In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine,
and being a priest of God Most High,
he blessed Abram with these words:
"Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
the creator of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your hand."
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
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.
I grew up with images of “Corpus Christi” which completely contradict today’s readings.
We old-timers graphically remember those glorious processions in “days of yore.” The event was held outside if possible, but if necessary up and down the aisles of our parish church; thurifers swinging, incense rising, bells ringing, everyone’s eyes riveted on the small host in a golden monstrance, each straining to get at least a glimpse. One of the highlights of my seminary career was traveling over the Italian hills to attend the Orvieto procession in June, 1963 – just a few days before Pope John XXIII’s death - 700 years after the tradition originally began.
Back then everyone was expected just to watch and look. It involved almost no practical participation. Some unknown priest had already done all the work; we showed up only to admire the end product. Yet nothing could be further from the biblical concept of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Our sacred authors presume the community – not one individual – “confects” the Eucharist. Their actions lead to the risen Jesus actually being among us.
Both Paul and Luke pinpoint what their communities can (and must) do to pull off such a tremendous event.
The Apostle perfectly summaries the situation: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Unless someone’s willing to die, we’re eating just a piece of bread and drinking just a sip of wine. If we refuse to give ourselves to one another, there’s nothing miraculous even to look at.
Though in this passage’s original context, Paul graphically hammers away at what his Corinthians should be sharing, in today’s liturgical readings it’s left up to Luke to be specific. Following the conviction of our gospel scholars that all six bread miracles are Eucharistic, it’s essential to note – contrary to popular belief – that the people, not Luke’s Jesus, feed the crowd. He simply starts the process, “Give them some food yourselves,” and ignores their complaints. He’s the distributor, not the multiplier of the food his community provides. The loaves and fish are miraculously increased in the giving. An action that normally would produce less, actually produces more!
Our present problem revolves around the “stuff” we’re to share today. When the Eucharist was celebrated in the context of a pot-luck meal, the actual food and drink that both Paul and Luke mention makes sense. (Even the pagan priest/king Melchizedek provides Abraham and his men with bread and wine.) But, except for occasionally helping feed the poor, we probably should look beyond just sharing our “victuals” with one another.
As a pastor and Eucharistic presider, I almost always engaged in “dialogue homilies.” I gave a brief homily on the readings, then opened the floor. It took a little while, but eventually many of the parishioners took advantage of the opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures. No one seemed to mind the homily’s added length, and most gained from the community’s insights. (I always did!)
On those rare occasions on which no one added, I usually reminded the people, “I presume some are leaving the Eucharist hungry today. Though the Spirit blessed you with the food they needed, for some reason you didn’t think you had enough to share. Always remember, there’s only enough when someone begins to give what she or he has. It’s how we die with the Christ.”
Considering today’s feast, it would be a shame if we revert to listening to the risen Jesus’ word instead of sharing Jesus’ word. Why would anyone reinvent the feast of Corpus Christ? We already have such a weekly “celebration” in most of our parishes.
Can’t you smell the incense burning and hear the bells ringing?