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Eucharist & Culture (January/February 2021)

Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books

Art Review

EUCHARISTIC DOVE (tabernacle)
Stamped, champlevé, engraved, chiseled, enameled copper in sky blue and lavender blue and gilded with 23.5-carat gold leaf.
Collection, Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament

Michael DeSanctis

 

There’s a hammered-metal facsimile of a dove I know of, a so-called peristerium to be exact (from the Greek περιστέρι—”peristéri”), that serves as a stationary ciborium in a chapel belonging to a religious congregation whose very name invokes the mystery housed within its delicate frame. To the casual observer, or anyone unfamiliar with its special purpose, the object might be mistaken for an antique toy of some sort, possibly a mechanical bird with moving parts enough to delight a small child or a full-grown adult with childlike fondness for such things. When lifted a little, its hinged wings and back feathers, worn from repeated opening and closing, reveal an interior cavity large enough to receive a pyx filled with the host-borne presence of Christ beckoned to the chapel with every action at its altar.

Herein lies an irony — one of several, in fact — that the more astute beholder might draw from this divina columbae. Within its entirely make-believe belly, the product of some handy metal-smithing, resides the most real of realities any person with eucharistic sense can hope to encounter in this life. An artful stand-in for the third person of the Holy Trinity, the dove serves as a dwelling place for the second. And both, the believer assumes, lie within the ever-present grasp and gaze of the first.

The animal’s gilded-copper frame, enriched with colorful touches of what’s known as champlevé enamelware, bears the unmistakable mark of human ingenuity. But so does its edible contents, “fruit of the earth and work of the human hands.” One springs from the glass furnace, the other a bread-baker’s hearth — at least metaphorically. The former is made with sturdiness, permanence, and unviability in mind. The latter, in its principle function as sacramental food, yearns to be fractured, dispersed, and consumed beyond recognition by those who, in switching roles with the dove, make of themselves living tabernacles of God’s presence on earth (1 Peter 2:5).

Like countless other ritual objects the Church has called upon its artists to furnish over the centuries, this ciborium strikes us as a thing of beauty. One can’t help but delight in the obvious care with which its parts were fashioned and assembled. Similarly charming is its diminutive size, which poses yet another irony to the beholder. We might estimate the little bird to be “smaller than a bread box,” never recognizing the humor that lies in it also being a bread box or a repository, at least, for breadstuff altogether other than what it seems to our senses. We can grasp it with our hands or cradle it in our arms without rendering the altar-mystery that lingers within it any more measurable.

This French dove tabernacle was inspired by one of fifty or so manufactured in the 13th-century workshops of Limoges, France, that can still be found in art museums, religious houses, and some parish churches throughout the world. Some of these were originally suspended above an altar and raised and lowered by means of a pulley, as was typical with such visual reminders of the “epiclesial” component of the Mass, a mode of presentation more in keeping with the Spirit’s presumed ability to descend into the realm of mortal affairs with dove-like agility. This tabernacle, perched unmoving on a metal wall-bracket in the form of a leafy branch, succeeds in conveying the image of a divine presence called to the scene by priestly invocation. “Like the dewfall” the Church’s liturgical poetry affirms, the Spirit descends from heaven to coax flour and water into doubling as true flesh and blood. Heaven and earth commingle, and love that is otherwise boundless concedes to the limits of shape and texture and taste, to the “thingness” that the eucharistic Christ endures on our behalf, and to the fate even of lesser treasures locked away for safekeeping.


Poetry

A Metaphysical Query

Two hearts beat in separate worlds –
my own in this mortal body,
the other, God’s in his eternity.

In our quest for unity, which heart longs deeper?
Is it God who yearns to dwell in my life?
Or is it I who longs for God to be God in my life?

My days are restless seeking a fuller being,
the sound of God’s groaning haunts me,
His dreams for me so large and inviting.

Let me be that robin who needs not ask if he can fly,
much less why, or for what purpose,
but busy himself giving praise for his life.

