Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What's the point of the Eucharist?

The Eucharist is the central Sacrament of the Church; so also it is the central unit of this course. Although there is something strange and unpredictable about the Eucharist, (What? A religion in which people eat their God in the shape of bread and wine? Weird!) there is also something perfectly natural about it once we recognize the pattern of God’s relationship with his creation.

God is absolute Freedom and Mystery. “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8). As William of Ockham suggested, God could have saved us by becoming a donkey if he wanted. God can do whatever, however he pleases. However, this does not mean that he necessarily works in random and unintelligible ways.

That is because we not only believe that God is Freedom, but that God is Love—and if God is Love, then he seeks to relate and communicate with his beloved: Creation, and especially, the Church. All theology would be impossible if God did not love, because if he did not love, not only would there be no revelation, but there very possibly would never have been a creation! Or, if there was a creation, there would be no guarantee that we would be created in God’s image (with an intellect and with freedom), and thus we would not be able to think about these questions in the first place!

The reason for this reflection is to remember that God often works in ways that allow us to understand him as much as our human minds can. Thus God works in patterns, and if we pay attention, we can recognize them. The Eucharist fits perfectly within the pattern that God was showing us for thousands of years up until, and including, Jesus’ life, the Last Supper, and the Paschal Mystery. (What might this pattern be?)

But the Eucharist itself contains the entire pattern of God as Love, plus our own love back to him (represented by Jesus’ love of the Father). The whole God and the mystery of our salvation are present together in a single consecrated food-thing, nested within a ritual that celebrates God’s works. Through the Eucharist, our whole lives can be a total “living-in” the mystery of God. Even though God remains mysterious and infinite and “beyond” us, he still freely lets himself to be closer to us than we are to ourselves. What better way to represent this closeness, than through the act of eating? God is able to empty himself (kenosis!) into humble, material things; even into a single human being; even into food—all for the purpose of filling us with his own eternal life.

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