Returning to the Eucharist
Understanding the fruit and ethical responsibility of the Eucharist … “Kingdom Building”.
One of the many difficulties of the period of COVID was the closing of the churches and the non-availability of the masses. But one of the fruits was the re-starting (or increased vigour) of personal or family prayers, supported by liturgical celebrations online; and the family as the local-church was restored to some extent in many places. This fruit should be preserved and allowed to grow as we move into a greater freedom, opening of churches and increasing number of participation (officially allowed) for the mass.
Why are we attending the eucharist? Jesus says “this is my body; this is my blood”. Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus; it is the person of Jesus. St Paul also says, “You are the body of Christ”. Who is this YOU? The people of God. Thus, Eucharist is at the same time Jesus and Us. Eucharist is ‘Jesus with us’ and ‘we with Jesus’. Eucharist is the living bread. The fruit of Eucharist shouldn’t be limited (by any degree) to a personal sanctification, but it is more about “Kingdom building” …. Or the forming and the blossoming of the community of the people of God. Yes, the participation in the eucharist is much less about any commitment or participation in the rite/ritual, and much more about the growth of the body of Christ, which excludes none. Or the concrete fruit of the many masses in a parish church is the development of the parish community (a miniature version of the people of God or of the body of Christ).
A small corollary, I wish to make here is to look at the differences in the celebrations of eucharist in the Church. I am an admirer of difference and its immense potential to create the polyphonic music. But difference/variation can be used as means of domination or exclusion, which happens in some places even in the context of the Eucharist. I don’t know whether anybody can do a greater injustice to Jesus than this. A human and a Christian response to this problem can’t be a uniformization of all celebrations, but to understand the responsibility given by the Eucharist (Kingdom building which should start from our eucharistic community) to each of its participants.
Some critique the Church that it celebrates Eucharist everyday and the washing of the feet once a year. Rather than taking the critique as an offense, it is an invitation to focus more on the fruit of the eucharist, which is love expressed in service, for the growth of the kingdom. Innumerable actions of service at personal, family and community level points to this dimension. But more fruits need to be seen, when we consider “Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian Life” and when innumerable eucharists are celebrated around the world.
I was just thinking of numerous Eucharists I attended. I have a devotion to the eucharist; have demanded blessings/graces for me and others. But many a times, kingdom-building dimension of the Eucharist was forgotten. The Sunday Eucharist in many parishes is probably one of the occasions, where this aspect is most evident or least evident (in parishes of conflicts). Some eucharists, I participated, really express this dimension in different forms.
- When I was studying in Pune, there was a Hindi mass organised by the Jesuits for the tribals from Chotanagpur region. The most wonderful celebration is the mass on the Christmas eve. After the elaborate festive mass, there is a great tribal dance for hours (Brothers struggle to stop it). But this is one of the beautiful expressions of community building and the growth of the kingdom of God. Their communities are not exclusive, and all the others (even non-tribal brothers) are welcomed to dance with them. Those dances were a beautiful expression of building the local expressions of the kingdom of God.
- Occasionally I had opportunities to attend the early morning mass in some of the Christian hospitals. When you see the work of hospital staffs (which include a majority of nurses) throughout the day, that community building dimension of eucharist is very much evident.
- The “sharing a sign of Peace” in the mass (every mass) can be one of the most human, symbolic and simple expression of the growth of the Kingdom. It is sharing the peace of Christ to everyone around me, which technically doesn’t exclude anyone.
A return to the mass can be more powerful if we remove the masks that don’t allow us to see/experience/live the ‘kingdom-building” responsibility of the Eucharist. This helps to focus beyond the rituals (though beautiful liturgy is important too) to the Christ who is broken to build the Kingdom of God, which is the community of his people.
Afterthought: A philosopher I love says, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom without kingdom. Kingdom-building is much less an exercise in power. As Paul says, the kingdom of God is righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.