Academic journal article Theological Studies

Eucharistic Justice

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Eucharistic Justice

Article excerpt

SOME YEARS AGO I DEDICATED a book of liturgical essays to Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, South Africa, honoring his ability to connect the promotion of liturgy with a zeal for justice. (1) This connection is the topic of this article.

Despite the concern behind a few interventions, (2) on the whole, the recent Roman Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist was more preoccupied with questions of style and devotion than with providing communities with eucharistic celebration or with matters of justice, care of the earth, or even with any interest in the common ecumenical mission of all churches. However, it seems frequent enough nowadays to say that there is a relation between the Eucharist and the church's mission to promote justice, peace, and the care of the environment.

Pope John Paul II on several occasions explicitly treated this relation. In his encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), he elaborated on the eschatological character of eucharistic celebration and of the hope that it generates. He stressed that this eschatological communion and eschatological expectation underline the Christian's commitment to the world and the quests for reconciliation among peoples and for justice and peace within communities of peoples:

A significant consequence of the eschatological tension inherent in the Eucharist is the fact that it spurs us on our journey through history and plants a seed of living hope in our daily commitment to the work before us. Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of 'new heavens' and 'a new earth' (Rev 21:1), but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today.... Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God's plan.... We need but think of the urgent need to work for peace, to base relationships between peoples on solid premises of justice and solidarity, and to defend human life from conception to its natural end.... It is in this world that Christian hope must shine forth! (3)

In his later encyclical, Mane nobiscum (2004), calling for a special year of the Eucharist (October 2004 to October 2005), John Paul wrote of how eucharistic communion generates of its nature a spirituality of communion, a communion that generates "reciprocal openness, affection, understanding and forgiveness." (4) In this letter the pope appealed to the Second Vatican Council for a way of seeing how the Eucharist brings a community in touch with the very goal of history. He quoted the words of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World about the place of Christ in human history: he is "the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the centre of humankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfilment of all aspirations." (5) This meaning of Christ for our history on earth as human beings is to be the focal point of eucharistic celebration.

These are grand assertions, but they require a hermeneutic of liturgical symbols and action that probes the inherent significance and orientation of the liturgy itself, as well as its reception into a variety of contexts. Today, this enterprise affects the rooting of liturgy in non-Western cultures and experience and their integration into liturgy in a special way, but it has significance for the development of eucharistic celebration and practice in churches of older origin as well.


As the French philosopher Jean Greisch puts it, when a tradition is in crisis, when many of its elements are put in doubt, a hermeneutical retrieval and reconstruction becomes necessary. (6) Certainly this is true of eucharistic celebration today, which in some ways has become the place where differences of opinion and attitude emerge most clearly. If eucharistic celebration is connected with the church's mission and presence in society, the professed eschatological orientation toward responsibility and justice exacts an eschatological hermeneutic of eucharistic tradition and practice. …

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