By Fr. Joe DeFrancisco
The purpose of this Lenten series is to surface some pastoral/apostolic challenges that underlie each of the seven sacraments of our church, with a focused attention on issues of global justice. Through the one baptism, which unites us to God and each other, we become a “priestly people” with a priestly mission, that of building up the Kingdom of God on earth in peace, justice and love.
The sacrament of confirmation then “anoints” us through the power of the Holy Spirit to share the seven “ordinary” graces of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps the numerous “extraordinary” or charismatic graces. These are the spiritual forces which strengthen our spiritual convictions and give theological depth to our knowledge and understanding of God’s word and how we are to bring that truth into the world.
The final “rite” within the early sacrament of initiation was Eucharist. Having celebrated the three-fold water immersion and the full anointing in the Holy Spirit, Christian converts were then invited to full communion, Eucharist. Their initiation process was not yet over. They entered the final phase of the “catechumenate” journey, the “mystagogia.”
In that phase, the new-born Christians gain a deeper, more mature knowledge and understanding of the fullness of Christ’s teaching, the “mysteries” of our faith. As their knowledge grows and matures they are challenged to live out these truths in the real world. Their new mission is not an expansion of new laws but of living out the Sermon on the Mount … to be peacemakers, enflamed workers of justice, followers united to the plight of the poor while seeking personal and communal holiness.
The heart and source of empowerment for this mission is Eucharist. Eucharist is what most defines Catholics and Orthodox. We believe in Eucharist not in symbolic terms as simply a “memorial” meal, but as a supernatural grace inviting us to share in and assume into our bodies the real body and blood of Christ. This is the essential cause of our “becoming” his real presence in the world. There is a significant difference between waking up each week to “attend” church and coming together to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus through word and sacrament.
The liturgical celebration of Eucharist and all sacraments makes us church. We are the living body of Christ on earth and this living body will continue to transform the world through the living redemption of Jesus Christ. St. Paul had hoped and surely taught the fundamentals of Eucharistic theology to his new converts.
Sadly, he recognized that the church of Corinth did not realize the implications of the church’s theology: “What I am writing you is not praise but a warning…. You gather for the “Lord’s Supper” to grow your divisions and factions…. some eat in excess and get drunk, while others leave hungry. In this spirit you are showing contempt for the Church and sinning against the Body and Blood of Christ…. and the fruit of these selfish meals is the numbers of sick, infirmed and dying among you” (I Cor. 11: 17-30).
St. John defines the apostolic “Breaking of Bread” as an “agape-meal.” Eucharist was meant to become a “love-feast,” whereby Christians would grow and perfect their love for God and each other through a shared meal. Having been inspired within the eucharistic liturgy by the proclamation of the word, sharing of community, receiving the true body and blood of Christ, Christians were then sent on a mission to extend their “agapaic” love to the sick, poor, marginalized, rejected and “lost sheep.” This is exactly the mandate Jesus gave to Peter prior to his ascension back to the Father: “Peter, do you really love me? … Then, feed my sheep.”(John 21:15).
The celebration of Eucharist is “inclusive.” All are welcome. The sharing of the one body of Christ begins a continuous spiritual process of embracing the great variety of gifts and graces within the church while maintaining an intrinsic unity of life and faith. In prayerfully celebrating and rejoicing in our shared love, faith, communion and mutual caring, we come to realize the dark and adverse effects of those excluded, marginalized, rendered invisible, abused and victimized.
The traditional Latin “sending” as the last words of Eucharist, “Ita Missa Est,” takes on a greater urgency today. “Our Eucharist is ended…. Therefore, go!” Go out into the world and create ways of celebrating the graces of Eucharist to heal the grave abuses of power, injustice, violence, hunger, sickness and war in the world.
“Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for justice…. Who show mercy.… Who are one with the lowly….Who are peacemakers, the Kingdom of God is yours.” (Matt. 5: 3-12.)
(Fr. Joseph DeFrancisco, S.T.D., is a professor of theology and pastoral studies at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)