Jesus fed five thousand men and perhaps as many women and children with just five loaves. The bread he gave to the throng was not the Eucharist. It prepared people to believe that he could give himself to any number of people. As Thomas Aquinas put it, “As many as are they so many is he.”
Two great differences between the bread fed to the five thousand and the Holy Eucharist are that the Eucharist is part both of the Last Supper and of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
An interesting tie-in between the Last Supper and our Mass is that the words of the four different Eucharistic Prayers we use each grew out of the blessing Jesus offered at the Last Supper. Jesus, and any other Jewish family head, always used his own words; but his prayer was made up of the same three parts: he recalled God’s favors, he called down God’s spirit, and he asked the diners to join him in offering themselves up as pleasing gifts to God.
The second big difference between the bread that fed the five thousand and our Mass is that our Mass renews the sacrifice of the cross. At the Last Supper Jesus actually anticipated his death on the cross. He was already making the sacrifice of himself when he took the bread and said, “This is my body which is given for you.” Note that he did not say, “This is my body which will be given.” He said, “Which is given.”
Towards the end of the First Century the Apostles circulated a little handbook for local churches to use for the Mass and Sacraments. In a short paragraph that little book gave to cover the Mass it three times mentioned that the Mass had to the people’s sacrament. They make it their sacrament by offering themselves up with Jesus.
For us to fully take part in the Mass we should mentally join in the three pats of the Eucharistic Prayer. We should: first, call to mind the favors we receive from God; we should secondly call down his Spirit to unite us and to inspire us to speak to God; and thirdly, we should make ourselves into part of the Pleasing Gift. Our word Eucharist is Greek for Pleasing Gift.