30th Sunday Ordinary Time – October 23, 2011 – The Liturgy of the Eucharist
Note: This sermon was delivered by Betsy Rowe-Manning, Parish Life Director, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. Betsy’s sermon is the fourth in a series of talks designed to prepare the parish for the new Roman Missal which will be used beginning November 26-27, 2011.
On Friday morning The Today Show carried a story about Bon Jovi which totally captured my attention. Not because it involved a rock star. I can’t even name another! No, the story was all about THE SOUL KITCHEN, a “pay-what-you-can” restaurant he and his wife Dorothea just opened in a former auto body shop near the Red Bank train station in central New Jersey. The restaurant provides gourmet-quality meals, served in the style of a fine restaurant, to the hungry while enabling them to volunteer on community projects in return without the stigma of visiting a soup kitchen. Paying customers are encouraged to leave whatever they want in the envelopes on each table, where the menus never list a price. The Soul Kitchen seeks, as we do here, to become a “WELCOME EVERYONE” place to be.
We’ve dedicated the past weeks to deepen our understanding of the Celebration of Word and Eucharist and to a renewed appreciation of just what we do here when the community gathers. After the prayer over the gifts, we begin the Eucharistic prayer.
Liturgist and theologians today see the whole Eucharistic Prayer as consecratory. The whole prayer is one Berakah, one prayer of blessing over the bread and wine, and it is by this prayer of praise and thanks that the bread and wine (and we) are consecrated and changed into the body and blood of Christ. The prayer recalls what God has done, focusing especially on the redemptive work of Jesus, including the account of the Last Supper. The Last Supper narrative points in two directions at once: back through salvation history to the Exodus event and forward to Calvary. More than a mere “remembering” it involves the actual presence of God’s saving deeds. What we do here, then is sacrifice (make holy) and meal (to create and celebrate community)
The best way to understand Eucharist (and all the sacraments) is to turn to the history. Historically, it is clear that the church has reflected on the Eucharist under various aspects as driven by specific questions concerning Eucharist throughout the centuries. This historical truism provides the key for us to view the Eucharist one time as Real Presence, another as the sacrifice of the Mass, and still another, as the Eucharistic meal. One particular focus did not negate previous views. It’s a matter of emphasis not cancellation.
Politics, convenience and practical necessity also influenced the ritual. Candles were added.. The ordained adopted the dress worn by civil officials. At a time when the focus was the Real Presence, the laity ceased to receive communion. Churches were deep dark cavernous buildings without PA systems. At key points of the prayer ringing bells got the people’s attention. Don’t you wonder what significance future generations will give to the hand sanitizer used each week prior to Communion?
Through the centuries what began as a meal around one table was altered, renewed, expanded, and morphed into grand pageantry. It was inclusive then exclusive, free flowing then rigid. Intimate then remote, participatory then a time to observe.
During the last 50 years the emphasis and our behavioral patterns have been on Eucharist as meal. The pattern is clearly the urgent need for community – the focus is on the assembly of believers, the gathered community, just what does it mean to be church. Our altar is the community table, each of us has a role, the ordained preside and lead us in the prayer that is ours. We use more substantial bread and pass the cup. And we do this, not only because there is fellowship in such signs, but also because there is symbol. Jesus was broken and passed around; so too, must we be if community is to be created.
What will change for us in the Eucharistic Prayer?
1. We’ll learn new Eucharistic Acclamations.
2. In the prayer before communion where we now pray: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed ….” Beginning in Advent we will pray the word of the centurion who asked Jesus to cure his son: “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
During his interview with Matt Lauer Bon Jovi said, – “So much separates people: social status, education, poverty and wealth … yet we ALL need to eat. THE SOUL KITCHEN is a place based on and built on community – by and for the community.”
Sound familiar? “… And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.