Take This Naan: Faith and Food
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Good food is awesome.
Good food with amazing company and delightful conversations are times when I feel as though God allows me glimpses of Heaven. And there’s always this recurring joke whenever supper is eaten at a particular Indian eatery and the Naan arrives at the table:
Take this Naan, and eat of it.
And then, after a minute of laughter (or groaning depending on the person) at the pun, we proceed to break bread and sup. In case, the hints weren’t clear enough, the allusion is to the source and summit of a Christian’s life: the Mass and more specifically, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Bread and wine are central to a Catholic’s life. After all, in Mass, we believe that the bread and wine offered are transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. We, as Catholics, are then called to this Feast, this Communion to partake of the Body and the Blood of Christ. And most of us know that the bread must be unleavened and the wine, red and natural. Still, even fewer of us know that the bread must be made with only wheat. (Even I didn’t know this and in case you were wondering, Code of Canon Law, Canon 924).
Believe me when I say that NAAN (heh) of us had any grand delusions that we could actually transubstantiate the pieces of naan on our plates (or prata if you want actual unleavened bread) into the Body of Christ. However, one does wonder at times: why exactly bread and wine? I mean, looking at the context of the Last Supper, the wine seems to be an obvious choice seeing that it was the only drink present during the meal. But bread? Why not the bitter herbs or the charoset, a sweet paste eaten at the Passover? Even better yet, why not the lamb? That would make an awful lot of sense wouldn’t it?
As Archbishop Fulton Sheen brilliantly puts it:
“First of all, because no two substances in nature better symbolize unity than bread and wine. As bread is made from a multiplicity of grains of wheat, and wine is made from a multiplicity of grapes, so the many who believe are one in Christ. Second, no two substances in nature have to suffer more to become what they are than bread and wine. Wheat has to pass through the rigors of winter, be ground beneath the Calvary of a mill, and then subjected to purging fire before it can become bread. Grapes in their turn must be subjected to the Gethsemane of a wine press and have their life crushed from them to become wine. Thus do they symbolize the Passion and Sufferings of Christ, and the condition of Salvation, for Our Lord said unless we die to ourselves we cannot live in Him. A third reason is that there are no two substances in nature which have more traditionally nourished man than bread and wine. In bringing these elements to the altar, men are equivalently bringing themselves. When bread and wine are taken or consumed, they are changed into man’s body and blood. But when He took bread and wine, He changed them into Himself.”
First of all, unity. In CCC 1, it states that “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life... He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church” We are called to be united in Christ and not just called; we were made to share and be united in God’s life. The bread and wine were staples of that time and important parts in the diet of the Jewish people at that time. Unlike meat, which was a luxury and wasn’t eaten on a daily basis, bread was consumed as part of the daily meal and likewise for wine. By choosing food that was consumed by the majority of the Jewish people at that time and not simply the rich, He united the people, regardless of their status, into one Church, one Body of Christ. And it wasn’t just simply that. He united the covenant held by the Jewish people in the Old Testament into a new one in Him by taking two key aspects of the Passover meal, and then changed them into Himself. In short, Jesus came and united the rich and the poor, the educated and the non-educated, the elites and the plebeians into one Church, a Church that up till now stands united and universal in Christ.
The second point is beautifully made by Archbishop Sheen. Just to add on (not that it actually needs adding on since the words he wrote were just so incredibly Spirit-filled and beautiful), I think nowadays, we take it for granted that we can easily purchase the flour, milk and yeast to make bread or better yet, just buy the bread itself. However, at that time, bread was a daily affair and the wheat had to be harvested and milled by hand, a back-breaking and time-consuming task before it can be made into bread. Wine (even now) involves an equally laborous process of harvesting and crushing before it can be stored. I think going back to unity, it also unites the people with the sufferings of Jesus. Back then, a lot of effort was needed to make bread and wine and while it’s easy for us now to simply order sacaramental bread and wine, it doesn’t detract from the fact that to be in Communion is to be, like the grape and the wheat as well as the people of old, united in the sufferings of the world and of Christ and to die to ourselves that we may live in Him.
Lastly, it shows the unity of the bodily and spiritual aspect of man. CCC 355 says that God made us in His Image, including that “in His own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds”. Jesus as fully God and fully Human reinforces this through taking bread and wine, material objects, and changes it to His Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity. Such as bread and wine nourished the Jewish people in their diets, so may the Body and Blood nourish the soul of humankind that we may awaken to ourselves, the full nature of our being, a being of spirit and body. As we receive Communion, may we remind ourselves that just as bread and wine nourish our bodies (or maybe Naan and Lassi heh), we allow Jesus to nourish our souls through the Eucharist.
© 2018 Christ Centered Convo/Gregory Adrian Gunawan