Friday, July 8, 2016

Honesty in Meal-Sharing

In this essay exploring the concept of the “open table” for the Eucharistic meal, Marianne Moyaert, a professor of comparative theology, considers not only a table open to those who are not baptized members of the body of Christ but also open to people of faiths other than Christian. Here are some of her conclusions and her reasons for thinking as she does.

Liturgy 31, no. 3, explored the latest scholarly work on issues related to holy communion.

As with all rituals, the Eucharist too makes use of certain universal elements that appeal to people beyond their religious particularities. Together with those in favor of Eucharistic hospitality, I would underscore that the Eucharist is the sharing of a meal, of bread and wine, that enables people to experience a sense of belonging and that also contributes to the upbuilding of this community. . . .   
 The Eucharist is, however, also more than just a meal. It involves food, but not ordinary food; it involves drinking, but not ordinary drinking, and the preparation of the meal does not involve ordinary cooking. This meal will not still one’s hunger. As Augustine preached, it is spiritual food that stills the hunger of the interior (though not completely). By not completely stilling even our spiritual hunger, the Eucharist also nourishes our longing for Christ to return. This extraordinary meal is full of meaning, and it makes sense within a Christian framework. When Christians come together to celebrate the Eucharist, they do so in remembrance of Jesus (Luke 22:19) who is called the Christ. The meal makes present the kingdom yet to come. . . . 
Celebrating the Eucharist is not ordinarily a one-time event, but ought to be an expression of “convivencia” patterned after the life of Christ, as the word communion suggests. As with any religious ritual, the Eucharist “requires enclosure within the sphere of religious formation for full participation.” Its deeper layers of meaning reveal themselves only by living a Christian life. Religious others, however, neither share this vision nor self-consciously live a life inspired by the example of Christ. As a consequence, the depth of Christian religious experience as expressed and strengthened in the Eucharist remains inaccessible to them. Hence Eucharistic hospitality, a ritual act that is supposed to express communion and fellowship, is marked by something that is not shared and cannot be shared: Christian faith. The depths of the liturgical experience are out of reach and the boundaries between outsiders and insiders are not really lifted. . . . 
 . . . . Sharing table fellowship runs the risk of including the other in a twofold way: theologically and liturgically. To my mind, this theological and liturgical inclusion may jeopardize the integrity of the identity of the religious other. 
 Jewish liturgical theologian Ruth Langer relates why she rejected an invitation to partake in table fellowship: “Accepting the invitation would have exceeded my comfort zone … as guest … because it would constitute a symbolic gesture of our participation in fundamental Christian beliefs. Jews do not accept Christian theological understandings of the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; therefore, accepting the Eucharist simply as physical nourishment is far from an empty gesture. It becomes, not an act of communion, but potentially an act of mockery.” 
 . . . Sometimes refraining from participation may be more honest.

Because this blog may only reprint a relatively small portion of an essay, the full argument with all of its intricate reasoning cannot be presented. Please see the full article for the richness of Moyaert’s perspective.

Marianne Moyaert, professor of comparative theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, is the author of In Response to the Religious Other (2014) and the editor, with Joris Geldhof, of Interreligious Dialogue and Ritual Participation (2015).

Marianne Moyaert, “Relgious Pluralism and Eucharistic Hospitality,” Liturgy 31, no. 3 (2016), 46-56.

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