This is a deceptive commentary from Dr Brian Gleeson. Is that something that is almost de rigeur from a Passionist? He's submitted it as a response to some of the recent discussion on the Catholica Forum about the meaning of the Eucharist. It might be argued this commentary seeks to encapsulate all the very best of Vatican II spirit eucharistic theology and understanding in one place.
"What is this bread? The body of Christ.
A rich way of understanding the Eucharist is that it is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday wrapped up in one ritual. The shape of that ritual, though, is a meal, a joyful meal which we Christians eat in the company of our risen Lord and one another.
We trace its origin to the Last Supper. It's the main meal from which the Eucharist comes, but it's not the only one. At that meal, Jesus knew from all that was going on that in less than twenty-four hours he would be dead. He would no longer be around in the same physical form as before. So he showed his intention to continue his bodily presence to his disciples, but in a way based on eating and drinking, nourishment and refreshment. The new form of his presence would be a meal, a meal celebrated in memory of his sacrifice, i.e. of his loving self-giving to God and to human beings, even unto death. Just as human beings must eat and drink if they are to stay alive physically, so must the followers of Jesus eat and drink if they are to live in a Christian way and remain united with their Lord and one another. In becoming food and drink for their journey of life, he was adapting himself to the necessity we all have of eating and drinking in order to stay alive and healthy. Through their eating the consecrated bread and drinking the consecrated wine, Jesus would continue to be present to his disciples, and would continue to nourish, repair and refresh their relationships with him and one another.
Imagine the scene in the Upper Room! During this festive farewell meal, Jesus takes into his hands a round flat loaf of bread (something like pita bread). He thanks God for it and for the many other blessings which the bread represents. Then he breaks the bread and gives a piece to each one gathered round his table. In effect he is saying to them: "Take and eat it, this is my body, my very self laying down my life for you." So his words with the bread challenge us to think beyond the body as a collection of muscles, bones and organs inhabited by a soul. He is saying: "This is my whole bodily self in a new form, the form of bread." The bread, then, that he so closely identifies with himself and with the loving gift of himself to God and to God's people is not some thing, but Someone!
Afterwards, at the end of the meal, Jesus takes into his hands a cup filled with wine red like blood, thanks God for it and for other associated blessings, and passes the cup from one table-companion to another. They all drink from it. In effect Jesus is saying: "This means my death, it's my life-blood, the blood which binds you to me and one another in a new covenant of love. This is the blood that I am about to shed to release the whole human race from everything that is hurtful and harmful, evil and sinful."
All this is to be understood from the brief summary the scriptures give us of what Jesus did and said and meant with the bread and wine of the Last Supper!
A presence for communion...
Something wonderful has happened here, something quite out of the ordinary, something which only the power and love of God can do. Jesus has identified the bread and wine with himself. His word has given them a new identity, a new meaning and a new value. His word has transformed them into his body and blood, the body that is being put to death but is destined to rise. Ever afterwards the meal of bread and wine will bind his followers to himself in his living, suffering, dying and rising, and bind them to one another in a love modelled on his self-giving, self-sacrificing love. In short ever afterwards the Eucharist will be a source of communion, of oneness in Christ!
Doing what Jesus did...
We get together for the Eucharist, in response to the Last Supper' command of Jesus to his disciples: 'Do this in remembrance of me', as this is found in Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25, and in Luke 22:19. It is significant that Jesus so closely links remembrance with doing. In every Eucharist, the priest, representing Christ as convenor and host of the meal and its principal celebrant, does what Jesus did at the Last Supper. He takes bread and wine, as Jesus did. He does this at the Preparation of the Gifts. He blesses God, that is, he gives praise and thanks to God over the bread and wine, as Jesus did at his farewell meal. This happens in the words and action of the Eucharistic Prayer, starting with the Preface. Then he breaks the bread into pieces for distribution, as Jesus did. At Holy Communion, he gives the bread and wine, now Christ in his body and blood, to the present-day disciples of Jesus. Just as Jesus did at his Last Supper!
By continuing these actions of Jesus on behalf of all, the priest-leader brings the past into the present. It happens in the 'Liturgy of the Eucharist', which follows the first part, the 'Liturgy of the Word'. That first part is an additional way — the way of words spoken in faith, heard and heeded in faith — for us to remember both the person of Jesus Christ and his work — his work of loving, healing and liberating.
When we remember Christ at the Eucharist, we remember not only his death and resurrection for the salvation of the human race, but also all that led to his death. We remember his whole life and ministry, his relationships, his pastoral care, his meals, his teachings, his healings, his compassion and his power. We remember his loving fidelity to God and God's people, fidelity to the very end, to the very last breath of his life, and to the very last drop of his blood. We remember too that God the Father raised him from death, that he is alive now, and that he gives us his Spirit. So in a Memorial Acclamation (following the narrative of the Last Supper), we joyfully declare our faith in all this: 'When we eat this bread and drink this cup,' we say or sing, 'we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.'
Sharing in his sacrifice...
In remembering Jesus Christ with love and thanksgiving we do more than remember him. We re-present to God the Father the sacrifice of Jesus in his body and blood. This happened on Calvary, but was rehearsed and anticipated at the Last Supper. His sacrifice becomes our sacrifice, our offering. This is so true that at every Eucharist we actually share in his life, work and destiny. We share particularly in the final outcome of his life, his Passover through suffering and death to victory and glory. We are nourished and strengthened both to live like him and die like him, in loving and total dedication to God, the God of our liberation and transformation, and in loving and total dedication to the wellbeing of our fellow human beings.
The role of our prayer-leader...
In Catholic celebrations of the Eucharist the priest's role remains essential. He is the presider, the one who leads the gathering in prayer. As the representative of Christ and the representative of his people, he asks God to send the Holy Spirit not only on the bread and wine but also on his assembled followers, so that we too might become the body of Christ. While Catholics once spoke of the priest as changing the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, they now see his role in a humbler way. Acting in the person of Christ, and in the name of all present, he says to God, e.g.: 'Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ' (Eucharistic Prayer II). His role, then, is to ask God to send the Holy Spirit to do for us now what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and change the bread and wine into his body and blood. The Holy Spirit, then, is the immediate agent of the consecration of the bread and wine.
The Eucharist is an extension of the Last Supper. The Christian community at Corinth called it 'the Lord's Supper' (1 Cor 11:20). They understood that it was convoked and led by Jesus as their living Lord. It remains a memorial meal which we share with Jesus Christ and one another. It is a thanksgiving meal for his life and love poured out to save and transform us, and so it is a sacrificial meal as well. It remains our way of remembering Christ, encountering Christ, and sharing in his sacrifice, which is to say, his self-giving for the liberation and transformation of ourselves and our world. Its actions are those of a sacred meal with Christ. Its central words are those of a thanksgiving prayer (the Eucharistic Prayer). Its meaning is that of a living memorial of Christ and his sacrifice. Its climax is the reception of Christ (the whole Christ of Head and members) in Holy Communion.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2010Dr Brian Gleeson CP