by John H. McKenna, CM
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
The author very succinctly states that the purpose of this research book is to look into the meaning and significance of the Eucharist in our lives. It is a foundation for a Eucharistic spirituality that is accessible for an educated laity as well as helpful for professional students of theology. He delivers what he proposes very well with clarity and direction.
The first chapter deals with the process of reflecting on symbols, especially of Christ and the Eucharist that will lead us through a lifetime of challenge and promise. Signs and symbols are part and parcel of our being. If we have deep feelings or experiences they must be expressed. We don’t always need words, we can use other symbols or symbolic actions. We must express deep realities or risk losing them. In Chapter two the author points out how important food and drink is to people. Food can speak to us of God’s concern that quietly, in the stillness of the night, provides unseen growth. An early Christian prayer found in the Didache reflects an emphasis on God’s creative initiative: “As this bread that is broken was scattered upon the mountains, and gathered together, and became one, so let the Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom.” There are many other characteristics of human meals that could help in our understanding of Eucharist. Often families use the supper meal as a type of preparation for the Eucharist as they sit down to eat together and share the goodness and mischief of the day.
In Chapter 3 the author tells us that the purpose of writing this is not to enter into the debate over whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal. But simply to seek insight into our Christian sacraments by reflecting on our rich Jewish heritage. He further states that he limits himself to the biblical data. This narrative is a theological document an expression of faith and not primarily an attempt to present history in a modern sense. In Chapter 4 McKenna states that the chapter has a two-fold purpose: first, to show the link between Eucharist and service by analyzing the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah and the New Testament use of this image in regard to Jesus; second, to indicate that the nature of prophetic symbols, the self-understanding of the early Christians, a number of Pauline texts, New Testament cultic and priestly terminology and the Gospel of John all witness to the tight bond between Eucharist and a call to serve. Chapter 5 explores certain facets of the Eucharist that are bound up with the reality of the Resurrection and are best understood in light of that event. The links between Resurrection and Eucharist also have implications for the way Christians look at the future. The Eucharist proclaims that he has risen; he is presently challenging us to transform ourselves and our world. The Eucharist becomes not only a celebration of Christ’s service but also a call to share in that service, and the celebration of the future to which this service leads. “The Eucharist urges Christians to work for the future here and now, to work hopefully, with joyful anticipation and a certain reckless abandon, confident that in Jesus Christ even death will lead to new life.
In Chapter 6, the author focuses on two issues: first, to give a brief historical background of the notion of a memorial; second, to sketch some underlying theological issues. These theological issues are best expressed by Edward Kilmartin who suggested a Trinitarian theology of the liturgy as the direction in which to look. He saw three avenues as possibly fruitful, first was the relationship between the sacramental symbol and the action or role of the liturgical assembly. The second was the relationship between the different modes of Christ’s presence. The third was the dialogic nature of the mystery of salvation celebrated in the liturgy. In Kilmartin’s teachings and writings, he returned repeatedly to the dialogic nature of liturgy, to the active role of the assembly, and the notion of the sacrament as the liturgical prayer of the Church in the Holy Spirit. In emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit, Kilmartin also stresses the active role of the believing assembly that he contends was essential in the early church, whether or not it was explicitly recognized as such. The assembly’s role is not that of the passive spectator but rather one of active participant relating themselves to Christ’s self-offering. All of this becomes the work of the Holy Spirit.
The author states that the purpose of chapter 9 is to help provide a basis for ecumenical dialogue. He is also convinced that our understanding of Eucharistic presence has implications for our understanding of Eucharist and sacrifice. He gives an overview of ways in which Eucharistic presence has been understood in the course of Christian history including transubstantiation. The author gives us another model by which some theologians have attempted to understand Eucharistic presence, the model of interpersonal encounter. The author presents to us the work of Chauvet who argues that his symbolic approach is compatible with, and preserves, the Church’s faith in “real presence, “which he shares It takes into account all aspects of Eucharistic presence but this does not necessarily require that tone conceive it in the mode of metaphysical substance. Chauvet concludes with key themes: Sacraments are the bearers of the joy of the Already and the distress of the not yet. They are the witnesses of a God who is never finished with coming: the amazed witnesses of a God who comes continually; the patient witnesses, patient unto weariness at times, of a God who ‘is’ not yet except by mode of passage. And of this mode, the sacraments are a trace. In Chapter 11 the author attempts to highlight the role of the Holy Spirit by reflecting on the epiclesis historically, theologically, pastorally and ecumenically.
Father John McKenna, CM writes a thorough and compelling understanding of the Eucharist on this side of our eternal presence with God. The author is thoughtfully detailed and constructs for us a systematic study of the Eucharist. As I read it, it filled my heart with the hope of Christ’s continual coming and our response of being ready for Him. It is written as part of a Studies Series but for those who want to know as much as we can about the Eucharist, this continues to feed all of us. He constantly looks out for the reader so he/she can understand the depth and breadth of his writing.