THE EUCHARIST AS A SOCIAL ACT
According to the exegetes, the multiplication of the loaves is a story that lets us discover the meaning that the Eucharist had for the first Christians as a gesture of some brothers and sisters who know how to divide and share what they possess.
According to the story, a multitude of needy and hungry people were there. The loaves and fish aren’t bought, but gathered together. And it all gets multiplied and distributed under Jesus’ action, who blesses the bread, breaks it and has it distributed among the needy.
We frequently forget that for the first Christians the Eucharist wasn’t just a liturgy, but a social act in which each one put their goods at the disposition of those in need. In a well-known text from the Second Century, in which St. Justin describes for us how the Christians celebrated the weekly Eucharist, it tells us that each one gives what they possess in order to «come to the aid of the orphans and widows, those who suffer from sickness or some other cause, those who are in the prisons, the strangers on their way, and in a word: as many as are in need».
During the first centuries it ended up inconceivable to celebrate the Eucharist without bringing something to help the poor and needy. Thus Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, reproaches a rich matron: «Your eyes don’t see the needy and the poor because they are darkened and covered by a deep night. You are fortunate and rich. You imagine you can celebrate the Supper of the Lord without keeping the offering in mind. You come to the Supper of the Lord without offering anything. You leave out the part of the offering that belongs to the poor».
The prayer that’s made today for the various needs of people isn’t a false and external addition to the Eucharistic celebration. The very Eucharist demands that we divide and share. Sunday after Sunday, we believers who draw near to share the Eucharistic bread should feel ourselves called to share our goods more truly with the needy.
It would be a contradiction to pretend to share as brothers and sisters around the table of the Lord, and at the same time close our hearts to those who in these moments live out the anxiety of an uncertain future. Jesus can’t bless our table if each one of us holds onto our bread and our fish.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf