An Affair of Things as well as Words
ROBERT LOUIS WILKEN
As a Catholic Christian, I found Lawrence Hoffman's essay particularly illuminating. Although he is aware of the different forms of worship one can find within the Christian community, he knows that along with baptism (the rite by which one enters the church) the most ancient and most distinctive Christian ritual is the Eucharist (or Mass)--a ritual eating of bread and wine. From earliest times, the Eucharist has been at the center of Christian worship, and to this day when most Christians come together on Sunday they participate in this ritual meal. What is more, Hoffman realizes that since the early centuries of the church's history, Christians have understood the Eucharist as a sacrifice, indeed as the sacrifice or "oblation." Hoffman's essay reaches out in two directions: on the one hand to Christians, by focusing on a central feature of Christian worship (emphasized particularly by Catholics and Orthodox); and on the other hand to Jews, for whom the language of sacrifice is familiar from the Scriptures, the rituals in the ancient Temple, and the siddur.
In this essay I want to suggest why Hoffman's approach is fruitful for the dialogue between Jews and Christians, but I will begin by talking more personally about the Eucharist as celebrated today.
Often as I sit in church waiting to approach the altar to receive communion (consuming the consecrated bread and wine), I am drawn to the faces of my fellow communicants. In the Christian service there comes a time when the action shifts from the altar to the congregation. After the priest has completed the prayer of blessing over the offerings of bread and wine, the congregation recites together the Lord's Prayer ("Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name . . ."). Then the faithful greet each other with the words, "The peace of the Lord be with you." As the priest prepares the consecrated