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THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION

Read­ing Time: 12 minutes

Ref. Texts: Gen 14:18–20; 1Cor 11:23–26; John 6:51–52

The cup of bless­ing that we bless, is it not a shar­ing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a shar­ing in the body of Christ? For there is one bread, and we who are many are one body, for we all par­take of the one bread” (1Cor 10:16–17).

Preamble

God loves the entire Cre­ated Order that He takes care of the mater­i­al and spir­itu­al life of His entire cre­ation, espe­cially of human beings. Jesus recalled the atten­tion of the dis­ciples, when they wanted to bypass this divine dic­tate (Luke 9:11–17. Cf. also Mark 6:30–44). The dog­mat­ic theo­logy schol­ars can­not for­get the long heated debates con­cern­ing the nature of the con­sec­rated bread and wine – Con­sub­stan­ti­ation (also called impana­tion) and Tran­sub­stan­ti­ation. In as much as we appre­ci­ate the effort to provide a dog­mat­ic found­a­tion to and for the Sac­ra­ment of the Euchar­ist, we must ensure that such debates do not empty the Euchar­ist of its essen­tial and scrip­tur­al (salvif­ic and com­mun­al) effects. The Euchar­ist is “the source and sum­mit of the Chris­ti­an life.”[1] It is scrip­tur­ally and theo­lo­gic­ally founded.

This Sunday litur­gic­al cel­eb­ra­tion is a con­tinu­ation and mater­i­al­iz­a­tion of Jesus’ pray­er for unity. In oth­er words, it is a fur­ther inter­pret­a­tion and applic­a­tion of the fif­teenth chapter of the Gos­pel accord­ing to John. Remain­ing in the “true vine” (John 15:1–8) and remain­ing “in my love” by keep­ing “my com­mand­ment” (John 15:9–17), are signs of com­mu­nion both with Jesus and with God. The same teach­ing is also por­trayed in John 17:6–26, where Jesus earn­estly implored the Fath­er to make the dis­ciples (and all believ­ers) one just as he (Jesus) is one with Him (God). This wish or pray­er has often been termed “eccle­si­ast­ic­al” or “ecu­men­ic­al” prayer.

How­ever, the primary aim of the pray­er is for the dis­ciples to be one in order to smoothen the pro­clam­a­tion of the Gos­pel. It clearly brings out the true sense of today’s feast: The Euchar­ist; the Sac­ra­ment of the Euchar­ist; the most holy body and blood of Christ (Cor­pus et San­guis Christi); the Lord’s Sup­per; the Break­ing of Bread; the Euchar­ist­ic Assembly (syn­ax­is); the Memori­al of the Lord’s Pas­sion and Resur­rec­tion; the Holy Sac­ri­fice; the Holy and Divine Liturgy; Holy Mass (Missa); Holy Com­mu­nion. These are vari­ous ways of nam­ing the feast we are cel­eb­rat­ing this Sunday.

The Eucharist and the Sacrifice of Communion

The Sac­ra­ment of the Euchar­ist could be likened to the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment sac­ri­fice of com­mu­nion or fel­low­ship (cf. Lev 7). For the Jews, and accord­ing to Exodus 24:3–8, this com­mu­nion is a sac­red ban­quet. The most vital parts of the anim­al are offered to God; a spe­cial part is attrib­uted to the priests; while the con­greg­a­tion con­sumes the rest of the anim­al. Dur­ing the Ancient Peri­od, this type of sac­ri­fice was more fre­quent and formed the cent­ral rite dur­ing feasts, express­ing in this way, a com­mu­nion and com­munity of life, the rela­tion­ship of alli­ance and of friend­ship between the con­greg­a­tions and their God[2] or gods as the case may be. The ref­er­ence to the wil­der­ness exper­i­ence of the Israel­ites as regards the manna (cf. Deut 8:2–16), is a fore­taste of the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment on the Euchar­ist. If, as Jesus reminded the Jews, des­pite eat­ing the manna, their ancest­ors died (cf. John 6:58), it means some­thing great­er and bet­ter than that should be sought. And Jesus affirms he is that altern­at­ive (cf. John 6:51–58). Who­ever eats the bread from heav­en will nev­er die. Nat­ur­ally, this say­ing threw the Jews off-bal­ance that they began arguing among them­selves (cf. John 6:52). Jesus’ words need not be argued, but believed. Because we par­take of the one bread, we must be united.

