The body and blood of Christ
By Anthony Kelly, C.Ss.R. *
When St. Peter lifted up his voice at Pentecost, he recalled the prophet's promise that, with the outpouring of the Spirit, the young shall see visions and the old will dream dreams (Ac 2: 17-18). In the eucharist, in often routine celebration, the most luminous vision of the Christian faith is expressed, along with its most all-inclusive dream.
For in the vision of faith, we see the ordinary bread and wine of our lives transformed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the body and blood of Christ. It opens our eyes and our hearts to the Lord, really present in our midst, nourishing our pilgrim existence with his own being.
Each eucharist is an awakening to faith's original vision
And there, too, occurs the dream. It is not a private fantasy but the inspiration of each sober waking moment of the church's life. It is a dream of what might be arising out of what is, here and now, truly present.
For what is given is full reality of the Risen Lord energising us with his life and breathing his Holy Spirit into our hearts. Admittedly this is hidden in the sacramental signs of the bread and wine, 'the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands'. The nurturing power of nature, (the fruits of the earth), and the creative power of human history (the work of human hands) are drawn into the transforming action of the Holy Spirit to offer us the Lord as our food and drink.
All the communions of all people, present, past and
future, are one communion ...
So it is that each eucharist is an awakening to faith's original vision, the unfolding of its most hopeful dream. The great Jesuit scientist and mystic Teilhard de Chardin had a vision of the world progressively concentrated in the reality of the eucharist, as though the world from beginning to end were one great Holy Communion:
All the communions of a life-time are one communion.
All communions of all human beings now living are one communion.
All the communions of all people, present, past and future, are one communion ...
In his inspiring vision, the whole world was becoming one great sacrament of Christ's presence: a great eucharist is being slowly formed out of 'the totality of the world, and the duration of the creation is the time needed for its consecration. In Christ 'we live and move and have our being'.'
Call it vision or dream, or a bit of both, the eucharist needs especially today to enter more fully into Christian imagination. As the poet said, 'the slow fuse of the possible is lit by the imagination.' There are immense possibilities for a faith aware of its vision and unafraid of its dreams in a world now obviously bereft of both.
How can the eucharist make us more attractive and meaningful?
The big question is not so much the liturgical one, expressed in our endless attempts to make the liturgy more attractive and meaningful. That, of course, has its own continuing, practical importance, -- even if attractive ritual does not always make for attractive people as the great Nazi rallies of Hitler's Germany showed. The real question now is - how can the eucharist make us more attractive and meaningful?
Attractive? An odd word in this context? I use it, however, not in a cosmetic but in a deeper sense: how does the eucharist make each of us more an attractive force to draw the world into deeper community?
This is the critical issue in these early years of the 21st century. The two great dreams that powered the imagination of the previous century have been banished by the cold light of reality. In Eastern Europe, the Marxist dream of a new collective humanity became the nightmare of totalitarian oppression. While in the West, the dream of the untrammelled freedom of the individual has become the weirdness of self-enclosed isolation as nomad consumers wander lost in a cosmic supermarket. The planet itself can no longer tolerate the madness. Not an attractive prospect...
But here, in its often unnoticed way, the eucharist is given to make us attractive people. It feeds us with a steady healthy diet of community-forming love: 'Do this in memory of me'. To be nourished on the food and drink of the Crucified one, may, indeed, provoke an allergic reaction. It is rich food, and difficult to digest when we have been nourished on the 'junk food' of our consumer culture and the 'fast food' of our obsessive times. Yet, this food of real love is offered, and keeps on being offered, to nourish the depths of spirit and the breadth of imagination with a vision of a world of one healed and holy humanity; with a dream of a future when love will be the atmosphere we breathe.
And meaningful. A hackneyed word? But not, I think, in this context. For the eucharist nourishes us with the very meanings we most need today, -- great hopeful meanings, meanings leaping out of wonderful, life-giving mysteries.
Here, just two: we can call the first, the ecological meaning of the eucharist. Week by week, perhaps day by day, we are eating and drinking the reality of Christ as an all-inclusive mystery of life and love. In receiving him, we are given a vision of God becoming one with us, on this earth, in this life, in this world. As the place of the incarnation of God, this planet is a revealed in its depths as a vast and wondrous sacred site. It must be reverenced, as all living things within it. A startling thought perhaps: Sunday Mass as the praise of the Creator through loving our neighbour and reverencing our planet, through the 'fruit of the earth and the work of human hands'.
The other meaning is grace: all is gift. The Christian vision shows that before our world is a bundle of often insoluble problems, it is a gift from the creator, a symbol of inexhaustible love. The first movement of life is not anxiety, but thanksgiving, for that is simply the translation of the Greek word, 'eucharistia'. Beginning with such thanking, we can go on to right thinking; and thus explore the enchanting meaningfulness of it all...
* Tony Kelly is a Redemptorist priest. His doctoral and post-doctoral studies were in Rome, Toronto and Paris. Before taking up his present position he was for many years involved in Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne where he was President of YTU for ten years. He is a former President of Australian Catholic Theological Association, and a Past Chair of the Forum of Australian Catholic Institutes of Theology. Tony was Head of Sub-Faculty of Philosophy and Theology at the Australian Catholic University from 1999 – 2004, and in February 2004, he was appointed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the International Theological Commission.