The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written by Luke to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, "Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here." He said to them, "Give them some food yourselves," They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people." Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty." They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
Last month I had the wonderful privilege of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and walking in the footsteps of our Lord and his disciples. It is an extraordinary grace to be physically present to the places where the many of the events of the Gospels took place and to read and pray with the relevant Gospel passages in those places. It is even more spiritually uplifting to celebrate Mass in the churches and chapels built on top of those same locations.
On one grace-filled day in Galilee, we visited the church built over the site where Christians have celebrated the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. There is a long tradition of remembering this event at this location. During one archeological excavation at this site, a fourth century mosaic was found in the floor with an image of the loaves and fish. You can gaze upon this ancient mosaic which was re-installed in front of the altar when the present, newer church was built.
There is a striking element to this simple image composed of a basket of bread and two fish on either side of the basket. The basket contains only four loaves.
A strong, traditional interpretation of the missing loaf is that the artist intended to emphasize that the Eucharist is the fifth loaf. The miracle was one of those many events from the New and Old Testaments that was pointing to the Eucharist and the Paschal Mystery, the very events of Jesus’ life that brought about the salvation of the world.
The miracle of the loaves and fish was a prelude to the Eucharist. It is no coincidence that during this event, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread to his disciples who then set the bread before the crowd. These same actions marked the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Jesus’ passionate concern for each of his followers, including, in this instance, their physical hunger, is very encouraging to recall and ponder. I love the fact that Jesus turns to the Apostles who are ready to send the crowd off to the villages and farms to find lodging and provisions and says, “Give them some food yourselves.” Jesus is truly concerned about the whole of our being.
However, we know that this miracle also points to the fact that Jesus greatly desires on a more profound level to feed us spiritually, to nourish our soul as we journey through life. The fact is, our souls need to be fed in the same way that our bodies need to be fed. Jesus, in his infinite love and wisdom, fashioned a way to feed us with his very self. Our Lord himself wants to be our very nourishment. This gift reflects as much as any of his gifts the depths of his love.
St. Paul proclaims this unfathomable gift to the Corinthian community: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”
Jesus left us a way, a rite, a means of remembering and celebrating the gift He made of Himself to the Father during the last days of his earthly journey which redeemed the world. However, in this celebration, He does so much more. He chooses, through this rite, the Mass, to become truly present. He extends to his disciples the immeasurable gift of his Body and Blood in order nourish and strengthen us and to unite us with him in the most intimate way possible on earth. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6: 56).
May God pour out his grace upon every follower of his that we may be deeply devoted to the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist and invite others to explore this pearl of great price.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index