by Jim Consedine
“I see a picture of our blue planet with a large bread and a chalice of wine poised above it, and the risen Christ offering himself as spiritual food and drink for all the people. Then I see Christ as Lord of all creation lifting his eyes to include all the stars, all the galaxies, all the black holes, all the as yet undiscovered material, all the ‘dark matter’ of the cosmos. Indeed, the Eucharist has a cosmic character. Yes, cosmic!”
I really like this image that theologian Richard Rohr, OFM, offers as a description of the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist. He was reflecting on one of the most theologically interesting sections of the encyclical Laudato Si’, when Pope Francis wrote: “In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe. . . . In the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed, the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love.”
Centre of the universe! The whole cosmos! Cosmic love! Although these words formed only a small part of the encyclical, I have found them most inspiring. I knew they were saying something really profound, way beyond anything I had ever been taught in the seminary or read about in subsequent years.
But I was unclear as to what they meant. How did those words apply to peoples’ attendance at the Eucharist on a Sunday, for example? Did they mean that the moon and the stars, planet Earth itself, indeed the whole ever-expanding universe, is somehow present in our Church whenever we celebrate the Mass? That as people we are especially connected to them through the Eucharist?
Pope Francis then goes on to quote John Paul II from his 2003 encyclical, when John Paul embraced a panoramic vision of the Eucharist, calling it cosmic. In recalling the many different venues where he had celebrated Mass, he wrote: “This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and Earth. It embraces and permeates all creation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 8).
This teaching of John Paul II and his own personal reflections on Teilhard de Chardin’s writings on the Cosmic Christ, helped Francis conclude that “the Eucharist is the centre of the universe”. A cosmic event. Maybe we can only attempt to grasp such mysteries through metaphors. I know there are theological experts who have written extensively on this topic. But I must say I haven’t seen many expand this wonderful vision into plain language. How does it expand our vision as to what is actually happening at Mass? What is our response to this expanded vision? Where does this interconnectedness leave us in terms of our love of neighbour? Relationship to the environment? The rest of creation? The other planets? In particular, where does it connect with our relationship with Jesus?
An adequate response to these questions demands the answer to an even more fundamental one. How do we grapple with a Creator responsible for hundreds of billions of galaxies, with possibly billions more to come in an ever expanding universe? The teaching is that that each particle of these galaxies contains the creative presence of God? And how does all this link to the Eucharist?
The questions are mind boggling. I suggest the answers are partly found in faith, partly in science.
To begin, we need to recognise that the living Christ is present in both. The Church teaches that the whole of creation has been redeemed by his death and resurrection. “The whole of Creation will come together under Christ,” says St Paul (Ephesians 3:1-10). This means that everything ever created, each atom, each molecule, each being (including humans), contains the divine within. Each has been “divinised”, as Pope Francis teaches. Each is sacred and reflects the presence of Christ.
As Richard Rohr points out, St Paul links the Christ of the cosmos to the Church, and through the Church to the Eucharist. “The Church, the body of Christ, is formed by the gathering of people around the table when we remember Jesus who died and rose again. The Christ who becomes present to us in that gathering is the Lord of the extraordinary universe in which we live.”
There is a lot more that requires exploration as to how Christ is present in all dimensions of our universe. In the meantime, Rohr’s image of bread and chalice hovering over our blue planet with Christ offering himself as spiritual food and drink for all people and reaching out into every corner of the cosmos, gives us a glimpse of what the Church, through Francis and John Paul II, is teaching about the Eucharist “being an act of cosmic love”. And “the living centre of the universe”.
What an awesome vision!
Jim Consedine is a priest of Christchurch diocese.