The account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand can be found in all four Gospels, but there is one detail in John’s account that is worthy of our attention. While considering how to feed so many people, Andrew tells Jesus that there is a boy present who has five barley loaves and two fish. It is almost laughable that this is the solution they are working with, as logic tells us the boy’s offering will never be enough for so many hungry bellies. Andrew even says, “but what good are these for so many?” (John 6:9)
But Jesus doesn’t always work in the realm of what is expected or logical. Instead, he takes the seemingly small gift of the boy and multiplies the bread and fish to be enough to satisfy everyone’s hunger. In the end, not only was there plenty of food for the five thousand; but, when the extra pieces were gathered up, they filled twelve baskets. The Lord takes our tiny, simple offerings and multiplies them beyond what we could even imagine.
During Lent, we are invited to grow in the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Young children, even if not old enough to be held to the Lenten obligation, are still able to pray, fast, and give together with the whole Church. While it is important to help kids set age-appropriate goals and sacrifices, they are certainly capable of participating in this holy season.
One small act that can be done by kids and adults alike is to choose someone to pray for every time they go to Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass always has a specific intention, prayed for by the priest on behalf of the people. You might see this intention listed in the parish bulletin or mentioned in the Prayers of the Faithful. Our prayers for that specific person, living or dead, are united together through the Mass. While we pray for that formal intention together as the Church, we can and should also pray for our own personal intentions, especially during the Offertory of the Mass.
During the Offertory, the bread and wine are presented and then offered by the priest to the Lord. In a miraculous exchange, through the ministry of the priest, our small gift of bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of our Lord, which we receive in Holy Communion. The part of the Mass in which this transformation takes place is called the Consecration. We can speak with children about this miracle by saying that although it may still look, taste, and smell like bread and wine, we fully believe that in the Eucharist, Jesus is truly, really, and substantially contained—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The truth of our faith exists beyond what can be explained by our human senses, pointing to the work of God in the Sacraments.
We can picture our prayers alongside the bread and wine being offered to God, blessed, and returned to us, answered according to his will and in his time. Resolving to add this to our Mass preparation during Lent can have a profound impact on our prayer. For children, this act can be something that helps them understand the importance of their participation in Mass, showing them that the Lord can do wonderful things with their small offerings. This can also be tied to a Lenten sacrifice.
Following Mass, you can take the time to let that person know that you are praying for them, specifically remembering them at the Mass. Making a phone call, sending a text, or even mailing a card might only take a few minutes, but it could have a deep and powerful impact on the recipient, letting them know of the Lord’s love for them and the importance of the Holy Mass.
Like the story of the young boy at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, we are reminded that no act is too small. It is often in our most humble offerings that Jesus does his greatest work!
• Before Mass, ask each member of your family whom they would like to pray for at that Mass. Help brainstorm ideas, such as for someone who has died, a person who is sick, or a friend/family member celebrating a birthday or anniversary. If needed, quietly remind the children of their prayer intention during the Offertory, and encourage them to pray especially for that person after receiving Communion. After Mass, fill out and color one of the Mass Offertory cards. Send the card in the mail for the person or their family as a way to assure them that they are being prayed for!
• Does your parish have a sign-up or volunteer system for bringing up the gifts of bread and wine during the Offertory? Add your family’s name to the list. Talk with your kids about the important meaning behind offering what we give to the Lord—like bread and wine made with human hands—and then him giving us something infinitely more precious in return: Jesus’ Body and Blood in the gift of the Eucharist.
• Read this St. John Vianney quote with your kids while they decorate the quote coloring page: “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” Ask them why they think the Eucharist is the best gift God could give us.
• What are some ways we can pray, fast, and give together as a family this Lent?
• How do you think prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us participate more fully in the Mass?
• Read the story of the Feeding of Five Thousand (John 6:1-13). Think about the boy in the story. How did Jesus transform his small gift into something much greater? Do you think Jesus can do the same with our small prayers and sacrifices?
Help your kids understand the gift of our small offerings and how Jesus transforms them into something life-changing using these children’s books:
• The Weight of a Mass by Josephine Nobisso, Gingerbread House: In this book, the author shares an allegorical, fairy-tale-style story of the infinite importance of the Mass. A poor woman comes to a bakery asking for bread but has nothing to give in return. She offers to pray for the baker at the upcoming Mass for their King and Queen’s wedding. The Baker mocks her by writing “one Mass” on a slip of paper, and, placing it on his scales, says he will give her whatever equals the weight of her prayers. He places one baked good on the scale, and the slip of paper remains heavier. Piling bread and sweet rolls and cake isn’t enough to tip the scale. Witnesses in the bakery, including the poor woman and the baker himself, are awestruck by the miracle and leave together to worship the Lord at Holy Mass, which is more valuable than anything that can be found in a store. A discussion guide and list of hidden symbols are provided for parents and teachers to help talk about the message of the story.
• The Miracle of the Bread, the Fish and the Boy by Anthony DeStefano, Harvest Kids: This book gives an imaginative look into the life of the young boy who shares his loaves and fish with St. Andrew in the Gospel of John. Jesus takes his small offering and miraculously feeds the five thousand, and the boy learns an important lesson about trusting God with all we have.
• You can read more about the connection between Christ offering himself for us on the Cross, the offering of the priest at Mass, and what we offer in return in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1345-1381.
• Contact your parish about the process to have a Mass celebrated by a priest for a specific intention. Typically, a small donation is offered, which traditionally helps support the priest and the upkeep of the church. Consider remembering the deaths of loved ones with a Mass on the date of their death, or praying for the intentions of living family and friends by celebrating a birthday, wedding, or baptismal anniversary. You can even request certain dates on which to have a Mass offered.