I suffered a severe case of eucharistic non-coherence this past week when I pondered the USCCB’s text “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” while also re-reading, on the same day, Mary McGann’s book The Meal That Re-connects: Eucharistic Eating and the Global Food Crisis (Liturgical Press, 2020). I have, to date, not recovered, and remain unsure that recovery is possible. Here is why.
To begin with, I found the USCCB’s text as a whole to be a measured, thoughtful, and occasionally even moving meditation on the mystery of the Eucharist – if, that is, one is able to read generously the repetition of very traditional Catholic foci such as the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and Christ’s real presence in the elements (I seem to have that ability). I even found myself able to read the second part of the document, which spells out the transformative power of the Eucharist in the everyday lives of the faithful, with generosity. Given that that second part was repetitive of earlier texts and pronouncements, it seemed, at worst, somewhat dull. But there is nothing non-coherent in it, at least not with the first part of the USCCB’s text.
My severe case of eucharistic non-coherence was caused by adding another text to the one by the U.S. bishops. I re-read Mary McGann’s lovely book on the Eucharist on the same day and side by side with “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” (If you are unfamiliar with Mary McGann’s book: it is a must-read). McGann carefully situates our contemporary “eucharistic eating” within the larger practices of globalized food production and consumption that shape all our lives. That shaping is both powerful and destructive, as McGann’s analysis and documentation clearly show. Moreover, as she points out, industrial agriculture is responsible for some 40% of Earth’s greenhouse gases – a topic at the forefront of the world’s attention with the U.N. global climate conference COP26 just a few weeks ago.
It seems as if the Catholic bishops in this country, despite insisting that they are speaking to this specific moment in time for the Church in the United States “with its many challenges” simply see nothing of this. After all, should not be a top “challenge” at his point in time be the fact that the U.S. is the biggest carbon emitter in history? And that countries in the global south are demanding reparations for the damages that continue to be inflicted on their very existence? Why is this invisible in the U.S. bishops’ text on eucharistic coherence?
My suspicion is that this has little to do with the Mystery of the Eucharist, and much to do with a mis-alignment of visions, between the heart of our eucharistic eating and the economic forces that govern all our eating. Yes, even the eucharistic hosts used in most of our liturgies are not free from this. As Mary McGann reports, 80% of altar breads used in the United States are now manufactured by one single company — whose wheat is supplied by one of the largest agribusiness corporations in the country, a corporation that has been cited for numerous environmental and labor violations. Is the Church itself, then, not living a deep eucharistic non-coherence every time we celebrate the Eucharist?
Given all this, I am unsure that my severe case of eucharistic non-coherence can be cured any time soon. But I suspect that it could have been lessened significantly if the USCCB had read and taken to heart Mary McGann’s book while drafting their text.