Chapter 18: Eucharist and the Cosmos

Before reading this chapter, ask yourself or share with friends: How far does the influence of the Eucharist extend beyond the boundaries of the Church building and beyond the lives of those who attend?

Jesus Christ Lord of Creation

God said: “Let there be light and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)

When God speaks, things happen because God’s word is so powerful; so powerful we call it God’s Word or God’s Son. John says

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being … and the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:1–3, 14)

These truths were formulated by the early Church Fathers into the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation. Father, Son (or Word) and Holy Spirit are one God. The Son (or Word) became human, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. We call him Jesus. This Jesus suffered, died and was raised by the Father into a new life. He won the victory over sin and death and is now called the Christ, the anointed one.

Of him, Paul says

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15–16)

I find this startling statement of cosmic proportions a wonderful help to my understanding of the risen Christ. My spirituality is further stimulated by what Paul says next:

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:17–18)

Paul now links the Christ of the cosmos to the Church, and through the Church to the Eucharist. Remember I said in Chapter 1 on the history of the Eucharist, the Church, the body of Christ, is formed by the gathering of people around the table when we remember Jesus who died and rose again. The Christ who becomes present to us in that gathering is the Lord of the extraordinary universe in which we live.

This Christ is also the human embodiment of the Word (Son) who was with God from ‘the beginning’ (John 1:1). I understand ‘the beginning’ not to mean the moment when creation took place (called by scientists the ‘big bang’) but in the eternal now of the life of God, that is, totally independent of the material universe.

‘The firstborn from the dead’ is Jesus who was raised from death into a new and more glorious life as the risen Christ. God started a new era when he raised Jesus from the dead, but the benefits of the death/resurrection event extend back into human history as well as forward and are applied to all. Christ is ‘first’ in so far as he is the one who is responsible for our new life; he is the prototype. Our usual ideas of time are stretched when dealing with these eternal realities.

I feel the Eucharist is the best means we have of gaining the fruits of the new life won for us by ‘the firstborn from the dead’.

We could spend a long time reflecting on this magnificent hymn of praise, allowing the words to soak in, being open to the full implications of what they are saying – if that’s ever possible!  Many people have reflected deeply and extensively on these words and have come up with some surprising conclusions.

Eucharist and the Lord of Creation

Among those who have reflected on these words is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest and scientist (1881–1955). For him the risen Christ is the cosmic Christ, the Lord of creation. Reflecting on the words of consecration, Teilhard wrote

When the priest says the words This is my body, his words fall directly on to the bread and directly transform it into the individual reality of Christ. But the great sacramental operation does not cease at that local and momentary event. Even children are taught that, throughout the life of each man and the life of the Church and the history of the world, there is only one Mass and one Communion. Christ died once in agony. (The Divine Milieu, Wm Collins & Sons, London, 1964, pp.123–124)

He then points out that the individual acts of receiving communion by different people are the dividing up of one unique act in order that all may benefit from Christ’s saving action.

In fact, from the beginning of the Messianic preparation, up till the Parousia [the coming of Jesus in glory], passing through the historic manifestation of Jesus and the phases of growth of his Church, a single event has been developing in the world: the Incarnation, realized in each individual, through the Eucharist. (The Divine Milieu, p.124)

This is a wonderful insight into the place of Christ in our lives, namely, that the Word of God became flesh in Jesus (Incarnation) and now through the Eucharist becomes embedded in the flesh of each one of us. Teilhard then has this grand vision:

All the communions of a life-time are one communion.

All the communions of all men now living are one communion.

All the communions of all men, present, past and future, are one communion.

(The Divine Milieu, p.124)

Pope John Paul II picked up this wonderful panoramic vision of the Eucharist. He tells of the many different venues where he has celebrated Mass: basilicas, chapels on mountain paths, lakeshores and seacoasts, stadiums, city squares. Then he says,

This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic!  Because 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. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 8, italics in the original)

What a grand vision!  ‘On the altar of the world’ gives me a picture of the blue planet with a large bread and a chalice of wine poised above it, and the risen Christ offering himself as spiritual food and drink for all the people. Then I see Christ as Lord of all creation lifting his eyes to include all the stars, all the galaxies, all the black holes, all the as yet undiscovered material, all the ‘dark matter’ of the cosmos. The Eucharist has a cosmic character. Yes, cosmic!

When Teilhard was in China in 1923 on a scientific expedition he was unable to celebrate Mass, but his cosmic vision helped him to make up for the loss.

Since … I have neither bread nor wine nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself. I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it I will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world … I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits. (The Prayer of the Universe, quoted by Fr Dr George Praseed IMS, Vadyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, December 2006, p. 907)

At times when we are unable to participate in the Eucharist, we can always take time to pause and be aware that in many parts of the world, the Eucharist is being celebrated and we can be there in spirit if not in person.

Garden: a Mini-Cosmos

Banksia ErcifoliaI like to feel I have a mini-cosmos in my garden of native plants. Here, the light of the sun, the nutrients in the soil, the alternation of night and day, the round of the seasons, the rain, all combine to produce an extraordinary diversity of plant life and a beautiful display of colour at almost any time of the year. In spring it’s dazzling!  The four hundred plus plants include all the principal genera such as Eucalypts, Acacias, Banksias, Grevilleas.

Why am I talking about this in a book on Eucharistic spirituality?   Because the Eucharist is so inclusive of all our activities. More specifically, because a garden is a work of nature and ‘the work of human hands’ which I discussed in Chapter 4 on the Presentation of the Gifts. Kangaroo PawWith my hands I dig compost into the soil, insert the plants, spread mulch, grow plants from cuttings and seed, prune after flowering, pull out the weeds. The actual growing is the work of the Creator Spirit.

Through the cooperation between the creator and evolutionary chance we have a diversity of plant life that is astonishing, and perhaps Australia has the most diverse flora in all the world, much of it endemic to this land. I see my gardening as an extension of the Eucharist. I ask the Creator Spirit who transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ to help in planning the layout and in caring for the plants. The Creator Spirit can transform a dull suburban block into a work of art. ‘Nature is the living, visible garment of God’. (Goethe)

The earth, then, has a sacramental character: it symbolizes the divine that is present in it. Ambrose of Milan sees the Spirit not only as the Life-Giver but also as the one who brings beauty to creation. Beauty is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Basil of Caesarea develops something of a Christian ecological attitude to creation when he writes: “I want creation to awaken such a profound admiration in you, that in every place, whatever plants you may contemplate, you are overcome by a living remembrance of the Creator”. (Denis Edwards, Breath of Life, a Theology of the Creator Spirit, Orbis Books, Maryknoll USA, 2004, p.128)

I read somewhere this sentence which beautifully summarises this chapter:

‘The Eucharist is cosmic thanksgiving.’

See: Albert’s Story

Chapter 19: Eucharist and Mystery