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Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Eucharist"


I have been contemplating this term a great deal recently, both because of the paper I handed in a week ago, and because it grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

I've been wondering; what is my problem with this word?! "Eucharist" is a completely licit and necessary word of any Catholic's vocabulary. It means "thanksgiving", and indeed, do we not give thanks for the sacrifice of atonement Jesus made for us upon the cross?

Ahh....that's it. Allow me to explain.

At work, as it is my job to coordinate the first sacraments, I have a whole bunch of books labeled "Eucharist". Which is fine. I also have a whole bunch of files I inherited marked "First Eucharist."

I'm cringing just thinking about it.

You may be wondering what my problem is. So did I. Until yesterday when I realized there's a HOST of reasons this phrase grates on my nerves, so I'm going to try to coherently lay it out.

I grew up with the term "Communion". Certainly I heard the word "Eucharist" but "Communion" was the predominant term, especially in my household. And through the use of the word "Communion", or even better, "Holy Communion" I was given to understand that through this sacrament there was a special joining to Jesus Christ.

This completely meshes with the term "Eucharist", of course...it's all over the Catechism of the Catholic Church, after all. You will not find me arguing with that very important and wholly scriptual document! The CCC is my friend!

Perhaps my problem is this; the term "Eucharist" is tossed around and used to mean many things, not all of them holy. I have heard and read of "doing Eucharist" in reference to certain crazy women who have dubbed themselves "priests." I've seen the phrase "We are a Eucharistic People" especially in connection to particular "Catholic Communities" that tend to de-emphasize the holy and fully emphasize what appears to be a political convention in what is SUPPOSED to be, properly, a church.

While the former is completely un-holy, and the later is legitimate, it is still annoying...because all too often the term "Eucharist" in those places emphasizes the "table" where we share the Body and Blood of Christ, and links it to a certain lateral theology, effectively removing the emphasis which SHOULD be upon the Sacrifice of Atonement.

I have no problem with the fact that the Mass is indeed a feast; it must be, for this is the fulfillment of the final Covenant. Jesus is the Lamb of God, and just as the proleptic passage of Exodus discsses the fulfillment of eating the flesh of the lamb, so we follow suit. The Covenant involving the death and resurrection of Jesus is not really fulfilled until we CONSUME the flesh of the Lamb. Thus, the theology involving the Paschal Feast is indeed proper. The term "Eucharist" used in connection with this is fine, but it's gotten out of control.

Because of the over-usage of the term "Eucharist" and "Eucharistic", it seems tjat the people of God have really been done a HUGE disservice. I keep seen statistics that cite only a small percentage of Catholics actually believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But a whole lot of people sure do show up and labor for open Communion. And it's so ironic that in that context the term "Communion" is used, because these same people use the term "Eucharist" almost exclusively except when discussing ecumenism. And suddnenly it's not about going to dinner, but rather about being hospitable to people who don't share Catholic beliefs. But then again, I suppose I can understand the confusion...if Catholics don't believe in the True Presence in the Eucharist, why WOULD they have a problem with sharing what they only perceive to be a symbol? In effect, many Catholics have Protestant beliefs, and they have these beliefs due to very poor catechesis.

Some non-Catholic denominations use the term "Eucharist" also, and this may also lend to the poor catechesis in Catholic circles. I can say no more about this because I simply do not have any factual information on those differing beliefs; suffice to say they do not believe what we as Catholics believe.

In any case, when I hear the term "First Eucharist" I think I'm cringing because I envision a program that denies proper catechesis, placing the emphasis on the wrong things, or at the very best, providing an imbalanced catechesis that avoids exactly those things that made people walk away from Jesus in John 6, too.

Lots of people argue that some aren't ready to hear the truth; I will argue that if we who know the truth don't provide it, then we become responsible for not imparting it. It is not up to us to decide what others do or don't feel, or what others will or won't do. If I tell someone, for example, that they must eat the flesh of Jesus Christ, and that Holy Communion is the consummation of the Paschal Wedding Feast and they walk away (after providing much more explanation), well, I'm not responsible. They are walking away from Jesus, not from me.

Am I suggesting that information should be presented without due care? No! Far from it! However, I will not withhold information because I fear a Catholic might walk away because they are "grossed out" by theology. It simply means I will be careful to preface anything "scary" with proper education. And still, people might walk away. That's between them and God; they cannot come to know God if they are not provided the education that enables them to accept or reject him. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

So, after all this rambling, I will say I prefer the term "Holy Communion." Because that's what it is; pure and simple.

