12 THE EUCHARIST AND RENEWAL
THE EUCHARIST AND RENEWAL
THE EUCHARIST AND RENEWAL
The Church’s liturgy is an immensely rich source of ritual, symbol and theological insight. It is the most profound expression of the Covenant, that liberating relationship we have with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Second Vatican Council is unambiguous in its affirmation of the reality of the liturgy:
The liturgy, through which the work of our redemption is accomplished, most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek (cf. Heb 13:14). While the liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit (cf. Eph 2:21-22), to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13), at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations (cf. Is 11:12) under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together (cf. Jn 11:52), until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd (cf. Jn 10:16). (Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), n.2)
When we enter the liturgical assembly and give ourselves attentively in faith to the process and content of the liturgical action, we are transformed. When we faithfully celebrate any of the sacraments we are changed. The person beforehand is not exactly the same as the person afterwards. The changes, like most changes at depth in a mature person, might only be noticeable five or ten years later. However, we should go to the liturgical assembly expecting to be changed by the action in which we participate.
EUCHARIST: FOUNT AND APEX OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
The power of the liturgy is nowhere more manifest than in the eucharistic assembly. The eucharist is the heart of the christian life and the fullest expression of our liturgy. Again the Second Vatican Council:
Taking part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, (the baptised) offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with It. … Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ, they then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the People of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament. (Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), n.11).
We are perhaps at ease with the proposition that the Eucharist is the "apex" of the Christian life. After all, as St Paul says, when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus until he comes (cf 1Cor 11:17-34). In other words, eucharist re-presents and celebrates the paschal mystery, the very saving death and resurrection of Jesus.
But what about the eucharist as the "fount" of the christian life? The tradition, expressed by Vatican II, points to a truly remarkable belief in Eucharist as holding the power to heal and forgive, to build up and enliven the community and all in it. In the light of the authentic eucharistic tradition, we ought to approach the table of the Lord precisely because we are sinners seeking forgiveness rather than because we have been forgiven or deem ourselves as not needing forgiveness and reconciliation.
EUCHARIST AS RECONCILIATION
Among other things, the eucharist is a celebration of reconciliation. We may easily overlook this at a time when there is so much discussion about the form by which we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. The Catechism of the Council of Trent quotes St John Damascene (657-749): "(The sacrament of the eucharist) unites us to Christ and renders us partakers of his flesh and divinity, reconciles and unites us to each other in the same Christ, and consolidates us, as it were into one body" (Part II, Chapter IV, Q. iv).
All of this points to something beyond the personality of the celebrant or the quality of the music or the way we happen to be feeling at the time. This is how the eucharist is - it "unites us with Christ" and "reconciles and unites us to each other". This is what is on offer to all those who participate faithfully in the eucharistic assembly. There is nothing automatic or magical about it. However, if we seek it in faith and expect it in hope, it will be. The language, symbols and rituals all point to a profound and potentially transforming reality here.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent also reminds us that if we are "spiritually dead" - that is, gravely at odds with God, flagrantly in violation of God’s law - communion in the eucharist is a judgement on us (cf 1Cor 11:29) (Ibid. Q.xlviii). The Cataechism also reminds us "that by the eucharist are remitted and pardoned lighter sins commonly called venial" and cites St Ambrose (339-397): "That daily bread is taken as a remedy for daily infirmity" (Ibid. Q. l).
How do we begin our celebration of the Eucharist? "To prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries …." We call this the penitential rite and we believe that those who engage in this liturgical action with the correct dispositions are forgiven those sins that are less than "mortal".
The Church does not set down idle words or actions for the liturgy. Everything that is to be said and done is to be said and done for a very specific purpose. So when the minister of the gospel says, at the end of the proclamation of the gospel, "May the words of this gospel wipe away our sins" we ought to take it very seriously indeed. Similarly, when the one presiding at the assembly washes his hands and prays to the Lord: "Wash away my iniquities and cleanse me of all my sins". And when we all pray before the uplifted body of Christ: "Lord I am not worthy to receive you, say but the word and my soul shall be healed". These are not idle words or gestures.
It is a matter of conjecture just how many of us ever commit "mortal" sins, sins that render us "spiritually dead". Such death-dealing actions must certainly be more rare than was thought to be so a generation or two ago when, for example, a priest, it was taught, could commit several dozen such "mortal sins" from the time he vested for mass, actually celebrated the mass and then removed his vestments.
A further practical and very pastoral question arises in this same context. How is this Penitential Rite essentially different from the celebration of the so-called Third Rite of Reconciliation which is not permitted at the moment, except in grave circumstances? Perhaps we would do well to look more closely at the eucharist and the celebration of God’s healing and liberating mercy available to us there. We should take every opportunity to receive and celebrate the liberating mercy of God.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
What has been your experience of liturgy? Reflect on why this has been so.
What has been your experience of the changes to the Liturgy over the past thirty years?
Use your own words to summarise the first quotation from Vatican II (above) on the Liturgy.
What does it mean to you to say the Eucharist is the "apex" of the Christian life?
What does it mean to you to say the Eucharist is the "fount" of the Christian life?
What does it mean to speak of Eucharist as a celebration of reconciliation?
What ritual or symbol in the celebration of Eucharist means most to you? Why?
In what sense is it true to say we are all sinners in need of the Eucharist?
Read 1Cor 11:17-34. What strikes you about St Paul’s teachings there?
How do you think you can contribute to the Eucharistic Assembly in your community?