Before reading this chapter, ask yourself or share with friends: What have I learned from this book? What has it done for my appreciation of the Eucharist?
The Times We Live in
My opening words for this book were that we live in challenging times. We also live in a time of change, perhaps the biggest and swiftest change in the history of the whole Christian era – and it can be extremely unsettling.
At the beach I could stand on a particular spot where gentle waves were coming in and they would take the sand away from under my feet. I found that quite a pleasant experience – it was a small-scale change. However, the social changes that have been occurring since about the 1960s not only take the ground from under your feet, they turn you upside down and dump you as waves do when you are surfing in heavy breakers. When that happens you become completely disoriented and you don’t even know which way is up to enable you to swim to the surface and catch your breath.
The unchanging reality to hang onto is faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the one whose hand reached out to Peter when he found himself sinking beneath the waves. And it is in the Eucharist that we most surely find the firm hand of the risen Christ. Even though the manner of celebrating the Eucharist has changed dramatically over the centuries and may change again, the essence of the Eucharist is the same as it was in the early Church.
I’ve had many hopes in writing this book; I’ll list just a few of them. One hope is that this book has helped you to see more clearly what the Eucharist is about and that it will be for you the best and surest way to encounter the living Christ. I hope your understanding of the Eucharist has been enriched and that you have a deeper appreciation of what’s happening when we celebrate Mass. I hope also that you will be able to put into practice some of the recommendations that have been suggested.
Perhaps the most important hope, as indicated by the book’s title, is that you see the Eucharist as our basic spirituality, a practice that we cannot do without if we consider ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. Vatican II puts it this way:
Taking part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they (the faithful) offer the divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with it. (Lumen Gentium, 11, emphasis mine)
The Council further underlies the importance of the Mass by saying
The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the holy Eucharist and are directed toward it. For the most blessed Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ himself, our Passover and living bread. (Decree on Priests, 5, emphasis mine)
I hope this book has helped you to appreciate the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist. When we take part in the Mass we are participating in an event that sends ripples into the heart of every person in the church, every person in the world and right throughout the universe, just as the microwave background radiation reaches to the furthest galaxies.
I hope also that this book encourages you to take a full, conscious and active participation in the Mass. Do not allow yourself to be just a passive spectator. The Mass is an interactive event and calls on you to be as active and attentive as is humanly possible.
Another hope I have is that the stories have been helpful. These are the witness of ‘ordinary’ people and many of the stories are very ‘ordinary’ but in their ordinariness they can be an inspiration. We attend the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday and outwardly it can be a pretty ordinary event. Just occasionally or once in a lifetime something special may happen.
It is by the great love of the Father for his people that each of us is privileged to share in the wonderful benefits the Mass brings us. Saint Augustine (354–430) challenges us to respond courageously to this privilege:
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond “Amen” (“yes, it is true!”) and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, “the body of Christ” and respond “Amen”. Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your “Amen” may be true. (sermon 272)
I encourage you to be a Eucharistic contemplative and a Eucharistic evangeliser, that is, to be prayerful and to be active. This is the role of the ordinary Christian and the Eucharist gives us the spirituality we need to fulfil that role.
Perhaps the greatest logistical problem we have at the moment and into the foreseeable future is the lack of priests to celebrate the Eucharist. As we struggle with this problem, the most fundamental question is ‘What are we trying to do?’ The answer has to include the fact that we are trying to keep a vibrant community together to remember Jesus who died and rose from the dead and who calls us to follow him. The tradition of the early Church that the gathering of the people is the body of Christ must be preserved.
Parishes are being amalgamated but the danger is that small communities lose their identity. My experience is that these are particularly precious communities where participation at the Eucharist is keen and there is a wonderful community spirit – and that is what we’re trying to achieve. When such a community loses its Sunday Mass the community may disintegrate and people can become bitter. Whatever we do, we must build communities that are viable.
The Sunday gathering of the Christians of a certain place belongs to that place at that time. If this gathering disappears, the primary sign of the presence of Christ in that place disappears. (O’Loughlin, p.200)
O’Loughlin then quotes from Pope Paul VI speaking to French bishops in 1977.
You are faced also with the issue of Sunday assemblies without a priest in rural areas. There the village forms a kind of natural unity both social and religious that it would be dangerous to give up or to scatter.
Prophetic words! Dangerous indeed!
Given the present structure that we have in the Church and the fact that usually only male celibates can preside at the Eucharist, amalgamation of parishes is about the only way that bishops have at their disposal to resolve this crisis. However, the manner in which the decision is made is crucial so that the inevitable hurt that results is minimal. It is absolutely vital that the parishioners be involved in the decision making – they are the Church.
