Ranchi Jesuits

A Province of Society of Jesus in South Asia Assistancy

The Eucharist: Worship of an ...

Posted on: 4 Jun, 2019|Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014

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Context and Objective:
We are in the Jubilee Year of the Eucharist (October 23, 2004 – October 23, 2005). The idea of this celebration came from mainly two great events which mark its beginning and end: The International Eucharistic Congress which was held in Gaudalajara, Mexico, (October 10 – October 17, 2004), and the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, yet to be convened in the Vatican (October 2 – October 29, 2005) on the theme: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church”. Late Pope John Paul II was guided by yet another consideration when he declared the Jubilee Year: This year’s World Youth Day will be celebrated in Cologne, Germany (August 16 – August 21, 2005). The Supreme Pontiff wanted the young people to rally around the Eucharist as the vital source, which nourishes their faith, hope and enthusiasm (Mane Nobiscum Domine, p. 4).
By proclaiming the Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II, took an opportunity to exhort all the pastors to pay special attention particularly to the Sunday Eucharist (Dies Domini) as it stands at the centre of the Church’s life, for it unites both heaven and earth and embraces and permeates the whole of creation (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 8). An active and conscious participation and celebration is, therefore, demanded of both ministers and the Christian faithful. Such participation demands, in its turn, faith, hope and charity, which are also expressed through acts of solidarity with those people who are in real need of our help, so that we become one body and one spirit just as we share one bread and drink of one cup.
Further the Pope asked the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments together with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to prepare some guidelines concerning the discipline of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Its outcome is “Redemptionis Sacramentum”(Sacrament of Redemption) dealing with certain matters to be observed or to be avoided. The purpose is to assure a deeper appreciation of the liturgical norms already expounded earlier and practised even today: to set forth norms for bishops, priests, deacons and lay faithful.
The observance of the norms should be both internal and external: application of the heart and conformity of thoughts and words, for the liturgical words and rites are a faithful expression of the understanding of Christ himself; they teach us to imitate him in his thinking and acting. Such an observance of the liturgical norms makes our participation more active, conscious, faithful, meaningful and lively. Indeed, the liturgical reform has contributed a lot more to enrich our participation and celebration. However, there have been some lacunae in the practice, which have to be avoided or eradicated: abuses against the nature of the liturgy, sacraments, tradition and authority of the Church, which obscure the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No.10, p.439). In some dioceses/parishes, institutions and communities, it has become habitual which cannot be allowed and must cease immediately.
These aberrations and habits could be due to ignorance about liturgical prayers, orations and songs or the meaning of the liturgy as a whole; it could also be due to misunderstandings of freedom led by one’s whims and desires forgetting that liberty means, doing what the Church intends to do. These deviations could also be in the area of ecumenism, often well intended but misguided by our uncontrollable zeal and enthusiasm for the restoration of unity (not respecting the discipline of the Church).
Hence it is demanded that structures and forms of the celebration according to each of the rites of both east and west should be in perfect harmony. The Eucharist should be celebrated as the Church wishes as prescribed in the liturgical books, laws and norms so that it stands out as the sacrament of unity. All these laws and norms are concerned with the mission of the Church; hence it is her duty to be vigilant concerning the correct and worthy manner of celebrating the Eucharist. It is expected, therefore, of all pastors and faithful Christians, that they approach the Eucharist in such a manner that its importance and validity is maintained: “it stands at the centre of the Church’s life; it unites heaven and earth and embraces and permeates the whole of creation”(cf. p. 1).
The study of the Eucharistic theology may be approached in various ways and from different motives:
1. Apologetics:
The testimony of the Fathers of the Church and in particular that of the apologists guarantees the continuous celebration of the Eucharist: it has never ceased to exist in the Church, even when heresy or schism has provoked divisions on other points of faith. Conserving the Scripture of the New Testament, they have found in it the commandment of Christ, which he performed in the Last Supper before his death. Thus from the Scripture and tradition the apologists proved the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and served the cause of this sublime article of faith. The institution narratives in the Synoptics (Mt.26: 26-29; Mk.14: 22-25; Lk.22: 17-19) and Paul (1 Cor.10: 16; 1 Cor.11: 23-26), lead us to the origin of the Sacrament in the context of a Jewish festive meal. In 1 Cor.11: 18-34, one finds the testimony of the Apostolic Church down the centuries, which obeyed the command of the Lord. Paul says that following the “tradition of the Lord, we are gathered for the meal of the Lord in which one breaks the bread and one drinks the cup of the Lord, and that is, one eats the Body and drinks the Blood of the Lord”. In the light of the Pauline language, it is evident that as much as the Acts 2: 42-46 and 20: 7-11 speak of reunion for breaking the bread, intend to describe the Eucharistic celebration.
