In breaking bread for his disciples Christ gave an example of what it means to allow oneself to be broken for the good of others, Pope Francis said on the feast of Corpus Christi, explaining that it is the Eucharist which gives us the strength to do this.
“Jesus was broken; he is broken for us. And he asks us to give ourselves, to break ourselves, as it were, for others,” the Pope said May 26, during his homily for the Mass of the feast, said before the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome.
Corpus Christi celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist and is marked by special displays of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, most notably Eucharistic processions.
During his homily, Pope Francis pointed to the many mothers and fathers who, “together with the slices of bread they provide each day on the tables of their homes, have broken their hearts to let their children grow, and grow well!”
Francis also noted how many Christians “as responsible citizens have broken their own lives to defend the dignity of all, especially the poorest, the marginalized and those discriminated against!”
“Where do they find the strength to do this? It is in the Eucharist: in the power of the Risen Lord’s love, who today too breaks bread for us and repeats: ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
The Pope recalled that the epistle for the Mass — St. Paul's recounting of the institution of the Eucharist in First Corinthians — is “the oldest testimony we have to the words of Christ at the Last Supper.”
By telling his disciples “do this,” Christ gives the command to repeat his own actions by which he gave us his own Body and Blood.
“Jesus gives the command to repeat this action by which he instituted the memorial of his own Pasch, and in so doing gives us his Body and his Blood. This action reaches us today: it is the 'doing' of the Eucharist which always has Jesus as its subject, but which is made real through our poor hands anointed by the Holy Spirit.”
Francis pointed to the day’s Gospel passage from John, which recounted the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish that fed a crowd of 5,000.
When Christ tells his disciples to “give them something to eat yourselves,” he is indicating that while he is the one who blesses and breaks the bread, providing enough to feed the entire hungry crowd, it is the disciples who offer the loaves and fish.
“Jesus wanted it this way: that, instead of sending the crowd away, the disciples would put at his disposal what little they had.”
The Pope then pointed to how the pieces of bread, once broken “by the holy and venerable hands” of Jesus, were then placed into “the poor hands of the disciples,” who distributed them to the people.
In distributing the bread to the hungry crowd, the disciples are able to share in Christ’s own action, giving the people something to eat.
“Clearly this miracle was not intended merely to satisfy hunger for a day, but rather it signals what Christ wants to accomplish for the salvation of all mankind, giving his own flesh and blood. And yet this needs always to happen through those two small actions: offering the few loaves and fish we have; receiving the bread broken by the hands of Jesus and giving it to all.”
The Pope said the breaking of the bread signifies another meaning of Christ's command to “do this in remembrance of me” — allowing ourselves to make sacrifices and to be broken for the good of others.
He noted how “breaking bread” became a sign for recognizing Christ and Christians, and pointed to several passages in scripture recounting how the disciples broke bread together.
“From the outset it is the Eucharist which becomes the center and pattern of the life of the Church.”
The Pope then pointed to the saints, both famous or anonymous, who have allowed themselves to be “broken” in order to “give something to eat” to their brethren.
Pope Francis concluded his homily by praying that the Eucharistic procession after Mass would be a response to Christ's command: “an action to commemorate him; an action to give food to the crowds of today; an act to break open our faith and our lives as a sign of Christ’s love for this city and for the whole world.”
In the Diocese of Rome, the celebration of Corpus Christi traditionally includes a Eucharistic procession from the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. The procession had traditionally been led by the Bishop of Rome, though Pope Francis did not elect to do so.
Instead, he traveled to Saint Mary Major separately to welcome the procession, which was led by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome. The Pope then imparted Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament when it arrived.
During the procession, a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament was carried through the street atop a white truck, protected by two deacons and illuminated by candles. Thousands of persons took part, including many of the prelates who concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father.