Some consideration needs to be given to the use of liturgies of the Word conducted by lay people as a means of preserving the community when a priest is not available. In that situation the risen Christ is truly present in the assembly and in the reading of Scripture. Of course, nothing takes the place of the Eucharist celebrated with full, conscious and active participation of the people, but when such a celebration is not possible we must be bold enough to discover and implement the best alternative and keeping the community together must be part of the equation.
The Coming Generation
Young people aged 13 to 24 are referred to by sociologists as generation Y or simply Gen Y. A recent survey of this generation made in Australia suggests there is a very challenging time ahead for the Church. These are some of the conclusions of this survey:
- Just over half of Generation Y said they believed in God (51%); 17% said they did not believe, and 32% were unsure.
- Almost half do not belong to or identify with any religion or denomination. 46% consider themselves Christians, 17% pursue New Age forms of spirituality, 28% are Secular, 6% belong to other Traditional world-religions.
- There is a generally low level of interest in and involvement with religion or spirituality.
- A majority of all denominations agreed that it was ‘okay to pick and choose your religious beliefs’; and a majority of Gen Y agreed … that ‘morals are relative, there are no definite rights and wrongs for everybody’.
- There is a strong drift away from Christianity among Generation Y: some previously attended more regularly, but have stopped doing so; others once believed in God but now do not; before they reach the age of 25, about 18% of those who used to belong to a Christian church are really ex-members.
- Overwhelmingly it is practising parents who are enthusiastic that influences young people towards a more committed level of Christian spirituality.
- Thirty-one percent of Gen Y definitely believe in reincarnation, the idea that people have lived previous lives, and 24% in astrology, that stars and planets affect people’s fates.
- Nineteen percent hold that there is very little truth in any religion and 23% believe that there is no life after death.
- Gen Y are a media-focussed generation: more than a third of them spend between twenty and fifty hours a week in front of a screen, while a further third spend between ten and twenty hours.
- The activities rated most important for enjoying peace and happiness were listening to music, work or study. Most related meditation very unimportant.
(Mason, Singleton, Webber, The Spirit of Generation Y, John Garratt Publishing, Mulgrave, Australia, 2007, pp.301–4)
When a significant percentage of young people do not believe in God and believe there is very little truth in any religion and no life after death and that you can decide for yourself what you believe in and what morals you want to hold, then there is little likelihood of these people being interested in the Eucharist.
Gen Y people were questioned about the things they valued most in life.
Friendships were considered the most important, followed by world peace, helping others, and having an exciting life. Only a small minority of Gen Y considered having a lot of money as highly important; nor was a spiritual life rated important by many. (Mason, Singleton, Webber, p.256)
There is good news and bad news in this finding. It is encouraging to see that friendships, world peace and helping others are considered important while having a lot of money is not. However, it’s disturbing that spiritual life is not considered important. It’s also disturbing that excitement is rated as being important. Today there are many exciting things available for people to be engaged in: films, videos, DVD’s, pubs and clubs, binge drinking and drugs, rock and roll concerts, trips overseas and so on. See Sarah’s Story and Stephen’s Story.
In contrast, the Eucharist must seem very dull, hence the frequent comment: ‘Mass is boring’. What can be done about this situation?
It would probably help if the Eucharist was more interactive. This is best achieved if the numbers are small. I think of the Eucharist we have at the end of the Life In The Eucharist (LITE) seminar where the numbers are small, usually about 20 to 35. The participants bring along everything needed for Mass: altar cloth, candles, flowers, chalices, crucifix. Someone bakes the bread, another brings a bottle of red wine. Those who bring these articles ‘set the table’ at the Preparation of Gifts. Others do the readings, everyone is free to add a spontaneous prayer of intercession.
This is along the lines of a home Mass and, I imagine, like the Breaking of Bread in the house churches of the first century. Yet this is becoming increasingly difficult as parishes are becoming amalgamated into mega-parishes and male celibates are an endangered species.
Yes, challenging times indeed! It seems inevitable that the numbers attending our Eucharists in the future will be small, perhaps very small. The quote from Karl Rahner in Chapter 9 is worth reflecting on again.
The devout Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or will cease to be anything at all.
Those who attend the Eucharist will do so because something about the Eucharist has touched them personally and convinced them of the need to sit at the Eucharistic banquet. The witness stories that I have included in this book are ample testimony to this prophetic statement of Karl Rahner.