17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, John 6:1-15
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments loft over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, by which our Savior fed some five thousand men, the Lord instructed his disciples to gather up all of that which was left over. These “fragments”, as Jesus calls them, fill twelve wicker baskets – a sign of the fullness of time, and that the Savior is come twelve tribes of Israel.
However, recalling that our Lord gave the Bread of Life Discourse shortly after the miracle of the loaves, we may well recognize that this gathering of the “fragments” was an illustration of the presence of Christ under each and every part of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Jesus is teaching his disciples that the Eucharistic particles must be cared for, even after the conclusion of the Mass.
The Dogma of the Church
“The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.” (CCC 1377; cf. Council of Trent, Session XIII, Canon III)
From this doctrine, we know that our Savior is present, whole and entire (body, blood, soul, and divinity), in the whole Host. Further, we know that the whole Christ is present in each part of the Host. Hence, it is clear that the whole Christ is real and truly and substantially present in even a small particle of a Host or in a small drop of the Precious Blood.
However, there is little benefit to be gained from delving into a debate about whether each atom of the Host is the Eucharist – of course it is! Better, rather, to emphasize that there is no part of the Host which is not Christ Jesus. And, we further maintain, no part of the Host is a mere part of Christ, but each part of each Host is the whole Christ present in his entirety.
The presence of Christ in the particles
Now, if a Catholic is willing to believe that Jesus is present in the Host, there is no good reason for him to doubt that our Savior is present in even a small piece broken from a larger Host. Indeed, even a small piece of the Eucharistic species is just as must a Sacred Host – just as the larger Host (used by the priest) is not more sacred than the smaller ones (given to the people).
Further, if a tabernacle containing more Hosts is not holier than a tabernacle containing less, then it should be very clear that the size or quantity of Hosts does not change the presence of Christ.
Hence, if a Catholic believes in the Eucharist – that Jesus is truly present in the Host – then he is already acknowledging that a relatively small piece of what-looks-like-bread is, in fact, Jesus. Now, if a regular Host can become the whole Jesus, why would we doubt that a small Host can be the whole Jesus?
Therefore, those who are not careful with the Eucharistic particles, or who outright deny that Jesus is present in even small pieces of the Host, either do not believe in the Eucharist at all or are very foolish (since their own reasoning is self-contradictory).
How small is too small?
Still, we must emphasize that some persons fall into serious confusion on this point. Because every particle of the consecrated Host is surely Jesus, they think that even every microscopic particle which falls from the Host is also Jesus – but in this, they err.
A piece of the Host which is visible to the human eye (under usual conditions and without assistance) as what appears to be a piece of bread, is surely Jesus. However, those particles which are so small as to be invisible to the human eye, or to be indistinguishable from a particle of dust – these cannot any longer be the Eucharist.
The Church teaches that the Eucharistic Presence remains “as long as the Eucharist species subsist”. This means that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, so long as the Eucharist retains the accidental properties of bread and wine. Hence, if a Host is dissolved in water (as is done when the Host has become putrefied, as through vomiting after the reception of Communion), upon being dissolved it is not longer the Eucharist. Likewise, the Precious Blood, when the Chalice is purified with water (and wine), is no longer the Eucharist.
The same must hold true for those particles which are so small as to be unrecognizable as “bread”. If the fragment is so small as to appear to be dust or a speck of some other substance, rather than a “crumb” of bread, it can no longer be the Eucharist. Likewise, those microscopic particles which fall from the Host are not the Eucharist, since they clearly do not retain the appearance of bread.
Excessive scrupulosity about such things will only cause the true faith to be ridiculed. Indeed, in this case, the words of the Catechism of the Council of Trent are most helpful. Warning priests to dissuade the people from a vain curiosity into such mysteries, the Roman Catechism states:
“No less of caution should be observed by pastors in explaining the mysterious manner in which the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread. Indeed, discussions of this kind should scarcely ever be entered upon.
“Should Christian charity, however, require a departure from this rule, the pastor should remember first of all to prepare and fortify his hearers by reminding them that no word shall be impossible with God.”
Care for the Eucharistic fragments
Still, it is incumbent upon both the priest and the people to give great care for the Eucharist and also for those pieces and fragments of the Eucharist.
In order to teach his disciples that the Eucharist is truly his own Flesh and Blood, he first instructed them to gather up the “fragments” which were left over from the multiplied loaves – if such care was taken for the mere symbol of the Eucharist, how much more must we care for the Real Presence!
If the pastors of the Church do not care for these fragments, the people will soon lose their faith in the Eucharist. Indeed, this has already happened to a large extent in most of the western world.
Even in those cases where the particle is so small as to cause some doubt as to whether or not it is the Eucharist, the priest and the people ought to exercise extreme caution. This is one reason why communion in the hand was not permitted in the Church for so many centuries – and why the bishops ought to re-think this practice today.
O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!