Taste and see: the Eucharist as a meal

| Father Michael Van Sloun | March 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Eucharist is that it is a meal. It is readily apparent by the configuration of the Church: The focal point is the table in the center of the sanctuary.

And it is not just an ordinary table. It is an altar. It is taller and larger than the dining room table. It is covered with a fine linen, the altar cloth, and it is set with the finest tableware — a paten and chalice made with precious materials.

The Eucharist is not like an ordinary meal. For breakfast or lunch, we commonly grab a few items, gobble them down, eat alone or with a few others, chat a little and move on with the day. Then there are major dinners like Thanksgiving or Christmas when family and friends gather joyfully, have extended conversations and partake in delicious foods. The Eucharist takes dining to another level — it is a banquet feast.

At a sit-down dinner, the family reminisces about the many events they have shared over the years, and at the eucharistic meal the community reminisces about Jesus and retells his story during the Liturgy of the Word. Then the family shares food and drink, and at the eucharistic meal the community shares the body and blood of Christ.

A meal is a time of togetherness. The members of the Christian community include old and young, men and women, boys and girls, upper-class and common folk — all held together in a holy Communion, united in their belief in Jesus, their Catholic faith, in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and in their common sharing of the one bread and the one cup.

The eucharistic meal is inclusive. When Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000, “all ate and were satisfied” (Lk 9:17); no one was left out. In the Parable of the Great Feast (Lk 14:15-24), the master extended his invitation to those in the streets and the alleys, along the highways and hedgerows, the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame. All are welcome.

A meal provides nourishment. At the eucharistic meal, Jesus feeds us with his flesh, which is “true food” (Jn 6:55a) and his blood which is “true drink” (Jn 6:55b). Just as physical food sustains the life of the body, the one who receives the Eucharist receives sustenance for the soul. Jesus said, “The one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:57b).

A meal is an occasion for forgiveness. If there have been disagreements or hostilities, those who share a meal lay down the hatchet, reconnect, heal and move ahead together. Jesus regularly ate with sinners, befriended them, forgave them and offered them a new beginning. At every eucharistic meal, Jesus forgives us and re-emphasizes his faithful friendship with us.

The meal is about service. At the eucharistic meal, believers are seated at the table, and Jesus is the one who waits on them (see Lk 12:37). Jesus explained, “Who is greater: the one seated at the table or the one who serves? I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:27). At Mass, the priest serves in “persona Christi capitis” — that is, in the person of Christ the head — and the priest serves the meal in the name of Jesus. The eucharistic meal is an invitation for believers to serve others.

Lastly, the meal is a foretaste. The banquet of the Eucharist on earth prefigures the eternal banquet in heaven. As Jesus promised, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:58).

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This column is part of an ongoing series on the Eucharist. Read more of his writing at CatholicHotdish.com.

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Category: Faith Fundamentals