Valuable Reading on the Eucharist
Posted by: Bishop David Walker
Valuable Reading on the Eucharist
Bishop David Walker
Three books are offered for review here. They all focus, in some way, on the Eucharist and approach it from different perspectives. One is concerned with a study of the biblical sources and their implication for eucharistic practice today. Another looks at the Eucharist from the perspective of the liturgy, and offers insights as to how the liturgical celebration can be related to social justice. The third offers a new theological framework within which the Eucharist can be considered.
The first book is by the well-known biblical scholar Francis J. Moloney, SDB, ‘A Body Broken for a Broken People, Eucharist in the New Testament’: Collins Dove, Melbourne 1990. In this book he elaborates further an approach to the Eucharist that he has already proposed; that it is the presence of Jesus to the broken. The institutionalization of the great love expressed in the Eucharist can at times lose touch with that love, and can become directed to an elite group rather than the sinners on whom it was originally bestowed.
The author begins by asking the question ‘Who should be admitted to the reception of the eucharistic species at the celebration of the Eucharist?’ It is a fact that most Christian communities exclude some people from full participation in the Eucharist. It raises the question as to whom the Eucharist is directed? Is the Eucharist to be celebrated by a holy Church for a holy people? The author indicates the Church disciplinary practice and points to the historical context in which it has emerged. He considers, rightly, that it is always helpful to raise questions about the ideas and practices that have emerged from this context in the light of biblical teaching. This is what he proceeds to do, in the context of a serious consideration of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.
The author then proceeds to offer an enlightening consideration of the principal eucharistic passages in the Scriptures. He considers the narrative of the two feeding miracles in Mark and Matthew, and how Luke has remodelled them into a single account. He studies the last meal accounts in the Synoptics, and the Emmaus story in Luke. He then looks at what the Pauline and Johannine practice and understanding of the Eucharist can teach us. In his approach to these various texts, the author combines scholarly depth with great clarity. He sums up the results of his considerations in two questions: Does the evidence of the Gospels and Paul raise questions about the presence of ‘the broken’ at Jesus’ table and does the creative use of the eucharistic material by the various authors of the New Testament documents challenge the contemporary Christian church in any way?
The Eucharist as the presence of Jesus to the broken emerges from his study. In some way, this underlies the various presentations of the Eucharist in the New Testament. The Eucharist reflects the practice of Jesus in his life. Moloney applies to his study criteria that have been developed to look behind the narratives of the Gospels to the historical Jesus. He considers that the Eucharistic practice that emerged in the early Church was based on the meals during Jesus’ lifetime. The early Christians did not consider that they were a perfect Church welcoming only the perfect, but rather a broken community welcoming, as Jesus did, broken people. The author points out that his approach does not mean that anyone can approach the Table of the Lord, and that in fact the early Christians did exclude some people from full participation in the Eucharist. However, his underlying point is that a failure to recognize that the Eucharist is for the broken can lead to an unnecessary and widespread exclusion from it. It is to be hoped that the principle he establishes will be taken up, worked through theologically and find application in the practice of the church.
The second book has two authors: James L. Empereur, SJ, and Christopher G. Kiesling, OP, ‘The Liturgy That Does Justice’, Theology and Life Series 33, Liturgical Press, Minnesota, 1990.
The authors set out to offer an appreciation of the liturgical rites that brings out their connection with social justice. They define social justice as referring to ‘the structures, patterns of organization, or institutions of society, the manners in which they function, and the corresponding judgments and attitudes and attitudes in the mind of people.’ (p7) They want to promote a liturgy which fosters social justice. It is so easy for liturgy to simple embody the unjust structures, symbols and language that are characteristic of a society. While the words spoken may condemn social injustice, the practice of the liturgy can be a major factor in reinforcing the very things that are condemned. The authors explore the notion of a just liturgy and apply it to the seven sacraments.
The authors point to two conditions necessary for a liturgy that does justice: a just liturgical spirituality and just liturgical structures. A just liturgical spirituality needs to be based on an approach to the secular and the sacred that sees them as a unity. It calls for a positive appreciation of the sacredness of the secular. It is liturgy that can help us to come to this appreciation and at the same time, prevent us from attributing a false holiness to the secular. In this approach, the sacred is seen as the deeper and fuller dimension of the secular reality. Just liturgical structures means that the very practice of the liturgy must be just in the way it is celebrated. Liturgy is unjust when its structures are characterised by clericalism, elitism, sexism, and racism; when it reinforces the unjust values and structures our society; when the very structure of liturgical places emphasises division, power positions and subservience.
Empereur and Kiesling apply themselves to a consideration of all the sacraments. In this context, I would like to examine their approach to the celebration of the Eucharist. They focus particularly on the proclamation of the Word and the Eucharistic liturgy itself. The challenge for liturgical preaching is how to live with the tension of being prophetic without alienating the congregation, of exercising a prophetic role and at the same time a pastoral role. While this task is not easy, it is essential to the proclamation of the Word. The authors offer helpful insights into how it can be done.
They begin their reflection on the Eucharist liturgy in the assembly. We come together to celebrate Eucharist. The first insight as to the justice of the liturgy may come from an examination of the assembly itself; who has come together, how have they come together, how are they received. As the liturgy begins, one can look at who is involved, are the actors in the liturgy one sex, one class, one ethnic group. The authors examine each part of the liturgy, and sensitize the reader to the ways that injustice can creep into liturgical celebration. The very unity for which the Eucharist stands can be lacking, as Paul had to remind the Corinthians. Divisions which are the foundation of injustice in society can be carried over into the Eucharist.
The contribution of this book lies not in any one thing that is said, or any one insight that it gives. It is rather in forcing readers to reflect on how liturgy is celebrated in their community. If enough people are conscious of injustice that can be ritualised, then there will be greater hope of removing such ritual injustice from our liturgies.
The third book under consideration is by Brian Francis Byron, ‘Sacrifice and Symbol, A New Theology of the Eucharist for Catholic and Ecumenical Consideration’, Faith and Culture vol 19, Catholic Institute of Sydney, 1991.
Brian Byron has sustained his interests in the theology of the Eucharist over a long period of time. He has published on it before, and repeats here some of the foundational concepts he has previously proposed.
However, he approaches them now with a new method. He brings to his approach a deep concern for ecumenism that stems from his long involvement in it. He is concerned not only to be faithful to Church doctrine but to present an understanding of the Eucharist that will enable a wider ecumenical agreement. To this end he is also careful to take into account important Reform emphases relating to the Eucharist. He believes that the position he proposes does justice to both traditions. There is a distinctive Australian flavour in the book. It was written during the bicentennial year, draws on the writings of Australian theologians, and draws its literary allusions from Australian authors. The book revolves around two issues: the sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic Celebration, and the problem of the Eucharistic Realism.
Dealing with the former, he suggests that the failure to analyse correctly the description of Jesus’ death as sacrifice has been responsible for division within the Christian family. The author offers a serious reflection on the use of ‘sacrifice’ in relationship to the death of Jesus. He proposes that the word is used analogously or metaphorically of the death of Jesus, not literally. No concept can adequately capture the meaning of the Jesus-Event, and those applied to it can only be done so metaphorically. The study of metaphor is important for his theology. Christian proclamation makes abundant use of metaphor to express the meaning of the Jesus-Event. In explaining his position, the author explores the language of metaphor and symbol, and examines the traditional Christian proclamation of the Jesus-Event and its expression liturgically in the sacraments. He considers that the position he proposes is consistent with the traditional Catholic teaching and liturgical practice. He also offers a summary of current theorizing about the Eucharist and Sacrifice.
The author dwells on the development that takes place when there is a movement from verbal description to dramatic action, from proclamation to liturgical celebration. The Eucharist is the cultic expression of the metaphor of sacrifice applied the the death of Jesus. When metaphor is expressed in ritual form, the ritual metaphor must embody literally the original metaphor. To express the metaphor of ‘sacrifice’ applied to the death of Jesus, the Eucharist must literally be a sacrifice; just as the Christian minister must be literally a priest, to express the metaphor of Christ as priest. This means that, while sacrifice is used metaphorically of the death of Jesus, it is used literally of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is a sacrament of Calvary. It is . . a sacrament of the passage of Jesus form his earthly existence through death to the Father as pioneer of our salvation.’ (p49).
The second part of the book is devoted to the problem of eucharistic realism. The author examines the state of the question critically, and explores, in some detail, the approach of the Scholastics and Transubstantiation. He is critical of their approach to the issue in terms of ‘presence’. He -distinguishes ‘presence’ and ‘realism’ and sees the latter as the foundation for his approach. He then expounds his own understanding of the subject using the language of ‘real token’, ‘real symbol’ and ‘symbolic realism’. He has presented these concepts before, but he now treats them more fully. They refer to a sign which shares the nature of what is signified. His approach blends symbolism and realism. He sums up his position: ‘The consecrated elements are the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ in a symbolic-real sense. Through them we are in personal communion with our crucified and risen Lord, the Lamb slain who yet lives, and through him with all who believe in him.’ (p149) Whether or not you agree with particular position taken by the author, there is much in this book to challenge us to reflect further on this central mystery of our faith.
Book 1: ‘A Body Broken for a Broken People, Eucharist in the New Testament’
Book 2: ‘The Liturgy That Does Justice’
Book 3: ‘Sacrifice and Symbol, A New Theology of the Eucharist for Catholic and Ecumenical Consideration’
ACR: OCTOBER 1991 Vol: LXVIII No:4