Justin (100/110-165) explains that Christians “do not take this bread and wine as common food and drink, but as the food and drink on which a prayer of thanksgiving has been said with the word of Christ, and so we know that the bread and wine are flesh and blood of the same Jesus incarnated for us”… “We know that the Eucharist used to be distributed to all those present, was carried to the absent, and was celebrated on Sundays”.
The testimonies of the 1st three centuries pass through Ignatius of Antioch (+110), Irenaeus of Lyons (140-202), Cyprian of Carthage (+258), Clement and Origene of Alexandria. In other words, the faith in the Eucharist – Body and Blood of Christ, which one communicates really in a sacrificial celebration, and which is the continuation of the Last Supper of the Lord, and is in direct relation with his death on the Cross – is integral in the life and thought of the Church.
2. Speculative:
We elucidate the mystery with a long tradition of Catholic thought. In fact, the constant faith of the Church in the Eucharist has no need of a particular demonstration, because the testimonies guarantee that its celebration has never ceased in the Church. The singular importance which the Eucharist always had in the life of the Church is also verified in the truly massive catechesis, in the explanations of theological profoundness, in the historical research, and in the uninterrupted teaching of the Church of all times.
However, one should admit that in the search for true theological interpretation and comprehension of the Eucharist, there have been difficulties, which inevitably came to clash in the course of the centuries. But in spite of errors and obscurities and non-exact interpretations, heresies and schisms, the celebration of the Sacrament never ceased to exist in different Christian Confessions. Rather it became one of the moments of great reflection on its importance and validity. In the search for the true meaning of the Eucharist, some later theologians came out with new and at times erroneous interpretations. The uncertainty and lack of clarity and completeness was present already in the ancient times in the first centuries of Christianity. However, the major clash dawned in the medieval period, the beginning of the 11th century; but it exploded above all from the 16th C. with the Reformers in the persons of Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli.
3. Devotional:
From the early times of Christianity, there have been mystics and saints whose devotion to the Eucharist (Body and Blood of Jesus Christ) resulted into massive catechesis and Eucharistic literature or Devotional writings. It further led to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction and Christ the King procession.
We should keep in mind here that in the past, there developed a rather strange practice of “devotional” Masses: Pope Leo I (+461) offered several Masses a day. Leo III even 7 to 8 Masses a day. This seems to have been a widespread practice, for in 1023 it is decreed that priests should not say more than 3 Masses a day, and in 1073 Pope Alexander II orders that priests should normally offer only one Mass a day. This has remained the rule in the Church.
4. Our Approach:
It is neither sectarian nor exclusive of any of the approaches mentioned above. What we aim at is to point out the true setting of the Eucharist in the economy of supernatural life (salvific plan of God and its operation and effect today in the world) so that it really stands out as the Sacrament of Redemption embracing and permeating the whole universe. Let us approach the study and understanding of the Eucharist from its different and yet all-inclusive dimensions. We can term it as theological significance of the Sacrament of Eucharist
1. The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist:
“Presence” is a personal, even more an interpersonal category. We do not say that animals, still less that plants are “present” (the ox was in the stable at Bethlehem, but we do not say that the ox was present at the birth of Jesus Christ). Mary and Joseph were present. We do not even say that one was present when an impersonal event happened: e.g. we do not say “I was present when the earthquake or Tsunami occurred”, rather we do say, “I was there”, or we do not say, “I was present when the cow died”, but I was there. Therefore “presence” is reserved in human speech for interpersonal relationships; it is only between persons: humans to humans and humans to God and God to human beings.
Such an understanding of the concept leads us to define presence as an active, dynamic relation. Those who are present to each other are so by what they do: it is “exchange”; it is “communion”; it is “giving” and “receiving”; it is mutual “sharing”; it is reciprocal.
