Corpus Christi, the Church, me, and the multiplication of loaves and fishes


Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ and a celebration of the Eucharist. The day is a companion of Holy Thursday but has its origins in the efforts of a thirteenth century saint, St. Juliana of Liège. That was a time when respect for the sacrament was on the decline and Juliana found that troubling. In her effort to bring back fitting devotion to the Blessed Sacrament she campaigned for a day of devotion to commemorate the Sacrament.

The feast of Corpus Christi is the fruit of those efforts and her image is often one of her holding a monstrance. I seem to remember she also is the one who advocated for locked tabernacles so that the Sacrament could not be desecrated by vandals. Her concerns were real.

The day, from its beginning, was marked by a public procession of the sacrament. The blessed host, carried in the monstrance by the priest, and followed by a procession of vowed religious, diocesan priests, and the parishioners. It was a regal and public display of devotion to the real presence of our Lord in the form of bread and wine. That real presence is one that Protestants argue against, and therefore the feast is a uniquely Catholic one. It becomes a proclamation of Catholicism.

The point of this part of the discussion? First, the feast was initiated to bring back reverence. Second, it is a public affirmation of a belief. Those processions, from what I have seen in photographs, were beautiful displays and their beauty was important. The beauty of the display drew one’s eyes towards the Sacrament. Sad that I only saw those Corpus Christi processions in old photographs. I wonder how many have never witnessed or participated? Sad that a beautiful tradition is becoming a lost tradition. From my view of the world they are certainly needed today.

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.

Next, I come to the Gospel reading. It classically is known as the feeding of the five thousand or the multiplication of the loaves and fishes Lk 9:11b-17.In that passage the Apostles wish that Jesus dismiss the crowds that had followed them so that they might find something to eat. Jesus declares “Feed them yourselves!” A declaration is a comandment. If Jesus commanded the Apostles, he also commanded those they anointed. That is the first command that is given, it is the priests order to distribute what will become the Eucharist. I think at that time in their  formation they were not ready to comprehend the Sacrament instituted Holy Thursday. They were disciples. Still, I cannot miss that command. I see it in the Mass today.

The next command that Jesus issues to His disciples is to break up the five thousand into groups of fifty. That would create one hundred groups of fifty. If my multiplication is correct, 50X100=5000. Why do I find this math problem intriguing? It is because Jesus formed congregations. Imagination yields an original 100 parish churches, or at least their blueprints. Certainly one can also look at Moses dividing the Israelites into the tribes also. I find the order of His Church more relevant. At least today.

To each of those fifty congregations, Jesus has the Apostles distribute the blessed loaves of bread. With this my mind becomes overly obsessed with mathematics. First, five loaves to fifty groups. How does one divide that? Each love is divided into ten pieces, and each congregation receives one piece. For this I need a visual aid. I want to picture this in my mind. A loaf of bread, for convenience is fifty slices. Fifty slices times five loaves is 250 slices. 250 slices divided for 100 congregations is 2.5 slices. Those two or three slices must be divided amongst 50 people. Why this fascination with mathematics? It is because I want to see what each person received, and my conclusion? They likely received the same as I do at Holy Communion. I can place myself in that group, I can “see” my parish, and I can “see” His Church. I am there, today.

One area of this discussion I will only mention briefly, that is when the Apostle’s gathered together the remains, it was enough to fill twelve baskets. In that detail is a familiar theme. It is an abundant harvest, and I think back to when Jesus told Peter to cast his net again; and they were so full of fishes the net nearly burst. Their efforts bore fruit, what they accomplished was pleasing in the eyes of God.

Of course this is but one passage of the event, I have the benefit of knowing what follows. I know the argument against those who came for a free meal, He argues that they come for food that brings everlasting live. I know that Jesus ultimately reveals the nature of the bread. He declares “I am the bread come down from heaven.” He declares “I am the bread of life.” Ultimately on Holy Thursday Jesus commands, after breaking the bread, “take this (bread) all of you and eat, for this is my body.” Still though I can place myself in that crowd, I can find my seat. The mathematics helps place me in the scene, it helps me comprehend the feast that is Corpus Christi.

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