VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - On Sunday Pope Francis said that the Eucharist is no mere symbol, but is in fact the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, which has the ability to transform our hearts and minds to be more like him.
"The Eucharist is Jesus who gives himself entirely to us. To nourish ourselves with him and abide in him through Holy Communion, if we do it with faith, transforms our life into a gift to God and to our brothers," the Pope said Aug. 16.
To let ourselves be nourished by the "Bread of Life," he said, "means to be in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate his choices, thoughts, behaviors."
It also means that we enter into "a dynamism of sacrificial love and become persons of peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and sharing in solidarity," he added.
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims who gathered in a rainy St. Peter's Square for his Aug. 16 Sunday Angelus address.
In his speech the Pope turned to the day's Gospel reading from John Chapter 6, which recounted the last part of the "Bread of Life" discourse, and in which Jesus tells his disciples that "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day."
Francis noted the shock and astonishment of the crowd when they heard Jesus say this, and explained that such a reaction is understandable given the provocative nature of the Lord's statement.
With a style mirroring that used by many of the prophets, Jesus gives the people a strong image in order to stir up questions, and ultimately a decision, within them and us, he said.
Above all arise the questions "what does to 'eat the flesh and drink the blood' of Jesus mean? Is it only an image, a symbol, or does he mean something real?" the Pope said.
In order to respond, Francis continued, we have to look at what happened in Jesus' own heart when he broke the loaves to feed the five thousand.
"Knowing that he will die on the the cross for us, Jesus identifies himself with that bread, broken and shared, and it becomes for him the sign of the sacrifice that awaits him."
This process culminates in the Last Supper, when the bread and wine actually become Jesus' Body and Blood, the Pope said, explaining that when he gives us the Eucharist, Jesus does it with a purpose: "that we may become one with him."
Communion, he said, "is assimilation: eating him, we become like him. But this requires our 'yes,' our adhesion of faith."
Pope Francis then noted how some might question the purpose of attending Mass, going only when they feel like it with the excuse that they pray better alone.
In response, Francis stressed that the Eucharist "s not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience, it's not simply a commemoration of what Jesus did in the Last Supper."
Rather, it is a "memorial, namely, a gesture that actualizes and makes present the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus: the bread is truly his Body given, the wine is truly is Blood poured out."
To live in concrete communion with Jesus through the Eucharist while on earth is already the beginning of our passing from death to life, he said.
By doing this "we close our eyes to this world in the certainty that on the last day we will hear the voice of Jesus Risen who will call us, and we will awaken to always be with him and with the great family of saints," the Pope concluded.
He prayed for Mary's intercession in helping us to always be faithful to Jesus before leading attendees in the Angelus. Afterward, he greeted pilgrims present from around the world, and asked to be remembered in their prayers.