The Eucharist as Communion

At this point, I wish to con­tin­ue this reflec­tion with this Igbo song that nor­mally accom­pan­ies the recep­tion of the Holy Com­mu­nion in Cath­ol­ic Churches, espe­cially among the Igbos of Nigeria.

N’o – ri – ri dịa – sọ:-. E – lig­we:-, n’ụ – wa – na e –

me – kọ – rị – ta. Chk­wu na mma – dụ a bụ – rụ o tu

ndị nọ n’elu i – gwe na ndị nọ n’ụ – wa eme –

kọ rịa bie ọ – ma bụ rụ o – tu n’i – me

mụọ ọrụ e – bu be Ọ rụ ị – tụ – n’anya ya n’ihe o –

mi mi Chi ne – ke b’A – ma mi he n’onwe Ya:-

Ị hụ – n’anya Ya ebu – ka kwa ụ mụ mmadụ

Kelee nụ Chuk­wu doo Nna:- e – ke le

dị – rị Gị Chu kwu:-

As could be observed, this is a theo­lo­gic­ally, spir­itu­ally and socially filled song. I am sure, when Ambrose Madụ penned down these words, he had not in mind the melody or the music of the song, but its theo­lo­gic­al-social-spir­itu­al con­tents. It is cer­tainly one of the many songs that X‑ray today’s cel­eb­ra­tion. The first part of this song (which is the main con­tent), that runs from the first line till bụrụ otu n’ime mụọ (one in the spir­it, cf. John 17) is an allu­sion to a ver­tic­al-hori­zont­al rela­tion­ship. It explains and under­lines the one­ness, the inter­con­nec­ted­ness, the com­mu­nion and the unity between the nat­ur­al and the super­nat­ur­al; the meta­phys­ic­al and the phys­ic­al; between the divine and the human; between the inhab­it­ants of heav­en and the inhab­it­ants of earth; between God and Man.[3] A com­mu­nion that is expec­ted to con­tin­ue on the intra-per­son­al and inter-per­son­al levels.

Often, many Cath­ol­ics mis­takenly think the recep­tion of the Holy Com­mu­nion is a sign of holi­ness, sin­less­ness, good­ness and being spir­itu­ally loaded. Cer­tainly, these things can­not be excluded from the Holy Com­mu­nion, espe­cially when received wor­thily. That is, under the state of grace. But is that the imme­di­ate role of this extraordin­ary Sac­ra­ment? The true sig­ni­fic­ance lies in Jesus’ use of one loaf and one chalice dur­ing the Pas­sov­er Sup­per with his apostles. How­ever, it must be observed that par­ti­cip­at­ing in the Missa without par­tak­ing in the Holy Com­mu­nion, espe­cially for bap­tised Chris­ti­ans (Cath­ol­ics) is not only scan­dal­ous, but an abnor­mal­ity, some­thing incom­pre­hens­ible. Those who par­ti­cip­ate in the Euchar­ist­ic cel­eb­ra­tion without par­tak­ing in the com­mu­nion should give it a thought. If they par­ti­cip­ated in the sac­ri­fice of the mass, they should as well par­take in the sac­ri­fice itself – the Holy Com­mu­nion. The recep­tion of the Holy Com­mu­nion is so vital in the life of the Church that allow­ing divorced but remar­ried Cath­ol­ics to par­take in the sac­ra­ment of the Euchar­ist became a cent­ral theme dur­ing the 2014/2015 syn­od­al delib­er­a­tions on the family.

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