Frumentum Christi sum,
dentibus bestiarum molar,
ut panis mundus inveniar.
I actually sang part of my homily this morning. Yes, I did. I couldn’t help myself! I opened my Graduale and sang today’s incomparable Communion Antiphon, Frumentum Christi sum, for all to hear. The melody “grinds” the word molar, and then soars over the word panis. The chant melody is a mystical exegesis of the text. It is what I have been arguing for years: sung theology!
The image I chose today, an 18th century Latin American retable, does not depict Saint Ignatius of Antioch, but it does suggest something of his longing to become “purest bread” for Christ’s Holy Oblation. Read below what I had to say about identification with Christ, Priest and Victim.
SAINT IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, BISHOP AND MARTYR
Psalm 33:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8 (R. 4b)
The Eucharistified Martyr
Today is the feast of a martyr of fire, a wholly eucharistified martyr: Saint Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle Saint John and the successor of the Apostle Saint Peter as bishop of Antioch. In the year 107 Ignatius was condemned to death by the Emperor Trajan and transferred as a captive from Antioch to Rome.
Journey to Life
During this final journey Ignatius wrote seven epistles to the churches, exhorting them to preserve their unity in God around their bishops, and begging his fellow Christians to put nothing in the way of the accomplishment of his martyrdom. Ignatius was wholly animated by the Spirit of Jesus who said: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Lk 12:50). For Ignatius, the journey from Antioch to Rome was not a journey to death, but rather to life. “I want no more of what men call life,” he said; “I am yearning for death with all the passion of a lover.”
Ablaze With the Love of Christ
The Beloved Disciple must have shared with Ignatius the mysteries communicated to him while at the Last Supper he rested his head upon the Heart of Christ. One who prays over the epistles of Saint Ignatius comes away with one impression: “Here is a man ablaze with the love of Christ.” Ignatius is well named, for the meaning of his name is fire. His feast, occurring the day after the liturgical memorial of Saint Margaret Mary who lived seventeen hundred years after him, demonstrates that, from the earliest days and down the through the ages, the fire of the Heart of Christ has enkindled the love of the saints. The Apostle John drew his Gospel from the Heart of Jesus, and Ignatius drew his love for Christ from the Gospel of John.
All That I Seek: My Whole Desire
Ignatius also called himself Theophoros, that is, “God–bearer.” Like the Apostle Paul, he was conscious of Christ living within him. Today’s Entrance Antiphon is particularly well chosen. It says, or rather sings: “With Christ I am nailed to the cross, and I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:19–20). Ignatius is conscious of his own mysterious participation in the passion, death, and resurrection. “He who died for us,” he says. “is all that I seek; he who rose again for us is my whole desire.”
Beginning to Be Christ’s Disciple
I find it so moving that at the end of his life, even as the pangs of martyrdom are upon him, Ignatius says that he is just “beginning to be Christ’s disciple.” Think of that! It should humble us to the dust. How often we are tempted to review our lives or, even worse, compare ourselves to others and think, “I have done this for so many years and I have persevered in that. I am not like others who have broken under the strain or somehow been relieved of their burdens.” Ignatius, knowing that wild beasts wait to tear him to pieces in Rome, says, “I feel now that I am beginning to be Christ’s disciple; I desire none of those things which are seen, if so be I may find Christ Jesus.” It makes me want to say to myself every morning upon waking, “I have not yet begun to be Christ’s disciple.” And then, lest I give into hopelessness, I am bound to add, “But, today I begin.”
Wheat for Purest Bread
Ignatius describes his impending martyrdom in eucharistic terms: “I am his wheat, ground fine by lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.” It is significant that this martyr of the first century should interpret his own sufferings in explicitly Eucharistic terms. The words of the martyr are, of course, the reason for today’s Gospel of the grain of wheat that, falling into ground, dies, and bears much fruit.
The Prayer Over the Offerings in today’s Mass draws upon the same imagery. Having placed our oblations of bread and wine upon the altar, we will pray: “May the offering of our devotion be pleasing to you, O Lord, who accepted Saint Ignatius, the wheat of Christ, made into pure bread by the sufferings of his martyrdom.” Ignatius saw himself as a eucharistic host, a sacrificial offering, an oblation placed upon the altar with Christ.
Frumentum Christi Sum
Most unusually, today’s Communion Antiphon is not taken from the Psalms nor is it taken from the Gospel of the day. As we approach the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s adorable Body and Blood, the Church wants us to sing, to repeat, to pray, to hold in our hearts, the words of Saint Ignatius: Frumentum Christi sum . . . I am the wheat of Christ ground by the teeth of beasts to become a pure bread.” The Church clothes the text of this Communion Antiphon in an exquisite third mode melody that expresses its inner meaning perfectly. The summit of the melody is on the word panis, bread. The Gregorian melody is, effectively, a mystical exegesis of the text. The summit of the Christian life is in our eucharistification, our mystical identification with Christ, Victim and Priest.
We are, all of us, wheat being ground into pure bread for the offering. We are ground fine, not by the teeth of wild beasts, but by one another, and by what Saint Benedict calls, “all the hard and repugnant things by which one goes to God” (RB 58:8). As I was reading Blessed John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul last week in conjunction with his feast, I was moved to discover that he wrote that he wanted but one thing in life: to become a vir eucharisticus, a eucharistic man. Today, reading Saint Ignatius, I realized that Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in the first century and Blessed John XXIII, the Pope of Rome in the twentieth, professed the same singlehearted desire. The spirituality of victimhood is not, as some would argue, the fabrication of a doloristic nineteenth century piety of reparation; it is the logical consequence of “full, conscious, and actual participation” (SC, art. 14) — plena et actuosa participatio — in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Come to the Father
The next time you feel as if you are being ground up, remember the words of Saint Ignatius, remember the wheat, remember the bread, remember the last Mass at which you received the Body and Blood of Christ, and say or sing to yourself softly: Frumentum Christi sum . . . I am the wheat of Christ, being ground to become a pure bread, a host for the oblation.” And then, if you listen with the ear of the heart, you may hear that voice like a murmur of living water that whispered to Saint Ignatius, “Come to the Father.”