We profess in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- three persons in one God. The Father reveals Himself to us in the Son made man through the Spirit. He is a personal God, and so are the Son and the Spirit. The three are present to one another by what they do: Father generates the Son, and the Father and the Son spirate the Holy Spirit. There is a perfect union of love. Therefore the Son’s presence to us is always an interpersonal relation. After his death and resurrection, the Lord wants to continue to be present to us; hence he institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist in which he gives his own Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine. It is not an empty sign, figure or symbol as Reformers would term it, but his real and yet sacramental presence. Thus after the words of consecration uttered over the bread and wine by a validly ordained minister, the elements are transformed into the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Some heretics and also the Reformers (16th C.) denied the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli excluded the real presence in the sense of “conversion of the whole substance of the Body of Christ”. In order to counteract them many Councils were held in the past, the most important and decisive one being the council of Trent (1545). The Council pronounced against them and reaffirmed the following points among others in the XIII Session:
i) Substantial presence of the Body and Blood, with Soul and Divinity of Christ, and not only a presence in sign, figure or virtue.
ii) This presence takes place through the total conversion of the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, remaining only the appearance of the bread and wine. This total transformation is that of transubstantiation.
iii) The presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist is not restricted only to the moment of celebration; the Body of the Lord is present also in the consecrated and preserved hostia in the tabernacle.
iv) Christ present in the sacrament of the Eucharist must be adored with true cult of God also exteriorly, and doing this is by no means idolatry.
2. Eucharist as Sacrifice:
One of the most important and at the same time most controversial dimensions of the Eucharist is that of sacrifice. That the Eucharist from earliest times has been understood as sacrifice is abundantly clear from the earliest liturgies, some of which have changed little to this day. It is also clear from the writings of the Fathers. Only a couple of texts by way of example:
Didache (author unknown; oldest document from tradition: A.D.90/100 – The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles); it has much to say about the celebration of the Eucharist: “Coming together on the Lord’s day, break bread and give thanks, after you have confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be clean. Anyone who quarrels with his neighbour must not join until he be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be unclean”.
Irenaeus (+202; combines Greek and Latin traditions): “He who taught his disciples to offer to God from the first fruits, not because He (God) needs them but in order that they may not be unfruitful or ungrateful, he took the first fruits of the creature of bread and gave thanks, saying: this is my Body (Mt.26:26). And likewise the cup which, according to us, is the first fruits of that creature (wine), he made into his Blood, and taught us the new offering of the new covenant. Thus the Church, receiving from the apostles, offers all over the world to God who gives us all we need, the first fruits of his deeds in the New Testament, of which Malachias made prophesy”(quotes Mal.1: 10).
This sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist remained undisturbed till the Reformation (16th C.). The Reformers denied that the Mass was a sacrifice. They argued that Christ’s Sacrifice of Calvary was “once and for all”; it was superabundant, and there is no need for any further sacrifice after that: the whole sacrificial structure of religion has ceased with Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross. This new doctrine of the Reformers must be seen against the background of the times in which they taught it: there were plenty of abuses in the celebration of the Eucharist: the endless multiplication of Masses; the quasi magical effect attributed to them; the question of “money for Masses”; the neglect of Holy Communion; the devotion to the Blessed sacrament taken out of the context of the Mass and often even placed higher than the Mass… perhaps even certain wrong theologies of the Eucharist where the Mass was seen as an “independent” sacrifice, overlooking its link with the original sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) in its 12th Session (Sept.1562) with the Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass thus formulated the Catholic faith:
i) The sacrifice of the Cross occurred with the death of Christ “once and for all”.
ii) But in order that the priesthood of Christ be manifested with this sacrifice which never comes to cease, in the Last supper the Lord leaves to the Church, his bride, a visible sacrifice, which could be re-presentative and memoria of the bloody sacrifice he offered on the Cross.
iii) This sacrifice left to the Church applies the propitiatory virtue of the sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross, and remits the sins which is daily committed.
iv) All this took place when Christ declaring himself a priest according to Melchisedek, in the Last Supper offered his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine.
v) In doing so, Christ instituted himself as “New Pasqua”, which should have been immolated by the Church under visible signs through the ministry of priests in memory of his passage from the world to the Father, thus with his blood transforming us from darkness to his Kingdom.
vi) The sacrifice accomplished in the Mass has the propitiatory efficacy, which depends on the unicity of the victim and the offerer, which is Christ himself who once offered through the ministry of priests.
vii) In this unicity of the victim and the offerer, despite diversity in the mode of offering, in the Mass they gather fruits of the Cross, and that does not diminish in any way, the value of the sacrifice of the Cross, instead its value is applied to the sacrifice of the altar.
