Tonight on this solemnity of the Lord’s Supper, a lot of attention will be paid to the institution of the Eucharistic celebration, which is as Sacrosanctum Concilium (Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”) explains, is “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (no. 14). So it is with good reason that we recall when Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room to break bread, pass the cup, and demonstrate the meaning of Christian discipleship and leadership by washing the feet of those gathered.
Yet, while the Eucharistic species of bread and wine are a right and just focus of our reflection this evening, an over-emphasis to the exclusion of the other ways that Christ is made present in the Eucharist is a problem. It is for this reason that I’m thinking about the manifold way Christ is made present when the Church, which is the Body of Christ, gathers together to hear the Word and come to the Table of the Lord. Sacrosanctum Concilium explains:
Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross” , but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes . He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20) [no. 7].
According to the teaching of the Church, summarized here, Christ is made present in four ways: (a) in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine; (b) in the word, that is the scriptures; (c) in the entire assembly, that is the Church gathered in prayer; and (d) in the person of the minister, that is the presider.
Tonight, when we reflect on what happened when Jesus dined with those gathered, altering the traditional table prayers of his tradition, the Birkat Hamazon and the Kaddish, establishing what we would later call the Christian “institution narrative” and the accompanying Eucharistic Prayers, do we only focus on one quarter of the way that Christ continues to be present to his Body, gathered in prayer? Or do we recognize too the sacramental dimensions of the washing of the feet, the call to service, the connection that the table fellowship and the giving of his Body and Blood have to the proclamation of the Word of God, the prayers of all the people, and our being sent outward to do as Christ has done for us?