Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 25, 1999
Foley proclaims dynamic Eucharist
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
What we discover about Eucharist in the New Testament goes far beyond the Last Supper.
In fact, says liturgy expert Father Edward Foley, it doesn't even begin there.
When we celebrate Eucharist, we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord, an event that hadn't yet happened at the Last Supper, Foley says.
"We can see Eucharist going on in the New Testament, but it's not what Jesus does."
Instead, what we see in the Gospels is how early Christian communities celebrated Eucharist as "a meal that recalled the death and resurrection of the Lord and invited people into the reign of God."
"There was a diversity about what was said, who gathered, how they gathered and what they used. There was no one way to celebrate Eucharist."
Foley, a professor of liturgy and music at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, led more than 300 people through a discussion of Eucharist in the New Testament at the Oct. 15-16 Scripturefest, sponsored by the archdiocesan Adult Learning Commission.
"Eucharist" is meant to be a verb, not a noun, he told the group.
"It's not a static reality. We have to do this in such a way that we are transformed by it every Sunday."
Eucharist is about gathering to recall Christ's words, his death and resurrection, and adding stories about our own experiences, Foley said.
Most of all, he added, it's about gratitude, because "ultimately, every people, at all times and all places, no matter what their misery, no matter how much suffering or war there is, are able to give thanks at least for the fact that God sent God's only begotten, who suffered and died.
"We are the story God is telling now. You are the living story of God. You are the Eucharist, and if you're not Eucharist at home, at work, in the community, there's no chance for Eucharist on Sunday.
"It's not just about the bread being changed, it's about the community being changed. And when you've been doing this long enough, you look past the altar and you see the faces of others and say 'There she is - I never recognized her before, she's the body of Christ.'"
At least one of the crowd said the Eucharist has taken on a new meaning for her after hearing Foley's talk.
"He brought a real understanding of Eucharist as we never knew it before," said Amelia Alves, a small Christian community leader at St. Matthew's Parish in Edmonton.
"It will change the way I approach Communion every Sunday - it's not just taking the host, it's a celebration with everyone there."
Alves says Foley's message might be difficult for "more traditional people" to accept, "but I love it."
Redemptorist Father John Spicer, director of the Adult Learning Commission, said the time was right for Foley's message, particularly among those who because of parish restructuring will have to travel a great distance for the Eucharist.
"We need to stress the centrality of Eucharist for Christian life" and clarify the difference between celebrating the Eucharist and celebrating liturgies of the Word," he said.
Spicer said although some of Foley's comments could be considered controversial, few people at the Scripturefest responded negatively to what he had to say. That's a sign the community is already moving in the same direction.
Religious education consultant Karen Doyle agrees. In fact, Foley's focus on the Vatican II declaration of the presence of Christ not only in the bread, but in the Eucharistic ministers, in the Word, and in the assembly, is the same focus used in the Grade 2 religious education program in Edmonton's Catholic schools.
On the basis of the teachings of Vatican II, Foley said, we have to be careful not to "localize" Christ's presence in the bread alone, because "Christ cannot be constrained to one mode of presence."
One thing we must be particularly careful about is "taking our framework and putting it on the New Testament."
"We all have our perspectives, we all have our prejudices, and we can't get away from that.
"But we have to think a little more cross-culturally - think about (the New Testament) as a totally other, totally different world . . . and when we allow it to be different, it does have an enormous impact on the way we begin to understand the possibilities and the richness of Eucharist."