Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 5, 2004
Beware the life-changing Eucharist
Mass should be unsettling, even dangerous
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholics take the Eucharist far too casually, said a theologian speaking at the 2004 Catholic Conference.
"People in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute," said Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, quoting an American writer.
Like tourists, people "don't seem to expect that their lives are going to be changed in any way (by the Eucharist)," he said. "Do we have any idea what we are asking for, what it is what we are doing when we gather each Sunday?"
Liturgy - the summit
The Second Vatican Council taught that the liturgy is the font and summit of the Christian life, the source from which we live and the summit toward which all of our life is to be oriented.
Said Gaillardetz: "The celebration of the Eucharist is a dangerous prayer, a prayer that threatens us, that unsettles us because it would change us."
He is a theologian, author and professor of Catholic studies in the U.S.
In a March 27 lecture entitled Becoming What You Receive: The Transformative Power of Eucharistic Living, Gaillardetz explored the connections between the celebration of the Eucharist and people's daily lives.
Beginning with the Liturgy of the Word, Gaillardetz explained what is supposed to happen every time we gather at the table of the Lord.
"In every Liturgy of the Word there must be a conversation going on, a dialogue going on (between the preacher and the assembly)," he said. "But I wonder how often that happens for us. And I'm not pointing fingers. I don't know whether it is because we, the assembly, are not listening or the preaching is not doing its work. But I don't think that dialogue, that conversation happens as much as it is supposed to."
In the U.S., there is a crisis of preaching and it is neither because the preaching is insufficiently grounded in biblical studies nor because their oratorical skills need development.
"What we lack and need is preaching that speaks to my life, to my daily life, to the questions and concerns and issues that I need to be addressing if I'm to be an effective follower of Jesus," he said.
"And so if the Eucharist, the whole liturgy, the Mass, is to be a dangerous prayer, it will happen first of all when the Liturgy of the Word becomes this spiritual conversation."
When the Mass moves to the Liturgy of the Eucharist we turn explicitly to that which is supposed to be the centre of our faith: the Eucharist, Gaillardetz said. "For most Catholics, we would recognize rightly the centrality of our Church teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist: that Christ is really, truly, substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine. This is the cornerstone of our Eucharistic faith."
As Gaillardetz told his audience, "The Eucharist is a dangerous prayer because we dare to pray not only the bread and wine be transformed, but that we be transformed."
He said that when the Catholic Church teaches about Christ's presence in the Eucharist, "the focus of our teaching has not been on Christ passively present under the appearance of bread and wine but rather on Christ actively present offering himself for the life of the world."
A gift exchange
In the Eucharist we are invited into a kind of gift exchange, according to the theologian. "It is surely no coincidence that our Lord chose to give his utmost gift to the Church - his presence under the appearance of bread and wine," he said.
"And so the challenge for us as we prepare to celebrate the Eucharist is to learn how to recover a sense of gift."
Catholics should believe that "our participation in the Eucharist is just as important as the priest's," the theologian noted.
"We Catholics rightly believe in the indispensable and utterly unique role of the ministerial priesthood.
"But in the Constitution on the Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council said that the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful is required by the nature of the liturgy. And it says that we are called to make this Eucharistic celebration transformative of our lives."
Added Gaillardetz: "We are not to understand the Eucharist as sort of an oasis of grace but as something that sends us back out into the world.
"It is supposed to send us out into the world to love the neighbour, to embrace the stranger, to reach out to the marginalized, to extend Christ's mission to the world."