Making a Mystery of a Real Presence.
The Institution of the Eucharist must have seemed one of the simplest and least complicated of Jesus’ instructions to his Apostles.
At the Passover meal there would have been:
Zeroah, the leg bone of a lamb, a reminder of the sacrificial lamb on the night of the Passover.
Charoseth, sweet rich mixture of fruit and nuts, a reminder of the building of the pyramids as slaves, being like mortar.
A hard-boiled egg whose exact significance is now disputed.
Mar’or bitter herb conveying the bitterness of slavery
Karpas, greens which represent the springtime.
A bowl of salt water symbolising the tears of slaves and slavery.
Matzos, unleavened bread, underlining the haste of the flight from Egypt.
Symbol after Symbol.
At the Passover meal four cups of wine were drunk, each with a special significance, as were the ritual libations, spilling wine onto a symbolic broken plate. That last evening which Jesus spent with his Apostles was saturated in symbolism, each designed to bring alive an aspect of the greatest Jewish miracle of all, God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
So what is utterly surprising to me is how the Catholic Church got hung up on denying that Jesus’ instructions to take and eat the bread and to drink the wine were not intended in the same spirit as the rest of the Passover symbols. Jesus even says, “Do this in memory of me.” Just as the whole Passover celebration is about remembering being freed from slavery.
Today, we understand the power of “symbols” much better. We don’t need “sight, touch and taste” to be deceived for the words, “This is my Body” to have a full impact. We know that symbols work powerfully on the subconscious. The “Real Presence” road is bumpy and for today’s educated young, largely full of potholes. It is redundant and should no longer be a stumbling block for Christian Unity.
Perhaps, too, we might be freed by loosening our grip on Eucharistic doctrine which is a bit of a sacred cow for us Catholics. We might be freed to go from a Celebration of the Eucharist, the great celebration in communion and community of God’s Love really present among us, out of the church and into the streets, rejoicing to meet Christ himself in the poor, the bereaved, the meek, the wife or husband, the addict: indeed in other people. That, after all, is where Jesus said he would be really present. And, as we know in our hearts, in our own selves.