Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God,
and he healed those needed to be cured.
As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowds so that they can go 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 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 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 baskets.
This familiar Gospel passage is replete with Eucharistic images that recall Christ’s love and self-giving for his people. Jesus, aware that the crowds are tired and hungry, takes a mere five loaves and two fish, offers the blessing, and breaks the bread. However, in this miraculous account Jesus takes one more important step in his efforts to feed the hungry crowd. Jesus involves the disciples in the action of feeding the multitudes. The bread, now blessed and broken, is placed by Jesus into the weathered, calloused hands of bristly fishermen, a wealthy tax collector, and even into the hands of a thief before it ultimately reaches those who hunger. What is portrayed in this scripture account parallels what we experience every Sunday at the Eucharistic table as the Body of Christ ministers the Body of Christ to the hungry Body of Christ.
One of the most rewarding ministries to come out of the Second Vatican Council is that of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. This ministry represents far more than an extra set of hands helping Father give out communion. Rather it signifies Christ inviting his disciples, once again, to share in the feeding of the multitudes. As the Body of Christ, we are drawn together as one at the table of the Lord. Each time we share in the one bread and one chalice, it is Jesus who feeds us with his body and blood so that we, in turn, can minister his Real Presence to those who hunger and thirst.
As a Baby Boomer growing up in the late 1950’s on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, my experience of receiving communion was quite different than it is now for this was a time in our church where Catholics were forbidden to touch the sacred host with our hands for fear of committing mortal sin. After all, our hands were not consecrated, they were ordinary hands that of hard working mothers and fathers, messy children, women and men, not holy hands like that of the priest. As we came forward to receive communion, we knelt at the altar railing, and the priest, assisted by the altar boy holding the gilded paten to our throat for fear of crumbs dropping, gave us communion. For me, I was taught that this was my private time with Jesus so I would keep my eyes shut tightly so as not to be distracted by those on either side of me. There was little sense of communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ. This childhood memory is certainly a far cry from the gospel story of feeding the multitudes, as well as the Last Supper, when Jesus broke the bread and handed it to his disciples to take and eat, so that all might be one with the Lord.
The Second Vatican Council sought to restore the meal aspect of the Eucharistic liturgy by allowing the baptized faithful to come forward and receive, once again, the precious Body and Blood of Christ in their hands. I remember vividly what a life changing experience this was for me and for my parish when the communion ritual changed. Here I was, just a young teenager, holding the presence of God in my hands. It was a moment of overwhelming joy and a true call to holiness. It was not until decades later, when I became an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, that I realized the challenge of not only spiritually feeding myself, but of my baptismal call to nourish others who hunger and thirst for God.
Eucharist is much more than a “me and Jesus” private moment of sanctification, but rather a transforming encounter with the risen Christ that is meant to send us into the world to be “fish and loaves” to the hungry crowds. As baptized disciples, are we willing to take, break, and share the Body of Christ with all those who hunger and thirst for the presence of God in their lives?
Copyright 2014 Dr. Mary Amore