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Community and Eucharist
COMMUNITY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
During my recent travels through Europe, I celebrated Mass at a variety of wonderful locations: in the historic chapel of Christ Church College in Oxford where I was studying; within the ruins of a 7th century church at Glendalough, Ireland, where St Kevin established his monastery; at the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with the cardinal presiding at Sunday evening Mass for several hundred worshippers; at a beautiful, typically Bavarian church near the Marienplatz in Munich; in Florence’s San Frediano in Cestello, whose rough, unpretentious exterior belies its breathtaking interior.
It is a moving experience and a special privilege to celebrate liturgy in churches where countless Christians have prayed over hundreds of years, where the floors and walls are studded with the tombs of venerable bishops and other church and civic leaders, to pray beside beautiful frescoes and beneath towering domes, or surrounded by ancient stones and the unbelievable green of the Irish landscape. Such splendid locations certainly lift the heart and mind to God in thanks and praise.
After this, one might expect Mass in my own small parish community in Brisbane to be a bit of a letdown. But far from it! There was something very special about worshipping again with people we know and who know us, singing to music provided by the members of the young adult group who have grown up around us, being present at the baptism of the newest member of the parish, born while we were away, seeing a parishioner back worshipping with the community after serious illness. These all seemed much stronger signs of God’s loving presence than any magnificent cathedral.
It struck me just how important a sense of community is to liturgical celebrations that facilitate an experience of God’s presence. Again I was made aware of the weekly miracle of the eucharist that turns a motley bunch of individuals - young and old, rich and poor, liberal and conservative - into a united community which continues the mission of Christ in the world by, amongst other things, working with the St Vincent de Paul group, contributing towards the Ecumenical Pantry or helping with the Mass and morning tea for the elderly.
In a sermon he delivered in 415, Augustine explained how eating together at the table of the Lord, 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 consecrated on his table the mystery of our peace and unity.”
The life-giving impact of the eucharist is most evident when the members of a parish assembly really understand themselves as God’s people and share this by “being present” to those with whom they worship, by listening together to God’s word, and by joining in the eucharistic action inside the church and its mission outside.
“The Church makes eucharist; the eucharist makes the Church.”