What matters at the dawn of another day
is the heart of my God whose delight is
my presence in his arms, and I,
held in the wonder of belonging.

Joe LaCroix


Book Reviews

EATING TOGETHER BECOMING ONE: TAKING UP POPE FRANCIS’ CALL TO THEOLOGIANS

Thomas O’Loughlin
Liturgical Press Academic
Collegeville, MN
2019

On November 15, 2015 Anke de Bernadinis, a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic, asked Pope Francis a question about sharing Eucharist. She said she and her husband, “… have been living happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And, therefore, it’s quite painful to be divided in the faith and to be unable to take part together in the Lord’s Supper. What can we do on this point to finally attain communion?” The Pope’s answer was: “I don’t know how to answer, but I make your question my own — I wonder: Is the sharing of the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum to journey together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand.”

This book is O’Loughlin’s response. In doing so O’Loughlin shows much courage in taking up the issue of eucharistic sharing across Christian churches, traditions, academic positions, and polarized spiritualities. A historian, liturgist with expertise, professor of Nottingham University, England, and past president of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain, O’Loughlin makes a good case for eucharistic sharing.

Eating meals is a human sharing. We usually do not eat alone; we share our food. We take time and care in preparing meals. It is an art and part of our culture. We invite people to share meals. Some meals have special meaning and mark special events: births, baptisms, weddings, celebrations, anniversaries, funerals, and more. Some meals are ritual and religious. We give thanks to God and recognize God’s gifts as we sit down to eat together. The Eucharist is a banquet shared with Jesus Christ.

O’Loughlin in the last paragraph of chapter four, summarizes his rationale for eucharistic sharing with an anthropology of meals, the example of Jesus, “a new story to fulfill a basic longing of the Eucharist, that we might be one with the Lord at his table, then that story may lead us to thinking about the Spirit in our life in a new way that might repair a gap in our thinking of the Eucharist — and then might show us another way to think about intercommunion…” (Eating Together, p. 57.)

He speaks of the ecumenical meal of mission. He believes the decision about eucharistic sharing should be made by the Catholic Church based on the nature of the Eucharist as “a viaticum, not a reward” and those receiving the Eucharist on a one-by-case should be allowed to follow their conscience. The Eucharist is not something to be stared at, but the living Lord with whom we are to live, die, and rise forever. The Eucharist is a communion that nourishes the eternal life that builds on baptism. This is the fundamental principle for eucharistic sharing. Looking at the Eucharist as viaticum rather than reward provides a necessity for baptized Christians and a gift that is not to be refused or denied. Jesus gave us the example and told us to remember him when we share his memorial. In this light it is helpful to recall Pope John Paul II’s observation:

“It is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases to administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in special cases and in particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these same sacraments from ministers of Churches in which their ministers of churches in which these sacraments are valid.” [John Paul II. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 46 (2003)]

Finally, O’Loughlin reminds us that the risen Lord welcomes the communicant. Christ creates and renews and makes all things new. We are an Easter people who know that to live is to change. To live is not to defend the past, but to welcome the Lord and the Spirit who give life and the Father whose glory we praise. As O’Loughlin concludes,

So, will non-Catholic Christians have a full share in the heavenly banquet? If your answer is no, then that solves the problem: they should be excluded now. If you reply yes, then it is that heavenly table that we should aim to imitate at the gathering next Sunday. Moreover, such an approach would enhance our mission to show that the Good News creates a space of gracious welcome. It would remind us that in the liturgy we perform the unified world that we want to see; we do not simply reinforce the fractured world that we have inherited. “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy…toward which we journey as pilgrims.” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 8). (Eating Together, 157)

