Many of us have heard about and most probably have read the Gospel according to St. Mark 6, especially from verse 30, where St. Mark narrates the feeding of the five thousand. But I don’t know if we have seen what I was privileged to see in that passage the night I read it. I tell you, ever since I saw it, my approach to the mass and my scriptural understanding of the Eucharistic Mystery has improved. So, it has pleased me to share this with you. And I would be quite glad if you would reach a bible beside you, open it and read through that passage as you read this post.
What struck me about this passage and indeed some others was that there are two events narrated in the feeding of the five thousand.
Jesus teaches the crowd (Mark 6:34)
Jesus breaks bread (Mark 6:41).
These my brothers are the two parts of the Mass!!!
The Liturgy of the Word, where Christ speaks to us and teaches us many things, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where Christ breaks the bread of His Body.
And indeed we see that in various passages where our Lord had a deep encounter with his people he taught them and he broke bread, a quick example comes to my mind, the encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, there also Our Lord, opens up the Scriptures to them, and then Our Lord breaks bread!!! (Luke 24:13-35). This left a deep dent on the apostles and their disciples that this is the way our Lord encounters them, in the teaching of the word and the breaking of the bread, and from apostolic times, this has comprised the ceremony of worship which the people of the New Covenant encountered their Lord and Saviour. (Acts 2:41-47). Brothers, Christ is telling us, the apostles are telling us, the Mass is where we encounter Christ!!!!
First my dear friends, St. Mark tells us that the apostles had just returned to Jesus after they had gone on his command on mission, and they were very tired. Our lord in turn asked them to ‘“come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while”, for many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat’. (Mark 6:31). So our Lord with his tired apostles went away to a lonely place by themselves to rest. But this rest wasn’t to come as many saw them going, recognized them, and ran there on foot, from all towns, and even got there ahead of them. And then in verse 34 we are told that as Our Lord landed he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. This is a sign of the mercy of God, this is the source of our salvation’s story that God with his heart of love, looked at our miserable state and was pleased to unite his heart of love with our misery. Misericordia , the Latin for mercy, shows us this, as Pope Paul VI said, in Misericordia, God’s heart of love- Cordia, met human misery- Miseria. We need to imagine the situation here narrated to us, the apostles were tired, they needed to rest, but still Our Lord looked at this people and had compassion on them. He decides then to commune with them, and it is this communion with them that we have to study very closely. How did this happen? He taught them and He broke bread. He fed them with his word and He fed them with bread.
Before that we see that Our Lord saw that the people were like Sheep without Shepherd. This re-echoes the promise of Jer. 3:15, where the Lord promised ‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding’, we see that when the Apostles asked our Lord as night fell to send the people to the villages to get something to eat, Our Lord told them in Mark 6:37, ‘You give them something to eat’. A sign that He was to commission them to be the shepherds of his flock, who would feed them, not only with right teaching but as we shall soon see, the bread of his body. It is no wonder therefore that in John 21 while commissioning St. Peter to be the Shepherd of his flock, Christ told him, ‘Feed my sheep, Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15-17). And so in Mark 6:41, after Our Lord took the loaves, blessed it and broke it, He gave it to his disciples to do what? To distribute it to the people. To feed his people!!!
In Mark 6:40, I see in the way the people were told to sit in groups how all of us children of God scattered all over the world, of different works of life, of different interests, come together in small groups of parishes to break bread, to eat of the bread of life. It was St. John who tells us in John 6 after narrating this same story the explanation of the bread, as a sign of the Eucharist, in which Christ was going to give us his very self. Then, St. Mark tells us that after the people ate they were satisfied. For the children of God searching and hungry for their master are eventually satisfied when he has given himself to them, fullness of love, of truth and of life. The same way St. John tells us that Christ said, ‘ I am the bread which came down from heaven, whoever eats of this bread will never go hungry, he will have eternal life, The bread I shall give you is my flesh.’ Cf John 6:35,51.
Lastly, my friends, in Mark 6:45, we are told that immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he DISMISSED THE CROWD. The word ‘Missa’, comes from the word DISMISSAL. Arising from the fact that early on in the Church’s history, the catechumens were dismissed after the first part of the Liturgy. And then in verse 48, we hear of how the apostles encountered a storm at sea and began to panic, and we see our lord in verse 50, telling them ‘Take heart, it is I, Have no fear’. And then, he calms the storm. St. Mark goes on to tell us that the apostles were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves. (Mark 6:51-52). After the Mass dear friends we are told to go into the world, and in this world we go into, we encounter different circumstances, St. Mark is telling us not to panic for now we are with Christ, who calms the storms, the apostles did not understand that that moment of the encounter with the five thousand was a moment when Christ was trying to show them how intimately he wants to be with them at all times, how in its fulfilment, Christ was going to live in them, and so they could face the challenges of the world without fear and with great faith. Now we enjoy the fulfilment of the multiplication of the loaves, we enjoy the Eucharist, where we are intimately bound to our lord, and so as we launch out into the world we are ever ready to face the stormy seas, for he is now more than ever with us. This is why it pays to start each day with the Mass, with that solemn encounter with Jesus.
This is how I came to understand how much the Fathers of our most holy Church were so steeped in scripture as to see the pattern, as to know the message, the reality, the mystery in which Christ communes with us and reveals himself to us his children. This is how I came to better realize that these holy people must have been in a deep connection with the apostles as to have received this whole and entire from them. This is how I came to better realize the value of that ceremony, which I have always participated in from my childhood, thanks to my parents, and which I enjoin us all to take very seriously.