Arts and Culture

Human Vulnerability and The Eucharist

Fifth in a series

RE-READING RONALD Rolheiser’s “Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist” has been an interesting experience. Even when I recognize an insight that I have read or heard previously, Rolheiser’s expression of the insight makes it seem new to me. This talent is probably one of the reasons that he is such a good writer. There is a depth to his insights.

In commenting on how Jesus’ death and resurrection become present to us when we are celebrating a Eucharist, Rolheiser admits that this is a great mystery. It is impossible to make this sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection crystal clear. However, there is so much deep meaning in this mystery that we can approach it from various perspectives and our efforts may be rewarded with truths that are new to us, or at least seem new. Perhaps we will see truths that we have forgotten or neglected.

There is nothing magical or automatic about the sacraments. Catholicism presents mystery, not magic. What a Eucharistic celebration means to us should depend first on what Christ has done, but that does not mean that we are passive recipients. How we are present at a Eucharistic celebration can greatly influence what happens to us there.

Christ’s presence is the same at every Eucharist, but our presence varies. A Eucharist does not automatically change us. In homilies at a Sunday Mass, I often stress that the Eucharist will mean more depending on how devoutly, sincerely and intelligently we offer the Eucharist. Emphasizing our vulnerability, Rolheiser stresses that as wonderful as it is to admire and adore Christ’s death and resurrection, we are also called to participate in that death and resurrection. He writes the following:

“When we ritually recount and reenact the story of Jesus’ sacrifice (in the Eucharistic prayer, the very heart of liturgy) we experience the ‘real presence’ of the event of Christ’s dying and rising. Moreover, that reality is given to us so that we might participate in it. How? We participate in Jesus’ sacrifice for us when we, like him, let ourselves be broken down, when we like him, become selfless. The Eucharist, as sacrifice, invites us to become like the kernels of wheat that make up the bread and the clusters of grapes that make up the wine, broken down and crushed so that we can become part of communal loaf and single cup. …

“More so than the bread and wine, we, the people, are meant to be changed, to be transubstantiated.

“The Eucharist, as sacrifice, asks us to become the bread of brokenness and the chalice of vulnerability.”

The beauty of Rolheiser’s language can help us appreciate anew what a magnificent reality a Eucharist is. My guess is that few of us can have a profound emotional experience every time we celebrate a Eucharist even though what is taking place is awesome. One reason I decided to write this series on the Eucharist was to recapture and present how awesome a Eucharist is.

What helps me to appreciate something of the depth of Eucharistic celebrations is relating what I do at a Eucharist to my personal day-to-day living. Do I try to allow the meaning of a Eucharist to motivate me in my relations with others? With those with whom I live? With those with whom I work? With my family? With the students I teach? In spite of celebrating a Eucharist daily, do I find little evidence that I am changing for the better? If I am not, why not? I certainly cannot blame Christ.

All of us are vulnerable. As I have written in this column previously, to be finite is be fragile. We are vulnerable on every level of our humanity, physically, psychologically, even spiritually. Rolheiser suggests that we embrace our vulnerability, perhaps even love it. That may be another way of saying we should accept that we are creatures, dependent on God. We don’t bring ourselves into existence. We don’t keep ourselves in existence. And we don’t save or redeem ourselves.

Our vulnerability takes on a profound meaning when we reflect on it in relation to the Father’s love for us. This is what a Eucharist calls us to do, and I love Rolheiser’s insight that we are to be transubstantiated.


Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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