Thus the magisterial intervention of Trent in the matter of Eucharist has practically fixed the formulation of faith in a certain manner which is definitive, particularly with regard to the two fundamental points of the Eucharist: Real Presence and Sacrifice.
Regarding the sacrifice itself it is defined that the Eucharist is the visible, representative and memorial sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross, and as such it constitutes the Pasqua of the New Testament; through this the propitiatory virtue of the Cross is applied, being in the Eucharist and in the Cross identical.
3. The Eucharist as Pasch:
Jesus instituted the Eucharist during a Passover meal. He did so intentionally and we find its main reason in Jn.13: 1: “It was before the festival of the Passover and Jesus knew that the “hour” had come for him TO PASS from this world to the Father…”: the O.T. idea of “passing” is preserved. Cfr. Also the three Synoptics (Mt.26: 24): “The Son of man goes away, according to the Scriptures..” and Lk.22:15: “I shall no more eat the Passover or drink the cup until it be fulfilled…”
The manner of Jesus’ passing is very different from the passing of Yahweh in the first Passover night. Yahweh displayed the might of his arm. He liberated his people but he himself did not suffer. Jesus’ passing is through suffering and death (my Body given up.. my Blood poured out). Jesus takes the place of the Passover lamb.
Other reasons why Jesus chose the Passover to institute the Eucharist: It was “the hour” (Jn.13: 1) of salvation for the “new people”: the new exodus began: from sin and death to life and holiness. Consequently it was also the making of the ecclesia: of the new people of God.
It is then from within the Passover celebration of the Old Testament that we are to look at the Christian Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the greatest feast of the Old Testament with all its rich meaning and symbolism is preserved and transformed (fulfilled) in the newness of who Jesus was and what he did.
Let us make some pastoral considerations on the Eucharist as it is celebrated now, as Passover celebration.
i) The Eucharist is PASSAGE (passing): it makes the Church’s passage from this world to the Father. The Church is on her journey as were the chosen people. If the Jewish Passover was celebrated from a situation of the journey accomplished it also looked to the future (messianic expectation). Every Eucharistic celebration is as it were a “milestone” on the Church’s journey to the Father: Jesus, the new Moses, goes ahead and lands us to the “promised land”. The difference is that Jesus is more than Moses and with him we are already somehow in the Promised Land. But then there is the whole sacramental economy: presence in signs only, not in “sight”.
ii) The Eucharist shows the “provisional” nature of our situation: we have no abiding city here on earth: the sacrament will pass, the reality will remain. That also accounts for the repeated celebration of the Eucharist: it is never “final” or “full”.
iii) The Eucharist is anamnesis (commemoration, memorial) of Jesus: of his passion, death and resurrection (his Pasch). While the O.T. zikkaron focused on the exodus events, the N.T. anamnesis focuses on the Jesus’ events: his death and resurrection. Every Eucharist therefore is going back to the historical past, the “kairos” (great moment) of our salvation.
iv) The Christian Eucharist as Passover is also strongly eschatological: it is the anticipation of what is to come: cfr. 1 Cor.11: 26: “You proclaim the death of the Lord UNTIL HE COMES”.
v) The Eucharist is a meal (banquet) where the Paschal Lamb (Jesus) is eaten, the Lamb that “saves” us: forgiveness of sins, liberation from the enemy (death, Satan).
4. The Eucharist as Covenant/Testament:
A. Introduction:
Although covenant is a minor theme in the N.T., it is prominent in the four accounts of institution: Mt. And Mk.: “This is my blood of the covenant”; Lk. and Paul : “this cup is the new covenant in my blood”. In both traditions, covenant is not connected with the bread-body but with the wine-blood. The only covenant theology in the N.T, writings, is found in Heb.7: 22ff, but even there no reference is made to the Eucharist. Since, however, covenant is one of the key words in the accounts of institution, we consider its implications and possible pastoral applications.
But here we should keep in mind that the covenant idea did not exist in pre-OT religions. The Old Testament borrowed it from the “secular” world: business and diplomacy: Gen.14: 13ff. – Abraham with the Canaanites; Gen.31: 44ff. – Jacob and Laban to get Lea for his wife etc…. It has to be also noted here that certain virtues - faithfulness (hesed), truthfulness (emet), just/righteousness (sedeq) and Love in general (ahab) are constitutive of the convenant.
