Fractio Panis,
Second century fresco,
Catacombs of Priscilla,
© Wikimedia / Christian Art

Fractio Panis,
Second century fresco,
Catacombs of Priscilla,
© Wikimedia / Christian Art

Gospel of 7 May 2022

This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?

John 6: 60-69

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.


‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

Reflection on the fresco

Today’s reading is the conclusion of the long chapter 6 of John’s gospel which talks about Jesus as the Bread of Life. It follows  on from yesterday’s reading, where we heard Jesus’ instruction to eat his body and drink his blood. Today we read some of the reactions to Jesus’ words: “This is intolerable language” and “How could anyone accept it?

We know how the Eucharist is a magnificent gift from Jesus to us. Yet many people back then struggled to accept Jesus’ self-gift of his own flesh and blood, and many still do. The temptation is that we tone down the significance of the Eucharist, thinking that the bread and wine are merely symbolic. But in the whole of Chapter 6 of John, we are being told over and over again that in the Eucharist we do eat Jesus’ real body and blood.

One of the earliest depictions of the Eucharist is the Fractio Panis (in English: Breaking of Bread), a fresco in the "Greek Chapel" (Cappella Greca) in the Catacombs of Priscilla here in Rome. This second- century fresco depicts seven persons at a table, six men and a woman. The fresco is found upon the arch immediately over an altar alcove, in which sacrament of the Eucharist was performed. We see a bearded figure, sitting somewhat apart at the extremity of the table. He is holding a small piece of bread with his arms stretched out in front of him showing that he is breaking it. On the table immediately before him is also a two-handled cup. Further along the table there are two large plates, one containing two fishes, the other five loaves. At the outer left and right we see baskets filled with loaves (four baskets at one end, three at the other).

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  • Patricia O'Brien says:

    Absolutely beautiful fresco which connects us to the forefathers of our church. As to the gospel, it’s such a wonderful passage with so much truth in it – from Christ telling us “I am the Bread of Life” to Peter saying
    “To whom else should we go?” In other words, what’s the point? We have the Truth here! DG.

  • Charles Marriott says:

    I thought one or two people might be interested in this ‘mini’ pilgrimage.

  • Charles Marriott says:

    Visiting St Bertrand de Comminges

    When I was at boarding school in the 1960s there was a boy in our dormitory who liked to read us ghost stories by an odd man – MR James. He was an academic and ended his days as provost of Eton College. The readings were enriched by his sonorous voice and breaks in the story when he shone the torch up his face from his chin. Very chilling!

    One I remembered was ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’. The story was set in Comminges and James took inspiration from visiting the cathedral at night with the sacristan. There he admired the grotesque carvings on the choir stalls and the splendid baroque organ, afterwards returning to his hotel opposite.
    The cathedral was built in an unsuitable position in a flurry of euphoria after St Bertrand’s death to honour such a good man but some years later was deconsecrated as a cathedral, now serving as a parish church. There was never the population to warrant such a building.

    We set off from my brother-in-law’s house near Perpignan driving westwards for three and a half hours along the bottom of the foothills of the Pyrenees. Is there any more beautiful countryside in Europe? We drove along deep gorges with foaming, roaring rivers and beside sloping meadows with great swirls of wild flowers. There were gently cultivated fields so unlike our intensive semi-prairies. Occasionally there were herds of beautiful cows, some ash grey, some a light chestnut, and all looking so big and healthy. There was a shepherd and his dog and herds of goats. Orchards of all sorts of stone fruits. Arcadia! We stop halfway and decide on a rather unpromising looking restaurant where an excellent meal was had. Good local restaurants do still exist in France! I will point out that I have, in a gentlemanly manner, ridden in the back of the car and had the poorest view of the countryside!

    We stay in a hotel with huge cedars of Lebanon to the front, which the owner tells us are nearly 300 years old. It was once the home of Madame de Montespan, mistress of the Sun King but I wonder…

    Eventually the cathedral comes into view situated on the edge of a cliff. It has been there for 900 years and is externally quite plain. We are in time for the 11 o’clock Mass which is well attended by French standards. There is a very old priest and a deacon accompanied by the excellent organ. After the Mass we process to the tomb of St Bertrand and sing a Latin hymn to him. Sanctus Bertrandus, Clemens, dulcisque benignus…..Ora pro nobis, sancte Bertrande. And so on. He is a local saint and doesn’t seem to appear in the dictionaries of saints that I have seen.

    On the drive back we stop at a ‘vide grenier’, which means a clear out of the loft, where all the locals try and sell their unwanted tat. It’s mostly complete rubbish but a scythe attracts bro-in-law to keep his rather large allotment in order. It’s growing like nothing you’ve seen at this time of year. Marianne buys some white trousers while I utilise the ‘open for all to see’ pissoir in the square having had ‘deux bieres, deux euros’! The man next to me sprays over my best English walking shoes. Does he recognise them as such? We have at the hotel already had a robust conversation about Brexit over breakfast at which I kept my head down!

    France you are so beautiful! The EU has ironically driven a wedge between our two countries.

    Pray for us all St Bertrand!

    • Patricia O'Brien says:

      I absolutely loved reading that Charles. What a wonderful time you had there…you absolutely cannot beat visiting the ‘real’ France ( or Spain, Italy… etc etc) and I know the area you speak of – which we have been to, both on the French and Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Your descriptions are spot-on! Thank you ☺️

    • marleen de vlieghere says:

      thank you!!

    • Mariamante says:

      I enjoyed your reflection; I know this area, and feel that anyone who lives in the midst of such beauty, and such culture, must have a more refined soul, and more virtuous character…too bad things don’t work that way, otherwise I might have moved there long ago.

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