Creation and Eucharist

Creation was the primary place in which God is obvious, that creation is itself a sacred presence. People often feel that when they go into the forest or into the mountains or in the ocean. We know the common experience. People say, creation can take us i

Ecology and the importance of creation in ecology. The earth has been around for some 13 billion years longer than Christianity. Develop the idea.

It’s nice to speak about it in a country as conscious of the beauty of ecology as New Zealand. I’m being influenced pretty strongly as are many people in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions by the thinking of John Zizioulas, an Orthodox theologian working out of New York, but is very much central to the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue on theological issues. He would say quite clearly that unless we return to the central place that creation has in our eucharist every Sunday, we will never have the context with which to address the ecology crisis.

What does he mean by that.

He means the same kind of thing that Thomas Aquinas meant. Thomas said that creation was the primary place in which God is obvious, that creation is itself a sacred presence. People often feel that when they go into the forest or into the mountains or in the ocean. We know the common experience. People say, creation can take us into a sense of the presence.

A presence that has always been there, but we haven’t been present to it. We haven’t been as conscious of its impact through our lack of a contemplative kind of attitude in front of it.

So you talked a lot yesterday of the imprtance of being present to. This is a new idea for the church.

It’s probably better expressed as a return to an ancient idea that was deeply implanted in the original Jewish sense of worship. It was carried across into the language of the earliest Christian prayers and ritual. It became the Eucharist. We seem to have lost it in the process of the Middle Ages so that by the time we grew up in the church, ‘the’ real presence, beautiful and sacred as it was for us, was severely localised in the tabernacle or the eucharistic species. And, yes, it was prayerful and helpful and beautiful but part of the recovery of our sense of St Paul’s understanding of the new creation or St John’s writing in the Book of Revelation of a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven where God lives again on earth in a more vivid and engaging way, indeed part of the whole Christian message coming out of the New Testament, but it was in the old as well is this imagination that the whole of creation can be transformed into a deeply religious encounter between us and God. St Paul calls that the body of Christ. He grew into a cosmic sense of the mystery called the presence of Christ in Eucharist which was symbolised by the consecrating of the elements of creation, bread and wine, and also our own human lives that we may become one body, one spirit in Christ – we pray – symbolised by that moment of the weekend, on the Sunday, the first day of the new creation – that’s why they celebrated on the Sunday it was the eighth day of the Jewish week, as it were the first day of the new creation. So there’s this vision contained in the sacramental and Holy Communion words, ‘Body of Christ’ there’s a vision far bigger than simply an encounter with the person of Jesus, which for many Catholics the Body of Christ was pretty much synonymous with a sense of the body of Jesus which is a beautiful entry into the mystery. But even as we grow older, just as like Paul grew older, his understanding, his insight into the term ‘body of Christ’ grew. So does ours. We grow beyond and deeper into in the sense that the whole of Creation is a place that invites me into profound reverence, a deep enjoyment of the beauty of God, God’s presence within creation, it reflects the presence of God and I will treat Creation and all creatures and all humanity, all human beings with the kind of reverence that maybe once only gave reserve for the tabernacle. But it’s now amplified. It’s on a bigger screen called ‘what’s happening to our earth’. Some theologians, Sally McVague, speak of the earth as God’s body. It’s a symbolic kind of language trying to put words on a way of living within us, within a sacred presence that changes the way I act, speak, live, use resources and I’m being constantly converted into a deeper responsibility to future generations whom I love.

So that’s informing your care of the earth.

It becomes a spirituality like the eucharistic words, when I take the body of Christ I’m commiting myself with all of us here this morning in the eucharist in a different manner to live in a sacred way to live as if heaven and earth are full of your glory and to preserve that at all costs is part of the sacrificial life we’re prepared to live today so that others may always enjoy it.

And in doing that you’re also acknowledging the real presence in the earth.

Well, yes it’s actually acknowledging the real presence in the eucharist. It’s getting to that deeper level of the meaning of the transformation of all creation into the body and blood of Christ. It’s like taking the eucharist out into life or better, maybe of seeing within the eucharistic ritual which takes place within one hour and is limited to bread and wine and these people with us this morning, we realise that that’s reflecting a far deeper reality. It’s symbolic of the whole of our universe that is being consecrated to the beauty of God and to the truthfulness of God and to living authentically within that. You can’t do eucharist without being committed to live more authentically a sacred presence.

So how can we bring this real presence in an ecological sense into people’s understanding of Eucharist.

Well probably it won’t be easy because we actually haven’t grown up with that kind of dynamic being obvious to us. So one certain thing to do would be to become more conscious to the actual words that are in the Eucharistic Prayers. Words such as, ‘Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation’, in the prayers over the gifts. Or ‘all life, all holiness comes from you’ or phrases like ‘in the name of every creature under heaven, we stand here to praise you’ and to explore even more deeply that at the consecration when we change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ the bread and wine symbolise not just the lives of all the community present but that it symbolises the whole of creation’s yearning to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. We’re talking mystical language here for something that is basically a deeper sense of reverence and a deeper sense of us being present to creation as responsible for enjoying it, appreciating it and ensuring that it is dealt with in a sacred and respectful way. That’s pretty ordinary, everyday kind of life that people are now very involved in and yet somehow we can’t see how that involvement with creation’s future. We sort of don’t notice the words in the Eucharistic Prayers. Because we’ve probably been, and it’s been a beautiful part of our faith, we’ve been so focused on the presence of Jesus in the eucharist, which is a true presence, that we haven’t listened to that phrase of Paul’s, body of Christ, in which he takes the experience of Jesus onto a broader canvas. We just need to educate ourselves into Paul’s theology and ponder a bit more authentically the very words that the church has written into the ritual. So we just need to be more attentive, I think, a bit more prayerful. That’s what I find my challenge is to see that as a spirituality worth living.