B. The Eucharist as Covenant:
Explicit covenant spirituality (use of the word) is rare in the writings of the Fathers, Scholastics and later. This is only a continuation of the NT scriptures where it is also rare. But the “substance” or “reality” of the covenant is ever there. One may venture to think that the term “covenant” or “testament” is rarely used because of its juridical or legalistic overtones. Protestants and recently also Catholics (esp. Charismatic renewal movement) are reviving the use of the word, “covenant”. Of all NT actions, it is the Eucharist that is most directly connected with the new covenant.
a) Every Eucharist is a “memorial” (anamnesis) of the covenant: if the Last Supper was a covenant and Jesus said, “do this in memory of me”, then it follows that the Eucharist is that “memorial”. As memorial, it is renewal of the covenant. Just as in the OT there was no special covenant feast but all feasts were covenant renewals, so is the Eucharist in the NT.
b) The Eucharist is the centre of all Christian life: sacramental and charismatic. It is in and through the Eucharist that we continually receive the covenant gifts from the Father (and the Son): Jesus’ Body and Blood (Jesus himself); the Holy Spirit and all the gifts of whatever kind Jesus and the Spirit bring to the faithful personally, to the Christian communities. As in the Sinai covenant, it was the “making” of God’s people, so it is with the Eucharist: the continuous “making” (growth) of God’s people. This is the lasting ‘hesed’ (faithfulness) of the Father through the Son in the Spirit (Trinitarian).
c) On the part of the Church, the Eucharist is the covenant renewal: rededication, expressed in so many ways: the penitential liturgy at the beginning of the Eucharist; the listening and consenting to God’s word (scripture reading); the praise of God; the thanksgiving for the gifts received.
d) The Eucharist is covenant sacrifice: the re-presentation; making present, the continuation in a sacramental manner of the historic covenant sacrifice of Jesus. To the sacrifice of Jesus, we add our own: it is the sacrifice of the “whole Christ”, head and members. This was not or hardly possible at the last supper and the disciples either did not understand or even if they did, it was very little.
e) The Eucharist is covenant meal: the anamnesis of the last supper which was the first Eucharistic covenant meal: God the Father invites us to his table and offers us his Son as our food and drink. He also gives us his Spirit.
f) Hence the Eucharist is continued or preserved sacramentally in the Blessed Sacrament, which is kept in the tabernacle: the Eucharistic bread is the document, the guarantee, the abiding reality of the new covenant just as in the OT the covenant document (Ten commandments) preserved in the “ark” was the guarantee of Yahweh’s lasting hesed (faithfulness).
g) Finally the Eucharist may be seen as the “marriage covenant” of love between Jesus and the Church, his bride: in the Eucharist, the two become one flesh (Gen.2: 24): the Eucharist is a nuptial banquet.
5. The Eucharist as Meal/Banquet/Communion:
There are a good many allusions or references to meals mentioned in the Gospels. All these have some bearing on the Eucharist, some more than others. But we rarely, if ever, meet Jesus at meal with his disciples. Certainly, Jesus, being man, ate and drank every day. This must have happened every day for three years, and these meals must have been moments of intimacy. Many of Jesus teachings for the restricted circle of his disciples must have happened during or after meals, as we see finally at the last supper. But the Gospels are very selective: in a few pages they offer the “gist” of Jesus’ ministry, and accidentals are left out.
The characteristic of the meal is precisely in the fact that this is done “together”, through “sharing”. The meal expresses and at the same time builds the community. The meal can be an expression of hospitality which consists in receiving a stranger as a member of your family. Cfr. In the OT Abraham and the three guests. In the Eastern Churches this is the image of the Eucharist. The meal can seal a covenant or agreement. The meal can be an expression of reconciliation. In the Eucharist the healing aspect is very important. Finally the meal may be a celebration or a festive meal: a banquet. This happens on solemn occasions; it is an occasion of rejoicing. Passover meal was such a festive meal and so is the Eucharist.
Pastoral Considerations:
The Eucharist should be celebrated as a meal (banquet), which means that, if possible, all should share in it; all should receive Holy Communion. For many centuries this was not the case in the Church. St. Pius X restored frequent communion in 1905. The sharing in the Eucharistic banquet, however, supposes that the faithful are properly disposed (state of grace, well prepared, due eucharistic fast..). The Eucharist (from the beginning: cfr. Last supper: the washing of the feet) begins with a penitential act: confession, contrition, absolution, which can be explained and expounded to the faithful. The practice of sacramental penance before the Eucharist is to be strongly commended, even if this means for the priest sitting at the confessional for hours at a stretch. In the sacrament of penance, penitents take a personal initiative; they meet the priest personally; they hear the priest pray over them and giving them absolution personally. Hence the practice and encouragement of frequent confession is directly connected with a fruitful sharing in the Eucharistic banquet. This is spiritual common sense, and the people who have much common sense understand this, sometimes better than we do.
