Friday, June 20, 2008
In honor of the Eucharistic Congress, taking place in Canada right now:
When does any given celebration of the Eucharist begin? I trace the first two moments (while they don't happen simultaneously, they are both original) to that instant when a wheat seed in placed in the ground, and also to the moment that a vine is first cultivated for its fruit. During the liturgy, we refer to the the origin of the bread we offer: "which earth has given and human hands have made." The wine is characterized as "fruit of the vine and work of human hands." I don't think we can skip over these prayers. The Mass makes no sense if we are not conscious of the fact that even before the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed, they represent ALL that the earth has produced (all plant and animal life, including our own bodies and the life that animates them) and ALL work that we do. What we bring to the altar represents us and all that surrounds us -- all that springs from the land, as well as our being and our work, inseparably united in the bread and wine of sacrifice. Just as the sacrifices offered in Jewish worship represent the people who bring them to the altar, the bread and wine that we bring represents our lives that we offer totally to God. That is why the basket with our monetary offerings ordinarily goes up to the altars alongside the other gifts -- to bring this idea home to those of us who earned that money through our work. So what is on the paten? What is in the cruet? Us -- every hiccup, twitch, or yawn; the hours we spend in labor, the hours we spend in leisure or sleeping; our freckles, our diseased or healthy hearts, lungs, digestive tracts -- because, whether you're reading Genesis 2:7 or the fossil record, the fact is that our bodies are literally the "fruit of the earth" -- every atom of matter that constitutes us was once part of the soil and debris that was literally part of this rock we moved about on. We are dust, moist dust or mud, if you like, but that's what we are. Our life, our ability to work, comes from the breath of God.
Okay, why belabor this point? Because, when the bread and wine of offering is transformed, we are the ones being lifted up, being altered. And for what purpose? Christ, his Body and Blood, belong to eternity. First of all, when we send our selves to the altar, we are asking God to transform them into Christ, who resides in eternity. This point is essential for understanding what happens. In eternity, the salvific acts of Christ -- his passion, death, Resurrection, ascension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit -- are events that are present. Only through Christ, the Eternal One, can we enter into and participate fully in his death on the cross at Calvary some 2000 years ago, his experience in the tomb, his walking about on the earth in his resurrected and glorified body, his ascension into heaven, his gift of the Holy Spirit. As bread and wine, transformed into Christ's Body and Blood, we ourselves are nailed to the cross, sealed in the tomb in the garden, ascend into heaven (!), and give the gift of the Spirit to humanity. This is not simply "what we believe;" it's a simple fact. Through the consecration of the host, we are able to taste Parousia, because in what appears to be a mere scrap of bread, Christ is "all in all;" moreover, when I say "we," I mean (the Church means) everyone who has ever eaten or will ever eat the flesh of the Son of Man. All the saints, going back to the first one and extending until the end of time. So, I meet my daughter Stella in the Eucharist!
Again, what is the point? "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father, forever and ever..." The whole point is so that we can offer "all glory and honor" to God, "forever and ever." Offering ourselves, asking to be transformed, to enter into eternity, to participate in Christ's acts of power -- none of these things is an end in itself. We don't do these things as a form of self-improvement. Whether we are worthy or not is not the issue (in fact we know we're not worthy, and we say so quite freely!). The meaning of the word Eucharist is "gratitude, or thanksgiving" ("Eucharist". The word is derived from Greek "εὐχαριστία" (transliterated as "eucharistia"), which means thankfulness, gratitude, giving of thanks. The Didache already applies this term to the Christian rite). The ONLY end is to offer, with a spirit of gratitude, all glory and honor to God. God has asked us, invited us, commanded us, to do "this" in memory of Christ. Through Christ, who is our bridge to the divine (which we could never reach on our own), we have found the perfect and living sacrifice to offer -- ourselves transformed into the mystical Body of Christ.
And when does the celebration of any given Mass end? A more fitting question would be when does it really begin anew? When we go out into the world bearing (and being!) the living seed of the Word of God, to plant it in the hearts of all we meet, and when we live the awareness that we are new shoots, grafted onto the True Vine.
I am the vine and you are the branches...remain in my love...If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit...apart from me you can do nothing...
Dumbstruck by the Mystery
...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."