Eating is necessary for survival, but when a special occasion is in question, we give more meaning than that to the action of eating together. Sharing a meal is the most usual way to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding, a funeral, a baptism. Eating an asado outdoors in Argentina is still very popular, recalling the gaucho tradition.

The Eucharist, as we all know, was prefigured by the Passover meal, a tradition of the Jewish people, celebrating a covenant between God and themselves. And Jesus continued this link referring to a new covenant, so that is clearly one dimension of this new version of the Passover meal, eaten together with his friends on the eve of his death.

What has always stunned me is the amazing way Jesus assured the continuance of his presence among us his followers, initiating in that context a simple way of being shared with each one, by being present in bread and wine. “Take it,” he said, “this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many.”

Corpus Christi

How creatively he made a concrete way to express that he would be with us always, even to the end of time. Blessed Carlo Acutis, a 21 st century teenager, computer- savvy, who died of leukaemia at the age of 15, was noted for his devotion to the Eucharist, called it “a highway to heaven” and made it central to his spiritual life!

We are blessed to have the prayers and hymns composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, most of which occur in the Corpus Christi liturgy and office, and that we Dominicans have the tradition of praying them frequently. O Sacrum Convivium. For anyone who is not familiar with this prayer, it reads as follows:

O sacred banquet in which Christ is received, his passion is remembered, our minds are filled with his grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

It is a brilliant summing up. But I recall that Thomas was so upset in the last days of his life because, after a mystical revelation, he saw that all he had written about theology, even the best of his writings which were about the Eucharist, was worthless. He compared it to mere straw. He withdrew into a deep crisis, and did not speak or write again.

And nowadays, if a genius like Thomas fell short, how can we make sense of the Eucharist within a fresh understanding of the Incarnation as proposed by Sallie McFague among many others? And adapt our relationship with Jesus accordingly?

“Thus, Christianity’s manner of making contact with the most basic physical, biological processes, is through an inclusive radical interpretation of its doctrine of the Incarnation, not now merely in one human being, Jesus of Nazareth, but in the world as God’s body. God is always incarnate, bound to the world as its lover, as close to it, as we are to our own bodies, and concerned before all else to see that the body, God’s world, flourishes.”

Saint Catherine (among many other women saints like Hildegarde of Bingen and Julian of Norwich) leaves us pondering on how close our God is to us, saying in that each one he makes a mirror of himself, that he makes his home in us, in each one uniquely. But Sallie McFague includes our seeing ourselves not isolated as humankind, but intimately immersed in all created beings and processes. There where the Creator is present, making it all happen. So our understanding of the Eucharist takes on deeper dimensions through our understanding of evolution, of the universe as a whole. Perhaps we need to add another sentence to the O Sacrum Convivium (O Sacred Banquet) to include the whole of creation, our place in it, and our place for its continuing to thrive.

I would like to finish by sharing a short verse written by Sean Goan in his book on the Gospel of John, at the end of chapter seven.

“Jesus wept”
is the shortest verse in the New Testament:
we don’t expect it in John’s exalted poetic narrative,
steeped in sublime symbolism.
But there it is:
the Word made flesh, brought on by Mary’s tears
and grief at the loss of his friend,
finally breaks down.
Thank you, because
we really need to know that you know
how it is for us,
that the pain of so many losses and deaths
can just tear us apart.
We are not always looking for exalted theology.
Sometimes it’s enough to know that you are there, really there,
with tears in your eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Ronnie Rafferty, OP