Eating Together Becoming One: Taking Up Pope Francis’ Call to Theologians. By Thomas O’Loughlin. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press Academic, 2019. p. xiv, 174.
On November 15, 2015 Anke de Bernadinis, a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic husband, asked Pope Francis if her husband could receive the Eucharist when they attend the Catholic Mass together. “It’s quite painful to be divided in the faith and to be unable to take part together in the Lord’s Supper. What can we do on this point to finally attain communion?”
The Pope’s answer was: “I don’t know how to answer, but I make your question my own—I wonder: Is the sharing of the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum to journey together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand.”
O’Louglin shows much courage in taking up the issue of eucharistic sharing across Christian churches, traditions and academic and polarized spiritualities. A historian, liturgist with expertise, a professor of Nottingham University, England, and past president of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain in 2016, O. makes a good case for eucharistic sharing.
Eating meals is a human sharing. We usually do not eat alone; we share our food. We prepare it; it is an art and part of our culture. We invite people to share meals; some meals have special meaning and mark special events: weddings, births, baptisms, funerals, celebrations, anniversaries, etc. Some meals are ritual and religious. We give thanks to God and recognize his gift as we sit down to eat. The Eucharist is a banquet shared with Jesus Christ. In chapter 2 of O’s work, he, like St. Thomas Aquinas, draws central insights from the nature of the Eucharist as nourishment for the soul.
We recite the Lord’s Prayer recognizing that we are “brothers and sisters”. O. speaks of “fictive families”. We are temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and teaches us to celebrate liturgy, and prayer. O. in the last paragraph of chapter 4, summarizes his rationale for eucharistic sharing with an anthropology of meals, the example of Jesus, “a new story to fulfill a basic longing of the eucharist, that we might be one with the Lord at his table, then that story may lead us to thinking about the Spirit in our life in a new way that might repair a gap in our thinking of the eucharist—and then might show us another way to think about intercommunion…” (Eating Together, p. 57.)
He speaks of the ecumenical meal of mission. He believes the decision about eucharistic sharing should be made by the Catholic Church based on the nature of the Eucharist as “a viaticum, not a reward” and those receiving the Eucharist on a one-by-case should be allowed to follow their conscience. The Eucharist is not something to be stared at, but the living Lord with whom we are to live, die and rise forever. The Eucharist is a communion that nourishes the eternal life that builds on Baptism. This is the fundamental principle for eucharistic sharing. Looking at the Eucharist as viaticum rather than reward, provides a necessity for baptized Christians and a gift that is not to be refused or denied. Jesus gave us the example and told us to remember him when we shared his memorial.
“It is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases to administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in special cases and in particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these same sacraments from ministers of Churches in which their ministers of churches in which these sacraments are valid.” (John Paul II. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, # 46 (2003)
Finally, O’Loughlin reminds us that the Risen Lord welcomes the communicant. He is God who creates and renews and makes all things new. We are an Easter People who know that to live is to change. To live is not to defend the past, but to welcome the Lord and the Spirit who give life and the Father whose glory we praise.
Non-Catholics at the Table – Now or Never? “If your answer is no, then that solves the problem: they should be eliminated now. If you reply yes, then it is that heavenly table that we should aim to imitate at the gathering next Sunday. Moreover, such an approach would enhance our mission to show that the Good News creates a space of gracious welcome. It would remind us that in the liturgy we perform the unified world that we want to see; we do not simply reinforce the fractured world that we have inherited…”we take part in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy toward which we journey as pilgrims.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #8.) (O’s last paragraph in Eating Together p. 157.)
Ernest Falardeau, SSS
New York, NY