Notes for a Mystagogy of Eucharist

June 12, 2007


All around us God’s People are hungry. Hungry for a celebration of the Eucharist that truly nourishes the Christian spirit.  Not just for an hour a week, but for a lifetime of daily living.  What more is needed than caring for the hospitality and holiness of the celebration?   How can the transforming power of its words and actions be broken open for people?

These notes draw on two strands of contemporary thought.  The first is that liturgy and life are connected.  Each flows from and into the other.  Catholic theologian Karl Rahner has spoken of how the “liturgy of the world” is gathered up in the liturgy of the church.  Ion Bria, an Orthodox theologian, has stressed the other part of that cycle, the “liturgy after the liturgy.”

The second strand is the cycle of giving/receiving embodied in the eucharist.  Eugene Miller has named it “the dialogue of the gift.”  So what can we say to help people understand and live more fully what they do at Eucharist?

Check your coats, not your lives, at the door.   Dying and rising happen every day.  Sometimes in big ways; more often in untold small ways.  Mini-deaths -- human hurts, loss and grief, broken relationships, failures in goodness.  But also mini-risings -- moments of reconciliation, acceptance, new energy born in the midst of failure and hurt.

St. Paul is clear on this.  Dying and rising with Christ are not confined to the moment of baptism.  They occur in daily life.  That is what Rahner calls the liturgy of the world.  It reached its fulfillment in Christ.  His dying and rising capped a life of self-giving in service of others.  His death was not a cultic act in the temple.  It was a secular event, an execution.  Yet we believe it was the supreme act of worship.  So it was, as Edward Schillebeeckx has noted, “secular  worship.”  The worship of his life of service offered in a total, final self-emptying.

That is what the Eucharist memorializes and commands us to imitate: “Do this.”  We are invited to bring our daily dying and rising into the assembly, to be offered in union with Christ.  The liturgy of our life is gathered up into Christ’s offering of himself.   Don’t check life at the door.  Bring it in to offer it up.

Offer that life as “a living sacrifice of praise.”  The offering happens in two steps.  The first is the presentation of the gifts.  Bread and wine, anthropologists tell us, are the condensation of all the human labor that produces them.  In a larger way, they sum up all our work and daily lives.  Our hungers and thirsts, our moments of being filled.  Everyone in the assembly should walk in spirit with the gift-bearers, carrying their lives in their hands to place them on the altar.

The second step follows the words of institution, when we offer the gift of our daily dying and rising along with Christ’s gift of his life.  We offer “this holy and living sacrifice,” a “sacrifice of praise,” the eucharistic prayers proclaim.  “Sacrifice of praise” is biblical shorthand for Christian life itself, now joined to Christ’s “secular worship.”  With Christ, we return to a lavish God not only what has been given us—earth, bread, life—but what we have done with them this week to serve our sisters and brothers.

The dialogue of the gift must continue.  Filled with the gift of the presence and Spirit of Christ, we are transformed and sent.

Get your coats and go back into the world to do the same.  Joseph Cardinal Bernardin said it beautifully.  The dismissal is like another breaking of the bread.  Like Christ, who became bread for the life of the world, we are now broken and sent.  Sent to be bread to feed those around us who are broken, grieving, shunned, oppressed.  Sent to be poured out in service.  Sent out to perform the liturgy after the liturgy, the liturgy of the neighbor.

And so, our celebration comes full circle.  The liturgy of daily life in the world, gathered together and offered in the Eucharist, flows back into the world to continue as service of others in the liturgy after the liturgy.  Emptying oneself in love, as a “living sacrifice of praise,” is at the heart of it all.  To live that is to have our deepest hungers fed.

Rev. Gil Ostdiek, OFM is Professor of Liturgy and Director of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois and is the author of Catechesis for Liturgy: A Program for Parish Involvement (Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1986) ISBN-10: 091245236; ISBN-13: 978-0912405230.


Questions for Shaping Mystagogy-Minded Celebrations

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