Models of the Eucharist



by Kevin W. Irwin


Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

It is evident in our secular, somewhat brutal society that we are starved.  We long to be with Christ day after day in this lifetime journey. The author of this book is a priest of the New York Archdiocese and the director of liturgical studies at Catholic University. His book lays open the importance of Eucharist in our lives. The Eucharist is the central and focal point of the life of a Catholic Christian. It brings the essence of the paschal mystery to life. The Eucharist is a sign of God with us. The sense of the importance of the Eucharist is evident page after page of the 367 pages. Msgr. Irwin proposes 10 models of the Eucharist. Each one adds to the understanding of Eucharist to deepen our relationship with Christ and His followers.


In Model one “Our task is to make sure we view the liturgy as a deep and strong ritual expression of the fact that God lives among us, prior to, in a unique way within, and following upon sacramental engagement.” P.64 This model takes a broad concept and works through it as we express our obligation of stewardship for the world. We are responsible for the present generation and for the future generations so that they can truly understand the beauty of this sacrament with a ‘wide-angled lens’. Our habits of eating and drinking are mirrored in the beauty of the Eucharistic celebration. For our reflection question, Kerwin proposes: ”What is it about bread and wine that reveals the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and pascal dying and rising?”


In Model two, the author supports “an understanding of the liturgy as essentially corporate, stretching us to embrace all who together form the body of Christ that is sustained by the body of Christ in the Eucharist.” Truly we welcome all to be part of the celebration of the Eucharist but we do realize that this comes to people at different levels.  It is evident but sometimes difficult that others are not in the same place in regard to belief in the Eucharist. We as believers are aware of denominational lines but join in the oneness of Baptism.  Kerwin’s question at the end of this chapter calls us to question the fine line of acknowledging our gifts in service to the Church at the Eucharist and becoming too focused on our own liturgical role and calls us to change by turning to support the role of others in the liturgy.


In Model three, we investigate the theological meaning of the proclamation of the word of God at the Eucharistic liturgy. What happens when the Scriptures are prayed at Mass? When God speaks through the praying of the Scriptures.  At the table of God’s word and the altar table, we grow in holiness and wisdom. We think/pray and listen to the word of God and attend to the blessings at the altar.  For this model we can take the responsorial psalm and weave it into listening to what is taking place at the altar.


In Model four, the author points out that the Eucharist fulfills the Lord’s command “Do this in memory of me”. In the Eucharistic liturgy we recall the past, summon the future and experience the newness of a new event of salvation. We are drawn into the mystical understanding of the paschal dying and rising of Jesus.  “This understanding of liturgical memorial places emphasis both on God’s initiative and on the Church’s active and conscious response in and through the liturgy.”p. 129 At the end of the chapter, we are asked the question what do you think of when you hear the word ‘memory’ and how a biblical understanding of the word would offer ‘challenges to its customary usages”.


In Model Five we focus on the term ‘covenant renewal’. Every Eucharist commemorates and celebrates God’s covenant relationship with fallen yet graced humanity. The Old Testament is replete with covenants that God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others who did not meet the requirements of the covenant and suffered the consequences. Moses never got to the Promised Land. Story after story tells us to listen to the word of God and obey out of love. These covenants were “forged, ratified and renewed” by God because of His never ending love for us. We respond to God’s invitation both personally and communally. We recommit ourselves to the covenant God offers in the sacrament of the Eucharist both personally as a community of believers.  Our reflection question for this Model calls us to realize that the shedding of blood in the biblical tradition most often refers to its positive results- union with God.  “How does this understanding help me to appreciate the myriad and frequent references to blood in the liturgy of the Eucharist?” p. 166


In Model Six the concept of ‘supper’ is imperative for a true understanding of the Eucharist.  Having a meal together and sharing our lives with each other provides a foundational understanding of the beauty of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is about taking, blessing breaking and giving of Christ to each other.  How often we dine together and forget what we ate but realize the importance of the entire conversation as giving us energy for the future so too with the Eucharist, we receive the spiritual energy to do our work in His name. The author of this text provides us with the history of receiving the Eucharist by the laity. He provides the history of the tabernacle and how we became daily communicants as well as receiving under both species. The prompt for the reflection calls us to read and pray on the treatment of the Eucharist in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1322-1419)


In Model seven we realize the importance of the gift of ‘food for the journey’.  We are living in a world where people have every form of technology to get things done quickly.  We sometimes treat others like a product of our work instead of a person created by God to serve others in the sacrament of Eucharist. On the other hand, we deal with all aspects of economic poverty in which we need to take into consideration the needs of others.  We eat quickly and often in our cars which are transporting us! The union of all who take part in the sacrament of the Eucharist focuses us on the food for the journey for all of us.  By our very presence at the sacrifice of the Mass we show that we are receiving that food for the journey both now and forever.  With this ‘food’ we are nourished in a way to bring Christ to all as we forge ahead in our day. The communion with each other as well as Communion with Christ gives us the ability and will to bring Christ to others.  We reflect on the part of the Mass that includes the general intersessions and the collection of gifts.  What can I do to appreciate these actions even more?


In Model eight we investigate the aspect of sacrifice in regard to the theology of what the present Eucharistic prayers and rite direct us to say and do in terms of offering sacrifice. : … the real presence and the and the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist that most require our paying close attention to what the magisterium has said…P. 218   As a child of 5 or 6 I was often moved to tears in realizing the enormity of the sacrifice.  As I get older this aspect of sacrifice deepen for me as I became aware of the complexities of life. The author provides us with the historical aspects of sacrifice and how the depth of this sacrifice becomes evident in the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharistic celebration.  The sacrifice takes into consideration the belief of all the individuals present at the Mass.  Christ sacrificed His life for all of us and truly gives of Himself: body, soul and divinity as His complete sacrifice.  For our reflection we can read Romans 12 to determine how the words demand us to offer our lives in sacrifice of self even as we offer the Eucharistic sacrifice.


In Model nine we focus on the ‘real presence’ of Jesus.  The Eucharist is not a symbol or sign, it is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. Throughout the ages the saints have supported the belief in the real presence through their own relationship with Jesus both in the Eucharistic presence and living the presence of God throughout the day. Many miracles and signs have supported Christ’s presence in the world as well as a continuous revelation of the divine. The author again provides us with the history of the real presence and what it meant to people throughout the ages.  The magisterium of today indicates that Christ is present in the Eucharist in many ways. How do we appreciate Christ’s presence?


In the last model, Model ten the author emphasizes the ways the Holy Spirit can help us to appreciate what the Eucharist ‘is, does and means to us’. The new Eucharistic prayers which includes the epiclesis prayers in reference to the Holy Spirit. These prayers  provide us with images that enriches our Eucharistic prayer and makes evident the work of the Holy Spirit. The reform of the liturgy after Vatican II gives rise to the history of the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the Mass both from the West and East.  For our reflection the author encourages us to meditate on our own charism and those of others as coming from the Spirit dwelling in us. How do I see that same Spirit working in and through the liturgy?


In the last section of the book, Msgr. Kerwin develops a theology of Eucharist. This is an understanding/meditation, prayer of how the Eucharist transforms our life.  Transformation in the sense of speaking for Christ, with Christ and in Christ helping us to see the immense power of the sacrament in changing each one of us present. To partake in the liturgy of the Mass is to understand what life is about and how to live with and for our neighbor.  It is an excellent book in regard to both the historical and theological understanding of the Eucharist as well as living the Eucharist daily. 

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