I am an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and one of the
things that grates on me is when people refer to Jesus as "the bread"
or "the wine", rather than something such as "his most precious body
and blood". However, in scripture there are references as well that it
seems one could use to support a symbolic meaning of the Eucharist:
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Acts 2:42, 46:
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart
Do these verses refer to the Eucharist? If so, why would the
scripture writers use the term "bread" and not something more
descriptive of what is actually taking place?
These passages–particularly those in Acts–may refer to the Eucharist, but it is not clear to me that any of these passages, in their primary, literal signification refer to the Eucharist. The expressing "breaking bread" is a well-known idiom referring to simply eating a meal, particularly given the fact that bread was the principle constituent of diets in this period of human history–to the point that in Greek the ordinary word for bread (arton) is the same as the word for "food."
I cannot rule out the possibility that in each of these cases what is being referred to is the sharing of an ordinary meal. This is particularly the case with the one from Luke, which occurred so closely after the Crucifixion that (given that Cleopas and his companion did not recognize Jesus) it could well have been an ordinary meal rather than a celebration of the Eucharist (which Cleopas and his companion may not have been empowered to celebrate, anyway).
I thus don’t know if these texts raise the issue that you are asking about.
If they don’t, however, others do.
In 1 Corinthians 10, for example, we read:
16: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a
participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it
not a participation in the body of Christ?
17: Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
St. Paul clearly indicates that consuming "the bread" of the Eucharist involves "a participation in the body of Christ," so the issue of the Real Presence is not in question. He indicates that "the bread" is "the body of Christ." He is so serious about this that he warns against profaning it in the strongest terms in chapter 11:
27: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the
Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and
blood of the Lord.
28: Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29: For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.
30: That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
Because of these biblical usages, I do not think that Catholics should scruple at references to the consecrated elements as "bread" and "wine" as long as these are understood correctly. St. Paul uses such terminology without diminishing in any way the reality of Christ’s Presence in the sacrament–to the point that he warns people against profaning it lest they die.
What one must recognize in such usages is that they are spoken (or written) according to the language of appearances rather than the language of reality. In reality, what is before us is the Body and Blood of Christ, but according to our senses–the appearances–what is before us looks and tastes like bread and wine.
God meant for us to live with both ends of this duality, held in tension: Sensing one thing but recognizing in faith the presence of something else.
Since God expects us to live with this duality, acknowledging both the appearance and the reality, and since he did not mandate a unique mode of language to accomodate the duality but instead allowed the divinely inspired Scriptures to speak of the elements according to both aspects of the duality, we must be prepared to receive and correctly understand both kinds of expressions.
Today we have a special kind of vocabulary that we can use to express the language of appearances. Philosophers call it "phenomenological language." We use phenomenological language when we describe something according to how it appears, without addressing the question of what it is. Thus we can talk about the sun rising, without failing to recognize that the Earth is a sphere (not a flat surface above which something else rises) that actually moves around the sun instead of visa versa.
In the same way, we can phenomenologically speak of the consecrated host as "bread"–the way St. Paul does–without failing to recognize the reality of the Real Presence.
We thus must be prepared to accept either phenomenological language (the language of appearances) and ontological language (the language of realities).
Of course, some today may be unclear on the reality of the Real Presence, and when we encounter someone with such a defective understanding, we must strive to correct him.
Similarly, there are sacramental and liturgical dissents who, one suspects, refer to the Eucharist as "bread" and "wine" because they have a defective understanding of the realities this sacrament involves. It is quite understandable that one feels uncomfortable with their using such language, and it is legitimate to question them about what they mean, but the mode of language itself is not prohibited, for Scripture itself uses it.
One note about the passages the reader cites: Regardless of what the primary literal sense of these texts might be, the Church early on recognized a reference to the Eucharist within at least the spiritual sense of these texts, and so it is legitimate today to appeal to them in Eucharistic contexts.