Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Communion and Community

This is the first post in a series on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the heart of the Church. It is part of the main theme of this blog, theology in a culture in decline.

What kind of community is expressed when we celebrate the Eucharist? First of all, I think it is important to be clear about the fact that it is not in fact a community with the people we celebrate the Eucharist with, that is the people in the same room. Indeed these persons are mere symbols of a much wider community, the worldwide community reaching through the ages. This is of great importance, because we can easily be lead to believe that we are somehow ordered to be very close friends we the people we go to church with. I think that notion is built upon a flawed ecclesiology.

This kind of community is often expressed through liturgical symbols. For example, in Finland at least, the congregation gathers around the alter in a half-circle, expressing that the rest of the circle is made up by those not present: the dead, the sick, the ones far away. These people too are part of the celebration.

The idea that the community we express is primarily one of community with those not present was also expressed in the early church by the fact that only a small part of the bread was consecrated and used during the mass. The congregation brought bread with them to Church. The part not used was to be distributed among the poor.

When we celebrate the Eucharist then, we are celebrating a ritual where we teach ourselves to be aware of our community with the poor and oppressed of the world. It is into this kind of community that God enters.

This means the Eucharist becomes a political act. When the church celebrates the Eucharist it expresses its belief that God always stands on the side of the poor. This is through even if the church in other areas have forgotten this, the Eucharist can act as a protest within a Church that fails its true calling by joining with the rich and the powerful.


axegrinder said...


"it is not ... the people in the same room. Indeed these persons are mere symbols ..."

You have overstated your case.

If the people in the same room are mere symbols, what makes the people they symbolize more than symbols? In other words, how are the absent people not mere symbols of something else as well? By using the phrase "mere symbols" it is as if you are saying that those not present are more real that those who are present at the local celebration.

I agree that it is important to recognize that our local celebration of the Eucharist partakes in the universal worship of the Church in heaven and on earth, both now and in the past.

Thanks for undertaking this series on the Sacrament. I look forward to your next post.


Jason Kranzusch

Patrik said...

I think I wrote this somewhere else, but the important thing with a symbol is that it does not destroy what it is practically by pointing at something else. So the people there are real.

But the point is that while those that you go to chruch to tend to come from a similiar background to you own, (class, race, income, so on) the people they symbolize do not. And this is the real beauty of the community in the worldwide church: It is not a community of similar people, but of very different people, becoing one in Christ.

One of Freedom said...

Enjoyed the post. I've asked everyone to bring bread to our next Eucharistic celebration (next Wed.). We have a foodbank around the corner from where we meet and already have a practice of gathering food for them when we gather, so this is just cool.

the lost message said...

I really enjoyed this post Patrik and am looking forward to this series. Being a sacramental community is something that I have been considering recently. I do wonder, like Jason, whether you have overstated your case. You are right to redeem the Eucharist in terms of universal worship and 'the communion of saints', however isn't community as a gathered interacting type fellowship around the sacrament also important in Christian discipleship?


Patrik said...

The reason I state this so sharply is that if we focus too much on the people actual present many possible problems arise: We may start to feel that wedo not belong in this group of people, or we may feel that this particular group of people is really important (wheras others...) and so on. The group of people coming together to celebrate the eucharist is just a small blip in a huge celebration and this is what we have to keep our eyes on, otherwise the risk of isolating is too big.