The Cosmic Dimension of the Eucharist

The Cosmic Dimension of Eucharist

In doing presentations on Ecclesia de Eucharistia, I find that the part of the Introduction which surprises and delights many people is paragraph 8.

John Paul II begins this section by recalling the many different places where he has celebrated Eucharist during his 50 years of priesthood, from humble chapels to St Peter’s Basilica and large stadiums around the world. “This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character.” (#8)

He goes on to explain what he means by the term “cosmic”:
“Even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. The world which came forth from the hands of God the creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.” (#8)

Sometimes we can be so overwhelmed by reports of crime, tragedy and disaster in the media that we lose sight of the fact that the world is indeed a good place. God the Son dwelt in this world, redeemed it by his death on the cross and restored the whole of creation to the Father.

The understanding of the Eucharist as uniting heaven and earth is developed further in Chapter 1, which refers to the “eschatological tension” kindled by the Eucharist (# 19). (Now there’s a phrase you can drop into the conversation at your next cocktail party!)

The term “eschatology” refers to matters concerning the last things or the end of time. In the Eucharistic Prayer we honour Mary, the apostles and martyrs, and all the saints. This reminds us that in celebrating the Eucharist we are united to the heavenly liturgy. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the eternal banquet.

The wording of the invitation to communion at Mass: “ This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper,” illustrates this understanding. “Those” refers to the whole communion of saints –all those people from the past, present, and future who will gather at the heavenly banquet, to share supper with Christ at “his” table.

Too often the words are changed to “happy are we who are called to this supper” which narrows the meaning of the text and confines the celebration to this particular time and place.

Lest anyone be tempted to use this “other worldly” nature of the Eucharist as an excuse to opt out from reality, John Paul II emphasises in the next paragraph that the expectation of a “new heaven” and a “new earth” increases rather than diminishes the Christian sense of responsibility for the world today. He says that we have an obligation to build “a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan”. (#20)

He reminds us that the apostle Paul considered it “unworthy” for a Christian community to celebrate Eucharist when its members were divided among themselves or indifferent to the poor.

I wonder how many letters are shot off to Rome about Masses being celebrated “invalidly” on these grounds?

Elizabeth Harrington