Without over-stating the obvious: we live in a period of our collective human history all at once odd, strange, anxious, confusing, stressful, and strikingly electric. First, a virulent microbe continues to resist being contained. Second, compounding the presence and impact of said microbe, is the acutely tragic realization of our ignorance of the all too prevalent affliction of racial injustice in human society. This realization tempered or perhaps betrayed altogether the comforting popularity of slogans, “We got this!” and “We’re in this together!” that peppered all type of marketing and advertising venues as the pandemic advanced.
During these months we celebrated with surprisingly alacrity newfound appreciation for family and familial bonding on the micro-level. Yet, on the macro-level the appalling revelation of racial injustice exposed a startling disregard for entire populations the human family. Social distancing benefited each other we were told — “I wear my mask to protect you” — but the broadcasting of deeply rooted and unaddressed social inequalities admitted more profound fears and anxieties we have and always have had toward one another.
For people of faith the discomfort and fury of these days impacts directly on what it means to share in the Eucharist. And for people of faith, coupled with the on-going consequences of a virus, which shows no sign of retreating, and unraveling false perceptions of racial equity and equality, we are once again confronted with why Eucharist is so important to us.
For more than three months, it has not been possible for many to receive Eucharist. This certainty is not because it is denied them, but rather because of a desire to maintain the good and safety of the public welfare necessitated in a time of pandemic. Still, the cry for a return to receiving Eucharist reaches ever higher. In many dioceses the difficulty of weighing the need for Eucharist against concerns for public health and safety forces those who must deal with such decisions into unenviable positions. And we have begun to return, slowly and cautiously, to receiving that which makes us who we are as believers.
But what of the more serious and challenging consequences that meet us when we do receive Eucharist? How alarmed would we be if we lived what receiving Eucharist asks us to become?
For an answer, I turned to Richard Fragomeni’s short text, Come to the Feast, which in its subtlety expresses the whole meaning of receiving Communion as fostering just that, communion with one another. But this concept does not end with clichéd sentimentality. Fragomeni describes this communion as the revelation that “my survival depends upon your survival.” A survival, which can only be accomplished by the risen Christ who dwells within us by our reception of his very life.
Fragomeni’s premise echoes the conclusion to Louis-Marie Chauvet’s Symbol and Sacrament. Here, Chauvet states that humanity’s purpose in creation is “to make a ‘world’ out of the universe, which it receives…a livable world…where each person can find his or her proper place.” He gives correct expression to the indelicate words, “subdue” and “have dominion,” which for centuries have misguided the responsibility of the human family God creates in Genesis 1.
The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, are the means for achieving this purpose. To eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, is to connect the base means of survival, eating and drinking, with what it truly means to survive — to become what God has created me to become. An endeavor only fully accomplished when undertaken communally. To affirm and raise up the dignity, value, and worth of the poor, the oppressed, the racially or ethnically maligned, and the forgotten, is the the responsibility of everyone who shares in the celebration of Eucharist. As Chauvet points out, “to pretend to eat the body of Christ unto life, when in fact this bread, taken from the mouths of the poor [or the oppressed, the racially or ethnically maligned, the forgotten], is the bearer of death, is to condemn oneself.”
There in a nutshell is the alarming consequence of sharing in the Eucharistic banquet, in Holy Communion, in the meal that promises eternal life. To share in it means that our focus and our concern must be always that of our sisters and brothers. It reverberates in Bruce Morrill’s “dangerous memory” that is anamnesis, and in Julia Esquivel’s challenge “to be threatened with resurrection.” It is the necessity to act and to respond in the world of the here and now, because it is the Christ who dwells within us urging us to do so.
Something is lost, then, when, the Eucharist becomes a singular action of singular individuals for the benefit only of singular souls. We eat and drink to be alarmed at what must be done “to bring joy and trust into the world” (Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions II), and gain the strength and courage to do just that.
As we, again, slowly and cautiously return to the table where the Bread of Life, the great gift of Christ’s own self, is blest, broken, and shared with us in a world still broken and hurting, this truth rings out loudly the more we approach it.
If it is our belief that God brings life out of death, it could be that in this time of pandemic, and civil unrest and awakening, when all we thought was regular, commonplace, and ordinary is now turned on its head, that God is challenging us. God is challenging us to return to the Eucharist ever more conscious that partaking “of this one Bread and one Chalice, [we] may be gathered into one Body in Christ, who heals every division” (Eucharistic Prayer I for Reconciliation).
We are, perhaps, being asked by God to more profoundly and authentically understand of what it means to share in the food of our salvation. Receiving Eucharist in this way, with all its consequences, conscious of eating and drinking for the life of the world, dares us to work together for the coming of the Kingdom of the one who is life itself.