Luke 9:11b-17
Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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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.

The Eucharist is a surpassing gift to the church. It is the source and the summit of our life as Christians. The Second Vatican Council’s main document on the liturgy states, “The liturgy (of the Mass) is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows” (“ Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No. 10). The Eucharist is the most profound way in which Jesus fulfills his promise to remain with us always until the end of time. The Mass is the best method for us to thank God and properly remember all that Christ did to redeem the world (“Do this in memory of me”). The Eucharist is, in fact, the most precious of all Jesus’ gifts because it is the very gift of himself.

It is most fitting that, since the Eucharist is so critical to the life of the church and of each individual Christian, its reality and meaning should be foreseen and verified throughout the sacred Scriptures. While there is not room for a thorough review of these passages, a brief look at some central ones is helpful.

In the Old Testament, we see clear references to the Eucharist in the bread and wine offered by the priest Melchizedek, the manna from heaven that sustained the people in the desert for 40 years, and the animal sacrifices offered to the Lord and consequently eaten as a sign of being united with God. Finally, there is the richest symbol of the Passover meal with its slain lamb, sprinkled blood, unleavened bread and cup of wine.

In the New Testament, the proximate preparations are rather focused. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a direct reference to the Eucharist as Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to the apostles who in turn distribute it to the people. The miraculous transformation of water into wine at the wedding at Cana teaches that God is capable of transforming one substance into another. Finally, Jesus instructs his disciples about the profound truth and beauty of the Eucharist during the Bread of Life discourse in chapter six of John’s Gospel.

The series of prophetic references and direct teachings reaches its grand finale at the Last Supper. On his last night, Jesus bestows the most precious gift of his body and blood upon his beloved followers when he institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist. It was his parting gift to the world. Its significance can be gauged, in part, by the unique words Jesus uses to describe the intensity of his desire to bestow this gift. Jesus begins the ceremony by stating, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15).

Following the resurrection, Jesus reiterates the importance of the Eucharist by making it a central element in one of his appearances on Easter Sunday. He appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus who fail to identify him until they sit down at table and recognize him in the “breaking of the bread.” Celebrating the Eucharist became a common practice quickly among the early Christians as testified to by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles as he describes the early Christian community: “They dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

It should not surprise us that St. Paul speaks directly about the Eucharist by providing another version of the institution of the Eucharist, teaching about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, proclaiming the tremendous unifying power of the sacrament, and warning the faithful that it is possible to eat the bread unworthily and thus bring judgment upon ourselves. (See 1 Corinthians: 10, 11.)

All of these references to the Eucharist, both direct and indirect, confirm that this gift is a most important element of Jesus’ plan for blessing, nourishing and strengthening his disciples.

In conclusion, allow me to return to today’s Gospel story, the miracle of the loaves and fishes. At the start, the disciples suggest that Jesus dismiss the crowds so that they can travel to the farms and villages to find lodging and food. Jesus tells them, “Give them some food yourselves.” The disciples make known that they only have five loaves of bread and two fish among them. Jesus proceeds to feed the crowd of more than 5,000 people from these meager morsels.

This event is a spectacular prelude to the Eucharist. Jesus’ compassion for the physical hunger of his followers points to an even greater compassion for their spiritual hunger. The miraculous provision of bread and the abundance of leftover fragments (12 wicker baskets) point to the unfathomable abundance that Jesus provides at Mass as he gives us so much more than we can ever fully consume — he gives us himself for our nourishment.

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.