Saturday, December 22, 2007
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.