Bede Griffiths was a great advocate of the Second Vatican Council. However there was one sentence in one of the documents with which he disagreed and which said that the ‘source and summit’ of the church’s life is the Eucharist. He loved the Eucharist and celebrated it beautifully, every day in his Benedictine ashram in India. But he felt it was better theology to say that the source and summit of the Church is the Holy Spirit.
The different implications of each version are great. If it is the Eucharist , which is a sacrament whose form of celebration the church authorities control, this means the source and summit of the Church is dependent on church law and its lawmakers. But if we say the Holy Spirit is the source and summit – well what a lot of dangerous freedom that releases. Where the Spirit is, there is liberty
Today, Holy Thursday, we remember – we make present through a concentrated act of recall – the moment when Jesus took bread and wine and called them his body and blood. He was reclining at table for the Passover meal with his companions, not standing behind an altar. The ancient ritual of this living transmission of wisdom was also a meal for friends and family. The meal opened with a surprising and for some shocking event, when Jesus insisted on washing the feet of his disciples, whom he called his friends not his servants or disciples. This reversal of hierarchy mirrors the flip that takes place in what became the agape meal of the early Christian house churches and eventually the more formal sacrament of the Eucharist. The sacrificial protocol was flipped around; it was not, as was customary with sacrifices, offered by the priest to God on behalf of the people. The sacrifice was the person offering the sacrifice and it was self-offered to the people around the table, none of whom were refused the bread and wine. Even Judas was not excluded, was he?
If we don’t approach the Eucharist conscious of this radical reversal of roles and unexpected flip in the archetypal idea of sacrifice we may easily turn it into another religious ritual, affirming group identity, with predictable roles performed in front of a passive audience. Sadly this often happens. This misses its mystical nature. One way to rescue the nutritional spiritual value and transformative power of the Mass from this banality is to open up its contemplative dimension – to add silence, to share the readings two-way not just one way downward from the pulpit; and to meditate after the highest mystical moment after the bread and wine have been consumed.
Some Christian churches downplay the importance of the Eucharist, others have over-exploited it at the expense of other aspects of Christian prayer. My own experience has been that over the years I have come to love and grow in wonder at the ever fresh mystery of the Eucharist. The more I share it in a contemplative way, giving it sufficient time, holy leisure, listening to the readings and breaking the Word as we break the bread, linking the real presence in the bread and wine to the same presence in the heart of each person present, the more it touches and satisfies my spiritual hunger and thirst. It is meditation made visible.