“Gather up the Fragments”
Today on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Gospel reading is St Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand which is a miracle of multiplication. Our Lord feeds five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish. It is also a Eucharistic miracle in the sense that He anticipates what He will do at the Last Supper. Notice the similarities: He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them – the same as He did at the Last Supper. But in the miracle at the Last Supper Our Lord changes the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood (transubstantiation) and gives it to us so as we may have eternal life. The Gospel also points out that they collected up twelve baskets of the leftovers. There is an important message for us here.
In the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church published by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 we read regarding the Holy Eucharist, “the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ. He is present whole and entire in each of the Eucharistic species and in each of their parts” (#284). In other words Christ is fully present in every fragment of the Host and every drop from the consecrated Chalice, no matter how small. St John in his account of this miracle has Our Lord give the command, “Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost”(6:12). Our Lord didn’t say this because He had a concern about wasting food! Rather He wants to teach us to respect every fragment of the miraculous bread.
After Our Lord had ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit had come at Pentecost to teach the Apostles all truth, and as they obeyed Our Lord’s command to celebrate the Eucharist, they would have believed in the Real Presence. As they celebrated Mass, they would no doubt have recalled how in this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand Our Lord was very particular about each fragment. Similarly, the Church has always taken great care to ensure that no particles of the Sacred Host or drops of the Precious Blood are lost. Hence the priest or deacon, without being overly scrupulous, must take great care in purifying the sacred vessels after Holy Communion. It is to prevent these fragments from falling to the ground that we often use the communion plate, and if you receive Our Lord into your hand, one should take care to ensure that there are no particles or fragments remaining on the palm of your hand. They should be consumed.
However, we are human and our senses are limited. But so long as we do our best and are not careless with fragments of the Host or drops from the Chalice, we are doing all Our Lord and His Church ask of us in this regard. But we should all realise that the God Who created us and Who will ultimately judge us is fully present in the smallest particles of the Host or tiniest drops from the Chalice: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC