2 Jun 2013
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26) In the name …
Bob Schieffer of CBS News once commented on the partisan pattern of news viewership, and his question was this: “Do people really turn on the news to find out what happened or are they turning it on to get a validation of what they already believe?” In other words, are viewers open to perspectives they may not have already considered or is their point of view closed off from an alternative point of view? One person put this rather nicely by asking, “Do you live in a House of Windows or a House of Mirrors?
We are now in the Octave of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is essential to our faith-identity, but it’s essential in different ways to different believers. Now we can return to Bob Schieffer’s question and reshape it just a bit. Do we reverence the Eucharist by only talking among ourselves about this sacramental mystery and by expecting our beliefs to be reinforced, or do we reverence the Eucharist by at least listening to alternative viewpoints and letting them challenge our beliefs and maybe expand them? Do we live in a church of windows that looks out to see what others do and think, or are we more comfortable in a church of mirrors where our own images keep bouncing back to us? Is our understanding of the Eucharist strong enough to listen to someone else’s understanding of the Eucharist?
On Memorial Day I walked from the Town Common to Brookside Cemetery with Fr. Roux from Holy Family Church and a seminarian who is with him for the summer who is majoring in Philosophy. I asked Fr. Roux, who last Sunday celebrated his 40th anniversary of Ordination, and the young seminarian who hasn’t yet celebrated his first, to help me understand how they understand their theology of the Eucharist. Now mind you this is a short walk and a complicated subject, but I think I have what they said: The Mass takes the believer back to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The disciples shared in the Eucharist at the Last Supper, before the cross, because the eucharistic mystery is an eternal one outside of time so that while the Last Supper predates the cross on earth it does not do so in heaven. For the young Philosophy major this made sense and spoke to him. The Mass, according to Roman Catholic theology, is therefore about the crucifixion. It is the sacrifice of the Mass, and that reflects what Paul says to us today: “[We] proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”
Now when the Roman Catholic nuns at the Genesis Center in Westfield look to the Eucharist they have the same words of theology, but their perspective as women religious is different. They commissioned a triptych, a painting in three parts, to be hung behind the altar in their chapel. In their painting, the sacrifice of the cross is the desecration of the earth. Jesus is not a scourged victim, but a cosmic being whose death restores not only spiritual life, but physical wholeness to creation. Now we’re starting to get closer to the Old Catholic eucharistic theology that is the basis for how we think about Holy Communion. In 1889 a formal document was written and accepted for the first of the Old Catholic Churches, and that document makes explicit that our Eucharist doesn’t point back to the cross, but to the glorified Jesus who upon the merits of the cross is now our high priest in heaven. That’s the cosmic Jesus of the nuns of Genesis Center, a Saviour who restores life and who brings healing to the scarred sacrifice that is an over-taxed and under-appreciated creation. This is also why I prefer to speak of the celebration of the Mass rather than the sacrifice of the Mass.
One interpretation of the Eucharist points to Good Friday while the other points to Ascension Thursday. This isn’t to say one is right and the other wrong. This is just to get us out of the church of mirrors that only looks at itself and then congratulates itself when everyone agrees. It’s to take us into a church of windows that looks outside of itself to see what others are thinking and doing, and lets herself be challenged. I was reading an article in the Roman Catholic publication National Catholic Reporter. It was an article written in favour of ordaining women. It quoted skeptically the words of Fr. Giertych, the personal theologian to the previous Pope. In a perfect example of a church of mirrors, he had stated that women are not now and can never be priests, in part, because priests love the church in a characteristically "male way" when they show concern "about structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the church which is leaking..." It is in opposition to this kind of chauvinistic theology that the nuns point instead to a glorified Christ. The ascended and glorified Jesus carries our humanity to God, but not as a man, not as a physical gender. I brought this up at a recent clergy conference and the church of mirrors emerged in force. But Jesus says, “God is spirit.” (Jn 4:24a) God, say the theologians, is infinite and other. Last week we spoke about God as Trinity, which makes no logical sense to our minds built into individual bodies. When we speak about the glorified Jesus of heaven, gender has as much to do with His identity as being able to fix a leaky roof has to do with me being able to be a priest.
I see in all of this people gravitating toward the Eucharist according to what is most important to them: the Philosophy major according to Philosophy; and the nuns according to their passion for caring for the exploited whether human, animal or nature. Even the Protestant Reformers approached the Eucharist according to their reverence for the Bible. It is not as important, it seems to me, to understand the “how” of the Eucharist as it is to understand the “why.” Jesus enters into a personal and a communal union with us through the Eucharist, and we come as individuals and as church to the Eucharist seeking this special and holy intimacy. That’s why we come according to our own priorities. We each see in the Eucharist something near and dear to each of us. That’s part of the mystery of the sacrament. That’s why we need to be here in this place, together, for the liturgy. This is why once a week should be the bare minimum. Not because it’s a sin to miss Mass, but because we need and want to be here, to be in communion with Christ. Eucharist comes from the Greek word to give thanks. So let us pray this morning in thanksgiving to Christ for this special gift of Himself. In His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo