Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections

The ethical demands of the Eucharist

by Father Jan Larson

(From the August 20, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson An important point made in one of St. John Paul II’s encyclical letters is that the Eucharist is both a “cosmic” event, pointing to life in the next world, and a summons to social responsibility on this earth. The Book of Revelation indeed gives shape to a Christian vision that expects “new heavens” and “a new earth,” but, as the pope explains, “this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens of this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan.”

St. John Paul then briefly described some of the dimensions of human experience where change must take place: “Many problems darken the horizon of our time. We need but think of the urgent requirement to work for peace, to base relationships between peoples on solid premises of justice and solidarity, and to defend human life from conception to its natural end. And what should we say of the thousand inconsistencies of a ‘globalized’ world where the weakest, the most powerless and the poorest appear to have so little hope! It is in this world that Christian hope must shine forth! For this reason too, the Lord wished to remain with us in the Eucharist, making his presence in meal and sacrifice the promise of a humanity renewed by his love. Significantly, in their account of the Last Supper, the Synoptics recount the institution of the Eucharist, while the Gospel of John relates, as a way of bringing out its profound meaning, the account of the ‘washing of the feet,’ in which Jesus appears as the teacher of communion and of service. The Apostle Paul, for his part, says that it is ‘unworthy’ of a Christian community to partake of the Lord’s Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor.”

Pope Francis is constantly stressing our responsibility to the poor of this world. Does our participation in the liturgy prompt us to deeper concern for the poor and to a thirst for justice? The Catechism of the Catholic Church also insists on the critical relationship between the Eucharist and commitment to the poor, declaring that truly receiving Christ’s body and blood depends upon recognizing Christ “in the poorest.” St. John Chrysostom admonished his people in the fourth century: “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother or sister. You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal…God has invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.”

Contemporary theologian Nathan Mitchell captures our attention when he wonders what would happen if people matched every hour spent in Eucharistic prayer and adoration with an hour spent in a soup kitchen. He writes, “Every time Christians gather at the Lord’s table, they acknowledge their solidarity with the world’s poor, with all the outcast and marginalized – the unlovely, unloved, unwashed and unwanted of our species – and they also make the radical political statement that the world’s present socioeconomic order is doomed. It will, Christians believe, be replaced by God’s reign, where all have equal access to the feast, where the only power is power exercised on behalf of the poor and needy, where God’s agenda is the human agenda, where God has chosen relatedness to people as the only definition of the divine.”

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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