How do you see music as enhancing that understanding of the theology of the eucharist.

Music is one of the tools of the liturgical ritual. The whole task of the ritual. It arrives at the station every Sunday because we want to get on board a ritual that will take us somewhere and take us as a community somewhere. So music is one of those experiences that can catch us up. We often say the music transports me. Good music or well done music can actually move a community into an experience or an awareness. That otherwise they might not reach.

Scientists tell us that we experience music in a more fundamental part of our brain.

It has within itself the capacity to take us to beyond the edges of our normal experience. It expresses worlds that we otherwise may not inhabit at a certain moment. Music does that and that’s one reason why musicians need to be aware that their music is a gift in the service of transporting this community somewhere. The music belongs to the community and it needs to be coming from the heart if it’s going to take the heart somewhere. It doesn’t have to be the most high flown music to do that. It just needs to be genuine. If it’s coming from the heart or it is prayerful, people normally get on board that pretty easily . But that’s the image, they get on board, and it takes them somewhere. If it’s badly done, or if it’s too domineering, or they can’t sing it or it’s too high, they can’t get on board. There’s no point in doing it. The whole point of music is to lift the community into another level of consciousness. This was the whole idea of mystery. The greek word mystery – let us proclaim the mystery it was a mystery in Greek culture. It was a ritual that when you did it it lifted all the participants to another level of awareness and that’s what we’re doing with the bread and wine.

You’re equating the word mystery with mystic, with our understanding with a mystic being a person who understands things at a higher level, a level less tangible.

It’s often something that’s very hard to speak about. At the base of the word mystery is the Greek word museo which means to be silent. And in the presence of mystery, just like in the presence of mountains, or the oceans or the beauty of earth, sometimes all you can do is be silent, even the icons of Jesus painted in the Orthodox tradition, in the Byzantine tradition, if you go overseas and see them, often they have Jesus holding open the gospels and his mouth is invariably closed because they’re trying to convey that in front of the gospel, even Jesus can’t find the right words. So the loss of the sense of mystery is a concern at all levels of church today and it’s about the loss of the perception that our lives can be ennobled and lifted into another level of experience.

One of the reasons for re-evaluating the text that we’re using in the Mass is the realisation that we’ve lost a certain kind of mystery that as long as we don’t confuse mystery with mystification – we don’t want to puzzle people with highfalutin words – our lives are simply ennobled – a very Pauline kind of word – that we may see how great is the hope to which we have all been called. That’s the ennoblement of very ordinary, mundane, prosaic lives where we are swept up into the redemptive activity of Jesus. That’s why they call it mystery.

Revising the language. Do you think we went too far in translating th eLatin into the vernacular. What’s behind this change.

I don’t share the kind of concerns that some have about the language we have.

There are some words that we translated poorly – like the word ‘sign’ of peace. The word ‘sign’ is a core kind of word for what in the early church they called a ‘bond’ of peace. There’s more communion in ‘bond’ than there is in ‘sign’. So yes, there would be probably some words or some translations that need to be more accurate to convey the richness that lies underneath the original words that articulated our faith. However, it seems to me that any words can convey a sense of mystery if they’re spoken from a heart that is possessed by mystery. And by the same token the most elevated language can be ineffective in taking people into mystery if it’s not actually expressive of a heart possessed by mystery. So the way ministers work, the way we use language and indeed as most communication is not verbal, it’s our demeanour within the ritual that most conveys the sense of mystery. One can go to a Shakespeare play and the words are of the highest order but if the acting is not coming out of an authentic kind of integration of word and person it can leave the audience untouched.

I think it’s a loss of mystery in our own lives. That would be my experience of my own self. I find I’m on probably the most challenging journey of my life to integrate the eucharistic words with living the eucharistic life. I grew up seeing the eucharist as something that happened for an hour on Sunday. It was a segment, a moment in life, rather than a way of life, a way of living every day, every moment and I could come into the real presence of Jesus when I visited the church but then I could walk out of it whereas what we are struggling with now I believe is a much more all-pervasive manner of living which is most expressed in the Eucharistic moments of the Eucharist that we’re celebrating but it’s by no means limited to that. So it’s a quest for a spirituality that is deeply impregnated with gratitude so that we consciously taking gratefully breaking and giving and that’s a whole programme of life which is celebrated, articulated in the moment of ritual called Eucharist. But is going on far more seriously outside of it. It’s like a wedding, a marriage. A marriage is far more than the wedding ceremony. Anniversaries only take on meaning depending on the quality of the lives that are being led every day.

That I guess is what makes the Eucharist so political – very different when it’s celebrated in Peru from the way Newtown celebrates it.

Yet as you say that I’m thinking of somebody I’m certainly fond of anyway, James Wolfensen, past president of the World Bank, an Australian, who said about 10 years ago on ABC radio one morning, that in his experience from his vantage point of looking at the planet and the economies of the countries of the world, he actually said these kinds of words: that the biggest problem we’re facing is which countries are eating other countries to stay alive and maintain their living standard. It’s a very Eucharistic word. We gather every Sunday around food and wine and an estimate I’ve seen this year is that six million people will die from undernourishment in 12 months – this year – so there has to be a profound connection between groups celebrating around food and drink and that becomes the presence of Christ on earth with six million people dying of undernourishment. And we need to talk about these things a lot more. Perhaps something we’re learning as Catholics about how to have loving conversations about issues that can be quite divisive but if we don’t learn to speak about them well we may fail to learn what God is doing with us in this global kind of life. Connecting the ritual with life is the big issue. That was the whole reason for having Vatican II according to John 23rd – to reconnect the church with the real world. It’s going to go on for a long time yet.