“The He took the five loaves and two fish, raised His eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them, then he broke them and handed them to His disciples to distribute among the crowd” (Luke 9: 16).
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, traditionally called Corpus Christi Sunday. It is interesting how the Church, in her wisdom, has guided us in the last two weeks to reflect deeply into the mystery of God. Without assuming to unravel the full depth of divine nature, we have been systematically led to contemplate God in His Diverse Oneness. Two Sundays ago, we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, recalling the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, whose power and inspiration ignited the fire of courageous witnessing in the apostles, and continues to be our Teacher and Guide. Last week, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity, during which we contemplated God in His Triune nature – One God in Three Persons. God the Father creates; God the Son redeems; and God the Spirit sanctifies – distinct in functions yet one is substance. Today, we are celebrating God the Son, Jesus Christ, Who gives His Body and Blood as food for salvation of man and redemption of the world. “I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is for the life of the world … My Body is real food and My Blood is real drink” (John 6: 51, 55). These solemnities are not merely recalling events of the past, but they are in fact invitations to a dynamic living of the past in the present moment of our faith journey.
The Readings of today are directly linked to the feast we are celebrating. In Genesis 14: 18-20, Melchizedek is revealed as both king of Jerusalem and priest of the Most High God. He is given two titles that immediately point to Jesus, Who is both King and Priest. He brings “bread and wine” to bless Abraham in thanksgiving to God, Who gave him victory over his enemies. The Psalm relates to Melchizedek as a royal priest. It was typically used during the coronation ceremony of the king, who plays the priestly role in the midst of his people. St. Paul’s account of the Last Supper, used for our Second Reading (1 Corinthians 11: 23-26), is the earliest record of the institution of the Eucharist. Notice the verbs: “took … thanked … broke” which are reflected in the narrative of St. Luke’s narrative of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9: 11-17).
The Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish or the Miracle of the Feeding of Five Thousand is the only miracle of Jesus that is captured by all the Four Gospels. This is most likely to emphasise how crucial this miracle was to understanding the mission of Jesus. Apart from its compassionate spices, it encapsulates the Mission Statement of Christ: “I have come that they may have life and have it in full” (John 10: 10). How was He to give us this life? To answer this very simply, it was by His giving us His Body and Blood as bread and wine in anticipation of His ultimate self-offering on the Cross.
In what ways does this miracle relate to the Eucharist? This miracle, like every other miracle, is a sign pointing to something beyond itself. Here, this miracle points to Jesus Christ Himself, Who will “feed” the world by sacrificing His Body (the Bread of Life) on the Cross to save mankind. The descriptive presentation of this miracle by Luke reflect the Master that goes beyond the ordinary human resources to meet the needs of His people. With “five loaves and two fish” it was nothing compared to the crowd by the estimation of the apostles, but that was certainly more than enough for Jesus. The Eucharist is a ceremony of exchange of gifts. We offer ourselves to Christ in our unworthiness, insufficiency and inadequacy; He receives us as we are and offers Himself to us in exchange to cleanse us and make us whole and fit for Him. It is an offering: we offer ourselves to Christ, and Christ in turn offers Himself to us to save us.
“Then He took the five loaves and two fish … blessed them … broke them and gave them”: These four verbs (took, blessed, broke and gave) which describe the actions of Jesus on this occasion are the same verbs that describe the action of Jesus at the Last Supper narrative of the Evangelists (Matthew 26: 26; Mark 14: 22; Luke 22: 19) including Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26. This miracle is in anticipation of the Last Supper, where Jesus physically offered bread as His Body and wine as His Blood to the apostles and commanded them: “Do this in memory of Me” (Matthew). It is necessary to know that the Last Supper itself was a historical event in anticipation of the salvific Self-giving of Jesus’ Body on the Cross. This is what the Eucharist celebrates, not an event in the past but a continuous present, lived out in the living faith of the people of God. The connection between this miracle, the Last Supper and the Eucharist is highlighted in the Canon of the Mass or The Eucharistic Prayer One, wherein the priest says: “He took bread in His holy and venerable hands, and with His eyes raised to You, O God, His Almighty Father, giving You thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to His disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is My Body, which will be given up for you.’”
The Eucharist is the fount and summit of all liturgical worship. The highest and greatest prayer ever offered to God because in it, Christ the Son of God is the One who offers, He is the One who is offered and He is the Altar upon whom the sacrifice is offered – Christ is thus the Priest, the Victim and the Altar of sacrifice. The priest who offers the Eucharist at every Mass is acting in the Name and Person of Christ, in Nomine et Persona Christi. The authority of the priest comes from the mandate of Christ to His apostles at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of Me.” This comes down to the priests today through an unbroken tradition of succession. In the Eucharist, Christ, the “New Moses”, feeds us, the “new Israel”, with the “New Manna” that is His Body, so that we can journey safely through the “new exodus” of this earthly wilderness to the “New Promised Land” that is both eternal and more enduring than the “land flowing with milk and honey.” The Eucharist transforms our relationship with God as we become configured to the Blessed Trinity. The Eucharist is a sacrament of love. It is an act of faith: faith in Christ truly present, faith in offering of the self, faith in the transformative power of the sacrament and faith in its redemptive love.
As we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, let us pray that we may become like The One whose Body we eat, and whose Blood we drink, our Lord Jesus Christ completely poured out for others in love.