The language of this event in Jesus’ life connects the multiplication of the loaves and fishes with the Last Supper. St. Matthew, at both events, writes that Jesus “took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples.”
While these actions were not unusual for any Jewish meal, just as we say grae before our meals, the fact that Matthew, unlike Mark, doesn’t mention dividing the fish, makes the miracle connect better with the Last Supper institution of the Eucharist. It is clear that this miracle of Jesus was a foreshadowing of his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
We all know what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper. We hear it recounted at every Divine Liturgy. Just this past Wednesday the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians included, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread.”
In the Gospel according to John we read that Jesus says he is the bread of life which came down from heaven. “If anyone eat of this bread he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When the people questioned this, Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed.” The evangelist then informs us that many of the disciples found this to be a hard saying and they stopped following him.
Jesus didn’t call them back and say he was only kidding or was speaking metaphorically. This is because he meant exactly what he said, knowing that it would be difficult for many people to understand and accept.
Even today there are Catholics who don’t believe the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Look at the graph in today’s bulletin. Perhaps the reason for poor Liturgy attendance is that so any nominal Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence – that they receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ every time they go to Communion.
Think of what we say in the prayer before Communion, “O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly your most precious body and your life-giving blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive…”
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians wrote, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” How much clearer can it be that the divine Eucharist is most emphatically the body and blood of Christ?
Why bread and wine rather than something else – such as bread and fish? This way of Christ’s body and blood being present corresponds perfectly to the sacramental celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus Christ gives himself to us in a form that employs the symbolism inherent in eating bread and drinking wine. Bread and wine have been staples of human food for centuries and will continue to be. Who knows how long beer and pizza will be around? Furthermore, being present under the appearances of bread and wine, Christ gives himself to us in a form that is appropriate for human eating and drinking. Also, this kind of presence corresponds to the virtue of faith, for the presence of the body and blood of Christ cannot be detected or discerned by any way other than faith.
On the authority of God who reveals himself to us, by faith we believe that which cannot be grasped by our human faculties. After all, why is it so hard to believe that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord can change bread and wine into his body and blood when it was he who, in the incarnation, perfectly united his divine nature with a human nature?
In the Liturgy God receives our gifts of bread and wine and, in a holy, sacrificial exchange, through the power of the Holy Spirit, transforms our bread and wine into the body and blood of his Son so that we may eat of these holy gifts and be transfigured into the divine life.
And not only are we transfigured into the divine life; but, by that very fact we are brought into a closer unity with one another.
Do you want an example of what true unity among people can accomplish? Do you want an example of the good that can come about when people put aside their differences of race and nationality? Just reflect on the international team that rescued 12 boys and one adult from that Thai cave. Why can’t we have more of that and less lack of cooperation among people?
As St. Paul puts it in today’s reading from his first letter to the Corinthians, “…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”
When you pray the prayer before Communion today, reaffirm your faith that you are truly receiving the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Thank him for so great a gift of himself – his very life – to us and resolve to use this gift to increase the unity of the human race, to reduce divisions and to hasten the coming of the kingdom of God.