‘LIFE’ AND THE LAST SUPPER
Both Peter Steinfels and Cardinal Blase Cupich have made valuable contributions to what I hope will become a Church-wide conversation on the Eucharist, a conversation that will not be just another USCCB statement (“Separate Challenges,” September, and “A Strategy for Launching a Eucharistic Revival,” November). One dimension of the Eucharist and our celebration of it in Mass is often overlooked, and it can be seen in the cardinal’s statement: “The full and conscious participation that means internally joining ourselves to the death and resurrection of the Lord celebrated in the Eucharist seems to have eluded many Catholics.” What is left out is Jesus’ life up to his Last Supper. It was his life that the disciples shared and that led Jesus to be arrested, tried, and condemned to death. Our active, conscious, full, and fruitful participation must include our response to Jesus’ whole life, not just the last three days. By focusing primarily on Jesus’ death and resurrection, we ignore most of the content of the Gospels. Such a separation of the Eucharist from the rest of the Gospels is most obvious in Eucharistic adoration, but I think it is also a characteristic of Mass.
We can catch another sense of this imbalance in concentrating on Jesus’ passion and death. Each Mass puts us not at Calvary but at the Last Supper. We are a group of his disciples who, like the twelve at supper, know each other and have shared lives. The action that Cardinal Cupich refers to—one that “summons our participation”—must evoke all those lives as they are lived. We must recognize that our ordinary, day-to-day deeds are where our active participation begins and where we hope to see the fruitfulness of the Eucharist manifested—personally and communally. Every day is not Good Friday, and if we prioritize that aspect of the liturgy, it is no wonder that the faithful find the Eucharist remote.
John D. Groppe
St. Joseph’s College
Thanks to Peter Steinfels and Fr. Robert P. Imbelli (“Separate Challenges,” September, and “A Deeper Disaffiliation,” November) for kicking off the conversation about “Eucharistic integrity.” Steinfels, who has long worried about erosion of understanding of God’s “real presence” at Communion, suggests a “pastoral” approach that pays attention to our Catholic people. Fr. Imbelli does not object but suggests we need to remember that we Catholics have a “high” doctrine about these matters.
It is possible that this high doctrine might, perhaps unintentionally, be connected to the problem that even the Holy Father acknowledges as “clericalism.” Indeed, the first coherent and implemented response of the universal Church to the sexual abuse of children by priests was to declare a “year of the Eucharist” (2004–2005), and then a “year of the priest” (2009–2010), in case we might have forgotten our high doctrine. As for a pastoral approach, it seems Fr. Imbelli would begin a pastoral-strategy meeting by urging ministers to remind their people that deliberate absence from the Eucharist and “disaffiliation” is, in fact, “apostasy,” meaning “defection from Jesus Christ himself.” Other ministers might wonder about that, as some of the people they know are absent for reasons of conscience. Yet some actually seem to live out Fr. Imbelli’s “all in” understanding of discipleship required by the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They share with Fr. Imbelli and Pope Francis the very Catholic idea that “everything is connected,” and so they work hard at the practice of nonviolence, welcoming strangers, practicing voluntary poverty, caring for the poor and vulnerable, and praying daily, almost up to Fr. Imbelli’s discipleship standards. A more pastoral approach, as suggested by Steinfels, would not require dissent on doctrine, or even immediate consideration of the politics of the Eucharist, but it would suggest attending to such people. For example, an Irish gentleman hiking with my wife and me in Assisi some years ago told us of his beloved and recently departed wife. With a smile he concluded, “She was a better Christian, though not so good a Catholic, as myself.” Asking the help of God and one another to get those two things closer together might be the start of a good strategy for achieving Eucharistic coherence.
ROBERT P. IMBELLI REPLIES
David O’Brien’s letter would be better addressed in face-to-face exchange than in a brief written reply, but let me offer some notes toward future conversation.
First, his reference to “high” doctrine puzzles me. I did not use the phrase in my article. Are the quotation marks scare quotes? Surely belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is an exceedingly high doctrine that differentiates Catholic belief from less demanding views—as is belief in the very Incarnation of the Son of God that is its presupposition.
Second, one can acknowledge with shame the violation of innocents perpetrated by clergy (and others), while also lamenting the profanation of the Eucharist by priests guilty of abuse, who have both sinned and committed sacrilege.
Third, contrary to Professor O’Brien’s suggestion, I would open his hypothetical “pastoral-strategy meeting” with prayer for wisdom and discernment, as the participants strive to accompany one another and those whom they serve toward growth in love and knowledge of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul insists, it is the living Jesus Christ who impels us, members of his body, to both worship and witness, to adoration and service.
Lastly, to O’Brien’s hope that being a good Catholic and being a good Christian be wed, I can only respond: “Amen!” This would be to wed Vatican II’s Dei verbum and its Gaudium et spes, uniting in creative synthesis the dogmatic and the pastoral—as the Council assuredly intended, but we have too often failed to do.