Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of
Loaves and Fishes—c.1620
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Today is called Lætáre
Sunday, from the Latin first words of the Mass’s Introit: “Lætáre,
Jerúsalem,” which mean “Rejoice Jerusalem,” and which are taken from the
book of Isaias.
Holy Church bids us “rejoice” because we have fulfilled a little bit more
than half of our Lent—the suggestion is that after rejoicing today, we get
back to the business of keeping a spiritually profitable Lenten observance.
The rose colored vestments reflect the idea of rejoicing, but we will go
back to the darker purple for the rest of the season. We had a number of
important saints’ days fall during the past three weeks, with corresponding
dispensations from the Lenten fasting—for the next three weeks the only
notable saint’s feast will be that of Pope Saint Leo the Great, and even
then there will not be a dispensation.
The epistle this morning may seem a
We live in an egalitarian society, so the notion of Abraham treating his two
sons so differently seems odd to us. The idea of a second wife and the
lower rank of her children are Old Testament notions, foreign to us. Saint
Paul’s primary reason for writing about them is to remind us that through
the redemptive act of Jesus Christ, men and women have been promoted to a
new level by the action of sanctifying grace.
This “new level” is sometimes
described as Christian men and women becoming “heirs” of God the Father,
“inheritors” so to speak of the Father’s bountiful kingdom—but, perhaps, it
is more correct to say that grace makes us the adopted sons and daughters of
Note that Christ died for the
redemption of all mankind—we are all capable of receiving His grace—but not
all people elect to do so. We hear almost every Sunday in the reading of
the Last Gospel:
He came unto his own, and his own
received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power
to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.
Saint John further describes the
sons and daughters of God as:
[Those] Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will
of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was
made flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth.
Later this year, we will hear Saint
Paul again, writing to the Romans
Whosoever are led by the Spirit of
God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit
of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of
adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).
The Aramaic word “Abba”
suggests a very intimate and personal relationship with the Father. In
English it might be as though His sons and daughters are allowed to call God
“Dad,” or even “Daddy.”
But let us be sure we understand
what is required for us to achieve this intimate connection with God.
Over time, the people of the Old
Testament came to know that there is but one God, and that we must keep His
commandments. Some of them chafed under His rule—in the Exodus from Egypt
we hear God calling them “perverse” and “unfaithful,” and even see them
sacrificing their own children to the false “gods” of the people they
encountered along the way.
They provoked him by strange gods,
and stirred him up to anger, with their abominations. They
sacrificed to devils and not to God … And he said: I will hide my
face from them, and will consider what their last end shall be: for
it is a perverse generation, and unfaithful children.
But eventually, they came to
understand the Law of God as a precious gift, not given to any of the other
He has proclaimed His word to Jacob, His statutes
and His ordinances to Israël. He has not done this for any other
nation; His ordinances He has not made known to them.
But the Law did not confer grace;
nor did the rituals and sacrifices of the Law. At best, it made God’s
people just, and prepared them for the Kingdom of grace that would flow from
the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Sacrifice of the Cross would alter all of
mankind’s relationship with God. This redemption made it possible for men
and women to do what was positively pleasing to the Father. Remember: By
receiving Jesus Christ we are promoted from the ranks of the servants and
become sons and daughters of God. A father does not love his servants when
they do what they are paid to do—but he does love his children, even when
they do lesser things, but for the love of him.
So how do we receive Jesus
Christ—how do we receive His grace—and how do we take on this status of
adoption? We just barely begin to see the answer to this question in
It is nearly Passover and our Lord
is preaching in the area around the Sea of Galilee. Many of his listeners
have come from a good distance, and He did not want to send them home
without something to eat. But a few loaves and fishes are all that they
have. So Jesus worked the miracle we just read about. Thousands of people
are fed from the few loaves and fishes, and a large amount of fragments are
left over. Clearly this is a precursor to the Holy Eucharist—the body and
blood of Christ are miraculously made present wherever Holy Mass is
celebrated, and they are shared by literally millions of people—with enough
particles remaining that the body and blood, humanity and divinity of Jesus
Christ can be retained in all the churches of the world.
The reading is taken from the first
few verses of Saint John’s sixth chapter—I am going to ask you to read the
rest of the chapter when you go home. It is an essential part of the
Catholic Faith. The people who witnessed this miraculous multiplication of
loaves were then privileged to hear our Lord explain that His Father would
give them “true bread from heaven” and that He Himself was that
I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall
not hunger: and he that believeth in me shall never thirst…. I am
the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this
bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my
flesh, for the life of the world.
Not surprisingly, some in the crowd
scoffed: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” It is very
important to remember that He answered their doubts by reiterating what He
had already said:
Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink
his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh,
and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him
up in the last day.
And when the doubters began to walk
away, He did not call them back to say that He was speaking figuratively or
symbolically—He did not call them back, because He meant exactly what He
said. He would give all those who believe in Him and His teachings His true
Body and Blood. He did this a year later, at the Passover in Jerusalem,
just hours before His body and blood were offered in Sacrifice on the Cross.
There are other Sacraments, of
course. Baptism is essential, Confession is extremely necessary, the others
more or less so. But it is from the Sacrifice of the Cross that all of the
others derive their efficacy. Priests are priests because they have
received the power to offer this Sacrifice, they can hear Confessions
because they share in this sacrificial atonement to God. There would be no
Baptism without the redemption of the Cross.
The Sacraments are the means of
grace by which we become God’s adopted children, and by which we grow in the
holiness by which we hope to be united with our Father in eternity. So,
certainly, today is a day for rejoicing with Holy Mother Church.
Rejoice today, but do be sure to get
back to the Lenten observance to prepare well for Holy Week and Easter when
we live out the Last Supper, the Sacrifice of the Cross, and our Lord’s
Rejoice, and please don’t forget to
read the rest of Saint John’s sixth chapter!