The emphasis on the "table" is misguided, although understandable. For the Holy Eucharist" was establised at the Last Supper, a Passover meal. But doesn't that say something? It was about consuming the flesh of the lamb...and on that night, the Lamb of God explained that the bread was His flesh, the wine was His blood. This meal component of Holy Communion is EXTREMELY important. However, the Last Supper setting was actually NOT the Mass itself, and it was not the Covenant. It was, in fact, pointing to something greater, something far more important, and it was a link!

The Last Supper was proleptic of the Sacrifice of the Cross. "Proleptic" is something that is indicative of a future reality. For example, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is proleptic of the Beautific vision.

So the Last Supper is not, in fact, the sacrifice of the Mass, but it contains a very important component, for, as I stated, the flesh of the Lamb must be consumed...and we do that. AFTER the consecration.

The Eucharist itself, Holy Communion, is the Sacrifice of Atonement. The Consecration is the death of Jesus upon the cross. It makes the sacrifice at Calvary present; when we kneel in that moment, we are kneeling at the very foot of the cross. The Mass is a SACRIFICE; it is an act of PENANCE, it is an act of REPARATION, it is an act of REDEMPTION for us all! And we CONSUMMATE this act by eating of the fruit of this cross, the flesh and blood of Christ Himself.

And that is why it is a Eucharistic meal; for if we aren't giving thanks to Christ for what He did to redeem us, we shouldn't be receiving at all. If we think that this is a hoe-down barn-raising meal to be shared with all comers and don't understand that this very FLESH of GOD came to us out of a horrible sacrifice that WE inflicted upon Him so viciously...we shouldn't be receiving.

So as I teach others, I will use the preferred term "Holy Communion" in my catechesis; and I will be using the term "Eucharist" very sparingly. Not because it's wrong, but rather, because people don't understand the theological implications of this reality. And when terms are not understood, they get redefined by whatever human disorder makes the word "feel good."

When we receive Holy Communion, we are offering ourselves to Him, we are accepting His sacrifice of atonement on our behalf, and we are agreeing to follow Him...even unto death. We are agreeing as a people to be His Bride; we are, in fact, in a very deep communion in joing our flesh to His in this very holy act. We should indeed be giving thanks! The word "Communion" is indicative of our desire to join our wills to that of the Lord, to follow Him wherever He leads, agreeing that in fact, we believe heart and soul all that the Church teaches. This is COMMUNION. And the fact that this communion is in relation to the standard of holiness, God himself, that makes it "Holy Communion."

However, if our "Eucharist" is divorced from sacrifice and repentance...then our "Eucharist" is nothing more than a word. And words are cheap.

14 comments:

Ray from MN said...

Well said, Adoro.

I guess I have never really thought much about it before, but I rarely use the word "Eucharist."

To me, the word "Communion" is a better description of what has taken place in the re-creation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with the reception of "Communion", the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ coming right before the "Eucharistic experience."

For virtually all of my life, that was not the way I participated in the Mass. I'm getting better and I think the Lord for that.

Merry Christmas, Adoro!

Hidden One said...

I tend to use "Eucharist" primarily in ecumenical settings. I get poor responses. Hmmm...

The Ironic Catholic said...

Hmmm. Now, I hear the word Communion a lot more than Eucharist (at least when I'm not in academic circles or online blogging!).

Eucharist is a beautiful word. So is Communion. I'm not giving them up. :)

Merry Christmas early--I'm leaving town if the snow lets up.

Adoro te Devote said...

Merry Christmas, Ray and all!

Hidden One ~ I'd recommend using "Holy Communion" to describe the sense of reverence. And that way you can describe union with God...and EVERYONE wants union with God.

IC ~ I'm not giving up either word, either. I'm just going to take a hint from the lateral theology and statistics that surround me and work to provide balanced catechesis in order to help these people understand the Holy in Communion. :-)

Have a great trip! Is it still snowing where you are?

The roads are icy crap here...I can skate to Mass in the morning with all the ice in our driveway and on the road!

karyn said...

Its sad, but many people here do not see the Holy Mass as a sacrifice. They see it as a 'Eucharistic celebration', which i guess its true and fine, but the most important aspect of Holy Mass is that of the 'sacrificial' bit, in reference to Our Lord at Calvary.

