The Bread of Heaven
Over the next five Sundays we will be taking a break from the Gospel of St Mark and reading instead from Chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel which is known as ‘The Bread of Life Discourse’. It begins today with John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand where Our Lord by a miracle of multiplication feeds five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-15). This is the only miracle of Our Lord to appear in all four Gospels and it will ultimately be fulfilled in the miracle of the Holy Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
“The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist” (#1335).
It is clear that Our Lord performed this miracle to prepare the crowd to accept the difficult doctrine of the Eucharist; that the bread and wine at Mass at the words of Consecration are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. Then when they had all eaten their fill, JESUS ordered the disciples to “Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.” You will find this detail in all four accounts. The gathering up of these pieces or fragments was important to Our Lord. Why would this be the case? It cannot be He was merely concerned not to waste food.
Every single act and word of Our Lord had a significant meaning. He wanted to make people accountable for every fragment, whatever the size of this miraculous bread. When He performed this miracle He would obviously have had in mind what He would do at the Last Supper which was the First Mass. As He did in this miracle, He would take bread, bless and break it and give to His disciples to eat.
The early Church after Our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven believed in the Real Presence of JESUS in the Holy Eucharist. Gradually they would come to understand that Christ is fully present in even the tiniest particle or fragment of the consecrated bread and in every drop of the consecrated wine. They would then have remembered Our Lord’s insistence on the gathering up of the fragments at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and it follows this accountability would be even greater in the real gift of Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. St Thomas Aquinas, in the ‘Lauda Sion’ which is the great Sequence for Corpus Christi wrote:
“And when the Sacrament is broken, waver not! But remember, that there is as much under each fragment, as is hid under the whole.”
Still today at Mass, the priest, who is acting in persona Christi, (in the person of Christ) is to gather up the fragments from the paten and the ciborium and purify them and his fingers over the chalice, lest any fragments remain on them. Similarly, great care is to be taken in the laundering of the linens which purify the ciborium and chalice lest any fragments remain on them. They have to be rinsed in water and then poured into the earth before being washed and ironed for their next use.
These are all clear signs to us of the Real Presence and the great reverence and care we must have towards the Holy Eucharist collectively and as individuals.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world … This is the bread that came down from Heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:51,59).
Fr Paul Gillham, IC