our Lord mean both that the Eucharist is super-substantial bread and that it should be received daily, in other words it taught both senses of the word as understood by St. Jerome and St. Ambrose

Finally, the holy council with true paternal affection enjoins, exhorts, begs, and entreats through the tender mercy of our God (Lk 1:78) that each and all who are marked by the name of Christian should now, at long last, join together and agree in this sign of unity, this bond of love, this symbol of harmony; and that, mindful of the so great majesty and surpassing love of our lord Jesus Christ, who gave his own dear life as the price of our salvation and his own flesh for us to eat(Jn 6:48-59), they should believe and reverence these sacred mysteries of his body and blood  with such constancy and firmness of faith, such dedication of mind, such devotion and worship, that they may be able to receive frequently that supersubstantial bread(Mt 6:11), and that it may be for them truly the life of the soul and the unending health of the mind; thus, strengthened by its force, may they be able after the journey of this wretched pilgrimage to reach the heavenly fatherland, there to eat without veil the same bread of angels(Ps 77:25) which they now eat beneath  sacred veils. [4]  

Indeed, that holy Council encouraged all Catholics to attend Mass frequently (frequenter) and to receive Holy Communion whenever they were well disposed to do so, and even daily. This teaching was long ignored during the dark years of Jansenism but Pope St. Pius X in Sacra Tridentina resurrected this clear teaching of the Council of Trent and forcefully opposed all restrictive theologies of the reception of Holy Communion.  Thus, St. Pius X was actually hearkening back to the clear words of Jesus and finally applying the great Eucharistic teaching of the Council of Trent that all the faithful should receive the Holy Eucharist frequently and at each Mass they attend,

This wish of the Council fully conforms to that desire wherewith Christ our Lord was inflamed when He instituted this Divine Sacrament. For He Himself, more than once, and in clarity of word, pointed out the necessity of frequently eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, especially in these words: “This is the bread that has come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever.” From this comparison of the Food of angels with bread and with manna, it was easily to be understood by His disciples that, as the body is daily nourished with bread, and as the Hebrews were daily fed with manna in the desert, the Christian soul might daily partake of this heavenly bread and be refreshed thereby. Moreover, we are bidden in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for “our daily bread” · which words, the holy Fathers of the Church all but unanimously teach, must be understood not so much that material bread which is the support of the body as the Eucharistic bread which ought to be our daily food.[5]

St Pius X stressed the necessity of daily Communion for the struggle against sin and human frailty, calling daily communion “the antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sin.”  According to the Saintly Pope of the Eucharist, the early Christians also daily hastened to the temple and to “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2: 42 & 46). Such Eucharistic teaching can be found in the Magisterium of his successors and in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“‘Daily’ (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repletion of ‘this day,’ to confirm us in trust ‘without reservation.’ Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: ‘super-essential’), it 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)

Conclusion:  The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to highly recommend the daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and consequently the daily reception of the Most Sacred Body and Blood by the faithful whenever possible.  According to St. Pius X this should be done with due reverence and firm faith, but all that is necessary is that the communicant should be free from mortal sin and approach Our Lord with a right and devout intention.  He knew that many would approach with venial sin, but he encouraged them by saying that “it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future” And with great pastoral wisdom he adds that “if they have this sincere purpose” they will with time and effort “free themselves from venial sins and from all affection thereto.”

As the Church confronts this new millennium, with its all its challenges and possibilities for a new evangelization, is there any greater hope for the triumph of the faith then can be found in the devout daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

What greater plan for Christian unity could be conceived than is already expressed in the words, “Give us This Day Our Daily Bread?”  If all the baptized Christians in the world really understood and lived out this petition by attending daily Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord daily, what power would be unleashed?  Can we even imagine the power of one billion Holy Communions received devoutly and with a right intention on a daily basis?  Not only would mortal sin cease, but even venial sins would gradually be extinguished and the world would see how much we love God and each other.  Truly, we would become one with Our Lord and God in Holy Communion and the poor would be fed and world wide peace established, based on universal solidarity.  The Church would become once again a school of Saints, and the increase of consecrated vocations and the flourishing of family life would finally usher in the renewal so long desired by the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council.  This may seem utopian, but God’s Kingdom on earth would be the real result of that mysterious petition of the Our Father, “Give us This Day Our Daily (supersubstantial) Bread.”


[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 56

[2] St. Ambrose, De Sacramentis, 5. 4. 24;  English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Saint Ambrose,(Washington: CUA Press, 1963)

 [3]  “Ego sum, inquit, panis vivus, qui de caelo descendi.  Sed caro non descendit e caelo, hoc est carnem in terries adsumpsit ex virgine. Quomodo ergo desccendit panis et caelo et panis vivus?  Quia idem dominus noster Iesus Christus consors est et divinitatis et Corporis, et tu, qui accipis carnem, divinae eius substantiae in illo participaris alimento.  St. Ambrose of Milan, De Sacramentis 6:1.1-4 

[4] The Council of Trent, “Session 13, Decree on the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist” in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 2,  English ed. Norman P. Tanner S.J.(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 697

 [5] St Pius X, Sacra tridentina, “On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion”, Vatican official website at www.Vatican.va (April 5, 2007).

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