If they find it hard to perceive of the Holy Mass as a sacrifice, then it would be more difficult for them to acknowledge the Holy Eucharist as it is, and to treat the terms surrounding this Sacrament with respect.

I really can't wait for first Holy Communion...i really can't :)

I thought the zenith of the humility of Our Lord was in His incarnation, but when i truly realized that He condescended to take on the appearance of bread and wine so as to unite Himself so intimately with the children whom He loves so much,i was filled with such an unspeakable joy and anticipation everytime i thought of receiving Holy Communion for the first time, and everyday of my life.

I really really yearn so much to receive Him.

lovely post!

Adoro te Devote said...

karyn ~ You so totally get it! Do you realize how BLESSED you are to have such a hunger for Holy Communion? That's AWESOME!

onionboy said...

I have no problem with the term Eucharist. In fact, as a former protestant minister acquainted with the various and sometimes questionable usages of Communion and Holy Communion I have been inclined to favour Eucharist. As a layperson who is a teacher in our parish it is incumbant on me to continue to teach the fuller meanings behind terms that sometimes are misused due to lack of proper knowledge. :) A blessed Christmas to you.

O | onionboy.ca (art & faith) | luminousmiseries.ca {faith & art}

Adoro te Devote said...

onionboy ~ How was "Holy Communion" used in your case? It seems we're encountering the same problem, but reversed.

karyn said...

i realize, Adoro, i realize...all these things (faith, a hunger for Holy Communion etc) come completely by the grace of Our Lord.

I think its the result of praying that i would always receive Him worthily throughout my entire life at every Consecration during Holy Mass.

I thought that just knowing that one can receive Holy Communion everyday at daily Mass was enough reason for a sense of profound joy and gratitude.

Have a blessed Christmas...and do pray that Catholics will place more importance on Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion.

Hidden One said...

Im' in a similar boat to Onionboy on the use of the word "Eucharist", which is why I tend to use it in ecumenical settings most. The word "Communion" gets abused around here, if only because the Protestants in ym area don't get properly catechized in what they ought to be believing based on the church(es) they attend. I'd be angrier about that if that hadn't made it easier for me to convert! :p

japhy said...

"a HOST of reasons", eh? Even when you fret, you make delicious puns.

Adoro te Devote said...

Hidden One ~ Apparently I will have to be educated with regard to the non-Catholic use of the word "Eucharist". My main "audience", as it were, are cradle Catholics who literally know nothing about their faith. Your context is a bit different.

My goodness, I wish I could meet you and Onionboy in person and discuss Eucharistic theology! What you both could teach me!

Japhy ~ LOL! I didin't intend the pun when I wrote it, but as I typed I still saw it...and chose to leave it as it was. Thanks for your comment1

japhy said...

On the topic (unlike my previous comment), a month ago on my blog I dissected the title "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion" as well as its improper titles. The distinction between "Holy Communion" and "Eucharist" is an important one. The term "Eucharistic Minister" is misleading, as are the other false titles for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

There is only one minister of the Eucharist, the priest, and he is the ordinary minister. There are no other ministers of the Eucharist, extraordinary, special, whatever.

The priest is the only one who can confect the Eucharist. And, if you think about it, the "Eucharist", the thanksgiving, is being offered to God, not to us.

We can receive Holy Communion because the Eucharist has been offered to God the Father through God the Son. There are really two sacraments rolled into one: the confection of the Eucharist and the partaking of the Holy Communion.

Adoro said...

japhy ~ I get irritated with the term "Eucharistic Minister", too.

But I don't think it's a difference of 2 sacraments rolled into one, rather, improper grammatical usage and understanding. The action of offering thanksgiving (Eucharist) to God, makes it also the very thing it signifies; thus, the thanksgiving truly becomes a thing, that being the body,blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is a very important theological point, because we HAVE to understand that the Sacraments literally ARE what they signify. (This was an important definition in the last paper I wrote).

In the CCC, the term "Holy Communion" is used only once, but the term "Eucharist" is all over the place as the preferred term. Certainly, as it's used in the CCC doesn't bother me, but then again, it's used properly there! LOL! Unfortunately, people don't read the CCC, so they ascribe all sorts of weird things to "Eucharist" and that's how we get "Catholic Communitis" with "Eucharistic Ministers" and lateral theology that denies sin in favor of worshiping the divinity of the person sitting on the other side of the church looking back at them.

* sigh *

Never mind the sacrifice on the cross...let's just do Eucharist because it's all about the people....