The Eucharist: a Community Banquet:
On the part of the priests, concelebration is strongly recommended. Having given several reasons for concelebration, “Eucharisticum Mysterium” (S. Congregation of Rites, 1966) has this to say: “Therefore unless it conflicts with the needs of the faithful, which must always be attended to with the deepest pastoral concern, and although every priest retains the right to celebrate alone, it is desirable that priests should celebrate in this eminent manner.
-Private Mass has its own place for a variety of reasons. However, when offering the Eucharist alone, the priest should enter into communion with the community in intention and intercessions, even though there is no physical presence. Similarly thought it is ideal that all the faithful be gathered for the one Eucharist, the practice of the Church to have several Masses on Sundays in several places is fully in keeping with the principle that the Eucharist is for the whole community.
Speaking during the Eucharistic Meal: during a meal there is “conversation”: this is true also of the Eucharistic meal. The main speaker is Christ: the readings from the Scriptures. There is the response of the community in prayer, thanksgiving, praise and song. The priest is the mediator: it is he who brings God’s word and offers the prayers of the faithful: the priest presides over, as is the case at a banquet.
Today there is a trend to make the Eucharistic dialogue more informal, more spontaneous, both on the part of the priests and of the faithful. Extreme cases are those where every form of fixed (liturgical) words and gestures are avoided. This is a reaction against a too formal celebration. There are occasions where we may be more informal: small groups and special occasions such as retreats and camps. But it would be wrong to throw out all formal liturgy, for it is the liturgy, as official worship, that links the particular community with all the other faithful celebrating the Eucharist. On the other hand a certain amount of spontaneity is healthy everywhere, also in the liturgy: it is creative, inventive, personal and gets through the crupt of formality, which often is an obstacle to authentic worship. The pastor has to strike a happy balance between formal and informal celebration.
-Communion under both Species: this appears to belong to the “integrity” of the meal. It was the common practice in the early centuries and still is in the Greek and Syriac traditions. For many centuries communion was under one species for the faithful in the Latin tradition. It should be noticed that food being more important than drink, even in early times communion was sometimes given under the species of bread alone, usually however outside the Eucharist. The Reformers stressed very much on communion under both species. In our modern liturgy the “full sacrament” is reviving, especially for smaller groups or on special occasions.
Eucharistic Meal in Ecumenical Context: Vat.II teaches (Decree on Ecumenism No.2) that, “in his Church he instituted the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist by which the unity of the Church is both signified and brought about. The Eucharist is therefore “means” to unity and at the same time expression of unity. As a means, it should be used by all Christians, but as an expression of unity, the Church says that until that unity is there, it cannot be expressed altogether.
In No.8 of the same Decree, the Fathers of Vat.II teach, “As for common worship, however, it may not be regarded as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of unity among Christians. Such worship depends chiefly on two principles: it should signify the unity of the Church; it should provide a sharing in the means of grace. The fact that it should signify unity generally rules out common worship.
There is no difficulty for Eucharistic sharing with the Orthodox Churches since we have everything in common except full communion with Rome. The difficulty arises with the Churches of the Reformation because of their various theologies of the Eucharistic presence. Apart from that there is even a greater difficulty: the validity of their ministerial priesthood/orders: this also applies to the Lutherans and Anglicans, in different ways, who have, according to Catholic doctrine, no validly ordained ministers.
Following the doctrine there is the discipline of the Church. The present discipline is that we have (full) Eucharistic sharing with the Orthodox Churches and also with the Jacobite Churches in India except those Mar Thomites who call themselves Orthodox, but who have veered towards Protestantism. But the same is not always the case from the discipline of the Orthodox Churches: they do not allow non-Orthodox to communion.
In some special cases we also may allow Protestants and Anglicans or Church of North or South India, to share our Eucharist provided they are properly disposed and have faith, even though not full faith, in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus. Such occasions as marriage, when one of them belongs to a Protestant Church, and also when a member of the other denomination stays in our houses for a number of days and he expresses his desire, and is disposed, he could be allowed to receive Holy Communion.
