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The Eucharist as a Sacrament of Unity
WE ARE ONE BODY
In addition to being a celebration of memorial and covenant, the Eucharist is a sacrament of unity. The words of the Eucharistic Prayer make this clear:
“May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit”. (Eucharistic Prayer II)
“Gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise”. (Eucharistic Prayer IV).
We pray for the unity of the Church that it may be what it is meant to be – an effective sign of the unity of humanity with God and with one another. The unity of the Church is, at one and the same time, something which is present and yet something which is still to be completed. Our prayers unite us with all who exercise ministry in the Church and with those who have gone before us – the communion of the saints.
The word communion comes from the Greek koinonia meaning fellowship or sharing. When we receive communion at Mass, we are brought into closer relationship with one another as well as with Christ. Before the Rite of Communion we say together the Lord’s Prayer which stresses our unity as sons and daughters of the one Heavenly Father. The sign of peace ritually expresses this unity – a unity that should be evident in a sense of community at worship which overflows into the parish and local neighbourhood.
In a sermon given around the year 415, Augustine was preaching on a well-known verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “We who are many are one body for all partake of the one bread”. He explains how sharing the one loaf and drinking the one cup makes us one: “Remember that the bread is not made from one grain but from many. Many grapes hang on the cluster, but the juice of the grape is gathered together in unity. So also the Lord Christ signified us, wished us to belong to him, consecrated on his table the mystery of our peace and unity”.
Our behaviour both inside and outside the church should reflect the fact that we are one because we share the Eucharistic meal together. That means acting as one body at worship – sitting close to one another, saying the responses together, all joining in the singing, standing, kneeling and processing at the same time, listening together attentively to the Word of God, etc. It is a tragedy and a travesty when disagreements about the Mass split the parish community.
In the sermon referred to above, Augustine urges the faithful to live as if they are indeed the body of Christ:
“If you are the body of Christ, then it is your mystery which is laid on the Table of the Lord and which you receive. When you hear the words ‘The body of Christ’, you answer ‘Amen!’ Be a member of the body of Christ so that your Amen may be true!”
The Eucharist builds up the unity if the church, it forms us into the one body of Christ. This means that the local Christian community is the presence of Christ in a particular place and time. Receiving the Body of Christ at Mass calls us to live what we receive and believe, to show more clearly in what we do and say the presence of Christ in our world.