Monday, October 10, 2005

One bread, one body...or not....

The sacrament of the Eucharist, as the sacrament of the presence of Christ among and within us, has the unique power to unite us into one body, irrespective of age, colour, race or gender, emotional condition, economic status, or social background. The Eucharist breaks through all these boundaries and creates the one body of Christ, living in the world as a vibrant sign of unity and community.

Jesus prays fervently to his Father: "May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (John 17:21). The Eucharist is the sacrament of this divine unity lived out among all people.
(Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, October 10th - emphasis added)
God evidently has a massive sense of humor. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that this devotion from Br'er Nouwen came just a day or two after an AP news release I saw in the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday about communion. In part, it said this:
The head of the conservative Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei suggested Thursday that the church consider not giving out Holy Communion during huge Masses because it cannot be done ''in a dignified way.''

Monsignor Javier Echevarria Rodriguez also criticized Masses that have what he called an excessive number of priests celebrating together, saying it can confuse the faithful and diminish the link between the priest and the altar.
All right, Monsignor - are we missing the point, perhaps?

If it is true that in the Eucharist we encounter the "real presence of Christ" in the transformed bread and the wine, why should we care about how far the bread and wine (or the priest holding them) is from the altar? Or how many priests are con-celebrating? I'll admit that I may very well be talking out of my nether-regions here - but where should the focus be in this sacrament? The altar? The priest? The crucifix? Or on the one whose Presence is the reason we do all this, anyway?

In my own tradition, there is a fundamental understanding that in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we are communing not only with the folks in the sanctuary with us, but with everyone who shares the bread and wine everywhere in the world - regardless of denomination, blue or red state, straight or gay, or anything else! The Lutherans stole these words from the Catholic liturgy: Send your Spirit upon these gifts of your Church; gather into one all who share this bread and wine... The intent, as I misunderstand it, is to see the church as small-"c"-catholic (read: universal), united through the communion elements.

We won't even go into the concept of the communion rail extending beyond the front wall of the sanctuary - encompassing what (in older days) was the crypts of the departed faithful. This image allowed us to be united in the eucharist with those who have "gone on before us" - which, if you think about it, makes the idea of "huge Masses" seem pretty petty and picayune, eh?

I've never attended one of the huge Masses done under the previous pontiff - but I've seen videos of several of them on the news. Everything I've seen pointed toward dignity and reverence for the elements. Yes, there were an army of priests involved - but in the end, the only relevant distance was between the celebrant's hand and the worshiper's mouth. It wasn't like priests were flipping communion wafers into the crowd like mini-Frisbees or anything...

You may well ask, "What's the big deal? Why do you care what Opus Dei - or the Pope, or anybody else in the Catholic world - think about how they should be doing communion?"

For me, it comes down to that very simple 12-step concept: first things first. If one is focused on Christ, resurrection, and salvation, then the number of priests, or the distance of the priest from the altar, or the vestments, or whether the wafers are made of wheat or rice or graham-crackers makes absolutely no difference. And if those other things start making a difference, then it seems we've put something else in the place of Christ as the "First Thing" in the sacrament. And there's a simple definition for putting things in place of Christ.

It's called idolatry. And last time I checked, that was considered to be a major "Bozo-no-no," even for those who consider themselves the "workers of God."
They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." (John 12:21, NIV)
So would I, would I.


wilsonian said...

Interesting illustration of Foster's chapter on simplicity. Christ (Kingdom) first. Period.

Keith Brenton said...

Well, I gotta confess that Sunday morning my mind was not so much on the bread or the wine or the words spoken and prayed ... as it was on my son in whom I am well pleased.

nmm said...

[huge eyeroll]Opus Dei...[/huge eyeroll]

As my mother used to say, consider the source...

Opus Dei are more Catholic-and-everything-else than anyone else on the planet. They know everything, you know. They are God's mostest favoritest peeps on the planet. They get that special Opus Dei check-in line on Judgment Day.

*wades through huge pool of sarcasm*

Never take those people seriously. It only encourages them.

~m2~ said...

for the record, i am a roman catholic.

a convert of 10 years, even. at 32, i actually made my own decision to do so.

however, i recall a while back a pretty cool guy posted a devotional of sorts that really rocked my world: it had to do with a farmer giving a potato over the fence to a soldier, saying "the Body of Christ."

that, to me, is Holy Communion. not how far away we are from the railing. not if there are hundreds in attendance (and who wouldn't want a big ole 'fest of believers coming together in unity if not for only a few moments? my God, why argue that???)


you continue to make me think, steve. i may not post here often, but i read all the time.