Communion in the Hand: is also an expression of the Eucharistic meal; it is done in many countries and also increasingly in India. The discipline varies from diocese to diocese. The faithful must be prepared for it: it can be very meaningful.
6. The Institution of the Eucharist and Eschatology:
The New Testament is full of eschatology. The coming of Christ as Messiah is the fulfillment of the OT eschatological expectation: it is the beginning of the Kingdom. At the same time the “Parousia” of the Lord is to be in the future. But that future is never an absolute one: it is a process; it is being fulfilled: with Jesus the Kingdom is at hand, and we also pray, “thy Kingdom come”.
The institution of the Eucharist as sacrament of Jesus’ death and resurrection represents the climax of NT eschatology. It is in the messianic (prophetic) foreknowledge of his death and resurrection that Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Jesus’ death and resurrection are his “Parousia”, his full coming, climax of his Incarnation. It is in his death and resurrection that he is made Lord in the sense that his lordship is made manifest. As Lord he will come in the end: Parousia.
The coming of Jesus is both “fulfillment” and also “beginning”: Jesus made promises (new covenant) which are to be fulfilled in the Church progressively, culminating in the “final” fulfillment on the last day: the Parousia of the Lord in glory.
Jesus instituted the Eucharist when his “hour” had come to pass from this world to the Father: the Eucharist is to be the lasting memorial of Jesus’ passage. It is Jesus’ reaching his eschaton; it is also his Parousia: his individually. The final eschaton and Parousia is to be of the whole Christ: head and members: Apoc.21: the marriage of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Jesus’ eschatological consciousness is aptly expressed in the three Gospel accounts of the institution: Lk.22: 16: “I tell you I will no more eat the Pasch until it be accomplished in the Kingdom of God. I shall no more drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God has come”. These sayings place the institution of the Eucharist in a strongly eschatological perspective.
We find a similar awareness in Paul: 1 Cor.11: 26: “For each time that you eat this bread and drink this cup, you will proclaim the death of the Lord UNTIL HE COMES. It is also to this that Jesus referred several times during his ministry: Mt.6: 11: “they will come from east and west and take their seats”; Lk.14: 15: parable of the banquet: “blessed are those who shall eat and drink in the Kingdom of God”; Apoc. 3: 20: “I stand at the door and knock… I will have a meal with him”. Apoc.19: 9: “Blessed are those that are invited to the nuptial banquet of the Lamb”.
Our Eucharist as Eschatological Meal:
The Eucharist is both “viaticum”, i.e. food for the journey, and “banquet”, celebrated when the journey is accomplished. It is “manna”, food during the desert journey, and it is “feast”, celebration in the Promised Land. This is the paradox of Christian Eucharist: eschatological banquet while somehow still “on the way”. Here we are confronted with two spiritualities: some place the accent on the first, while others on the second.
The Eucharist now is anamnesis of the past, as was the Jewish Passover, from a situation of accomplishment: we ARE redeemed; we ARE the ecclesia; we ARE body of Christ; we ARE children of the Father. All this is celebrated in the Eucharist. Yet the Church is still on the way; the divine promise is not yet “exhausted”; the eschaton is to come, yet it is already “present”.
The paradoxical nature of our Eucharist as eschatology was poignantly expressed in the early Christian cry “Maranatha” uttered before receiving the Holy Communion in their Eucharistic celebration. The word may mean either: “The Lord has come”, i.e. now; or “Come, O Lord”: an eschatological cry.
Pastoral Applications:
The Eucharistic liturgy, which is “sacrament”, i.e. through signs, shows its provisional nature, and as such, it is repeated. The Eucharist makes us long for “heaven”; it prepares us for heaven.
As committed pastors we develop the pilgrim spirituality. Christian pilgrimage expresses our ecclesial existence: a people on the way; at the centre of it is the Eucharist. Pilgrimages to Marian shrines and even those of other saints express the same reality: we long to be where they are. They all culminate in the Eucharistic celebration.
Another expression of eschatology is keeping vigil, esp. during the night: an ancient Christian tradition still kept and even being revived. Our two greatest feasts, Christmas and Easter are celebrated during the night. The Gospel is full of “be on the watch… I come when least expected”.
Our Christian prayer is “keeping vigil”, is “waiting upon the Lord”, is calling for his coming. The New Testament ends (Apoc.22: 17): “The Spirit and the bride cry out: Come… the Lord says: “I am coming” Amen. Come Lord Jesus, “Maranatha”.