Ernest Falardeau, SSS, STD
New York, NY

IT’S TIME: NARRATIVES OF ILLNESS, AGING, AND DEATH

Dolores L. Christie
Cascade Books
Eugene, Oregon
2019

There are some of life’s experiences that we tend to avoid thinking about until, well, it’s time — until we are actually confronted by them, either personally or through close or distant others. Serious illness, aging and dying are among those experiences. Given their profound gravity, it’s not surprising that we prefer to avoid contemplating them in advance, but, unfortunately, thinking about them only when they are upon us in one way or another often is not the most fruitful time to reflect on them. It’s true that we don’t know what we will do or how we will react until we are actually in a situation, but it is possible to do some advance reflecting that might help better prepare us. And that’s precisely what It’s Time: Narratives of Illness, Aging, and Death can do. As the author states in her Introduction, “This book turns a bright, sometimes painful, light on serious life situations that in time invade everyone’s life. Each piece poses practical and moral questions for patients, for families, for professionals that accompany those in distress. . . . [T]hey provide an opportunity to heal the past, think about future possibilities (perhaps the better word is probabilities), and how we might adjust to them” (xii).

As the title suggests, this volume consists primarily in rather robust stories of individuals, whether patients, family members, friends, or health professionals, confronting the challenges — mostly ethical, but also emotional, psychological and spiritual — that arise when facing illness, aging and dying. There are seventeen narratives in all, grouped under the three headings in the sub-title of the book, some true, most fictional although based on the author’s many years of experience serving as an ethicist in clinical settings. The poignant narratives deal with such issues as deciding for aggressive treatment, choosing to end one’s life, palliative sedation, making treatment decisions for another, challenges in caring for an ill or dying family member, dealing with diminishing abilities, disengaging from life’s activities, recognizing the increasing immanence of one’s own death and the implications of that, romantic and sexual relationships between persons with dementia, and a host of other issues. Two appendices follow upon the narratives. One outlines a decision-making process that can assist in thinking about the various issues that arise in the stories themselves or in one’s own experience whether past, present, or future. The other provides questions for reflection/discussion for each of the narratives. They enable a further mining of the richness of the stories by serving as prompts for one’s own reflection either individually or in a group.

This volume should have very broad appeal. Stories appeal. They draw us in and, in many cases, mirror our own experiences, affording us a different and, hopefully illuminating perspective. Individuals encountering illness, aging, or dying either themselves, with loved ones, or as caregivers will likely find the narratives clarifying and contributing to important and helpful insights, especially when used in conjunction with the reflection/discussion questions. This can occur on an individual basis, but might most profitably occur in a group setting where multiple perspectives can be heard and appreciated. Mixed groups — young and old, healthy and ill, patient and family member or caregiver — might well provide the greatest insights and benefits for all involved. These can occur as part of parish adult education programs, discussion groups in long-term care and other facilities serving seniors, and in health care settings. The volume would also be very useful in various educational settings — undergraduate and graduate classrooms, medical schools, seminaries, and pastoral ministry programs. In whatever setting, given the heavy ethical emphasis of the narratives and the reflection questions, as well as the emotionally laden nature of the narratives, it would be wise for a group leader to have some facility with ethics/moral theology, especially health care ethics, and counseling.

Dolores Christie’s book reflects a lifetime of experience in the college classroom and clinical settings, together with the knowledge and insights gained from these experiences. As she states in the Introduction, the volume “uses the salient salvage from forty years of cases discussed in undergraduate and graduate classes, in tense meetings with distraught families, or in hastily called conferences in institutional settings” (xiii). Through these experiences, she writes, “I have been afforded a privileged window into others’ journeys” (xiii). And through this volume, Christie shares with her readers this privileged window into the lives, challenges, and struggles of her characters facing illness, aging, and dying. She expresses the hope that her collection of narratives “will be instructive and troubling in a good way, one that will help anyone who reads it to grow in compassion, understanding of self and others, and better at making decisions” (xv). Her hope is most likely to be realized.

Ronald P. Hamel, PhD
Senior Ethicist for the Catholic Health Association (retired)
St. Louis, MO

 


About Various Authors