Catholic Theological Union LogoCatholic Theological UnionLearn@CTUCatholics on CallCatholic Common Ground Initiative

Eucharist and Life - Part 1

by Gil Ostdiek, O.F.M. | July 21, 2011


Catholics are on call.  That is who we are.  Being called together is at the heart of being Church.  Its very name in Greek and Latin, ecclesia, means “those called forth, duly summoned for an assembly.”  It is God who summons the Church together, and our preeminent gathering is for celebration of the Eucharist.  There we hear, week after week, to what God calls us.  In Advent of this year the familiar words of the Mass will be changed.  For several years a new translation of the prayers has been in preparation.  Rome has substantially revised the Latin prayers of the Mass and has asked that they be re-translated in the local languages.  The translations will be fuller and more literal.  The changes that will affect people most are the changes in the parts they know by heart, such as the response to the greeting, the Confiteor, the Gloria and Creed, the preface dialogue, the memorial acclamations, and the invitation to Holy Communion.

Adjustment to these changes will require time and patience.  They are on the surface, however.  What is more important than our personal likes or dislikes about the changes is that the deeper mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist remains the same, and it is to living out that mystery that we are called.  Implementation of the revised Roman Missal offers us an excellent opportunity to reflect on that calling.  What is the deeper meaning of what we do at Mass, and what does that have to do with daily Christian life in the world?  To what, then, does Eucharist call us?

1. Called to Gather

Celebration of the Eucharist begins officially with the entrance procession, accompanied by song, as the ministers enter through the midst of the gathered assembly.  In an informal sense, however, the celebration begins much earlier, as people stream together from various directions and from their many walks of life.  The entrance procession is only the final ritual moment of that informal process of gathering that has been underway and has brought the people together before the procession begins.  The ministers are only a representative few, processing in the stead of all the gathered people who entered as the vanguard of that solemn procession.

What do we do in the entrance procession?  A processional cross flanked by two candles leads the solemn entrance.  Next come the Gospel book held aloft, followed by the ministers.  Why are cross, candles, and Gospel book carried into the assembly in solemn procession?  What do they tell us about ourselves and the celebration that is to follow?

The cross tells the story of Jesus, of his saving death and resurrection.  How does it tell his story?  History has left us many images—a jeweled cross of victory, Christ peacefully asleep on the wood of the cross, a figure in the agony of death, one with outstretched arms reaching down to embrace the world in love.  But it is not only his cross.  He also said that any who would follow him must take up the cross (Mt 10:38).  It tells our story as well.  History has also left us many images of the cross as our story.  Think of the gaunt and emaciated figure on the “plague cross” in Cologne (1301) which soon became a place of pilgrimage and prayer for those seeking healing during the time of the Black Death.  Or think of the Isenheim altarpiece (c. 1510-1515) in the chapel of an Alsatian leprosarium, where afflicted patients could identify with the putrid-looking flesh and twisted extremities of the Crucified One.  Think, too, of the realistic images of the scourged, crucified Christ so beloved when people find his sufferings played out in their own lives.  There are so many ways, both large and small, in which we daily die to sin and self and rise to newness of life.  Life is weighed down with pain and suffering, with failures in what we do, with hurt feelings and broken relationships.  It is also buoyed up by health restored, by success in what we plan and do, by the joys of reconciliation.  The history of the world, says theologian Karl Rahner, is a terrible and sublime history of dying and rising that reached its fulfillment in the dying and rising of Christ, in which all are joined in their daily moments of dying and rising.  Rahner calls that the “liturgy of the world.”  The cross carried in the procession sums up in one image the story of Christ and also that liturgy of daily dying and rising which every member brings into the assembly.

Candles are used to light the darkness.  For Christians, the candle is the Easter candle, symbol of the Risen Christ who once said “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12).  He also told his disciples “you are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).  He taught them that their light should be set on a lamp stand so that all might see their good works and give glory to God (Mt 5:15-16).  The candles carried down the aisle are reminders of our baptismal candles, lit from the Easter candle, and symbols of the witness to Christ, however dim or bright, that we have each given that week.

The Gospel book tells the story of the life, words, deeds, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It also tells the story espoused as their own by those who are willing to follow in his footsteps and to lose their lives in loving service to others for his sake and the sake of the Gospel (Mk 8:35).

As we gather, cross, candles, and Gospel tell us simply and silently what our celebration is about.  We are followers of Christ, summoned to bring into the assembly our daily lives of dying and rising and of witness and service to others.  There we are to join them with Christ.  Our act of gathering and the entrance of our ministers remind us that Christ himself is in our midst to lead us in the celebration and to nourish us for Christian living at the table of Word and Eucharist.

To be continued.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6

[The reflections in this series are adapted, with permission, from an article to be published in Liturgical Ministry 20 (Fall 2011).]

Author information Gil Ostdiek, O.F.M.

Professor of Liturgy
Director of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants

S.T.L., S.T.D., L.G., Pontifical Athenaeum Antonianum, Rome; Study: Harvard University, University of California

Professor Gil Ostdiek, O.F.M., is a founding faculty member of Catholic Theological Union, an ordained presbyter, and a member of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart. He holds a B.A. from Quincy College, an S.T.L. and S.T.D. from the Pontificium Athenaeum Antonianum (Rome), and has done post-doctoral studies at Harvard Divinity School and the University of California/GTU.

Gil has been a member of the Association of Consultants for Liturgical Space (ACLS), the Catholic Academy of Liturgy (CAL), the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), the North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL), and Societas Liturgica.

He has received a Festschrift [Finding Voice to Give God Praise: Essays in the Many Languages of the Liturgy, ed. Kathleen Hughes (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998)]; the 1998 Michael Mathis Award for contributions to liturgical renewal, from the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy; the 2001 Pax et Bonum Award, from St. Peter’s in Chicago; and the 2007 Georgetown Center for Liturgy Award for outstanding contributions to the liturgical life of the American Church.

Gil has taught liturgy at the graduate level for 45 years and has conducted numerous adult education workshops on liturgy. In addition, he has been Vice President/Academic Dean, MDiv Director, and MA Director at CTU, and he was the founding director of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants (ILC) based at CTU. He served on the International Commission on the Liturgy (ICEL) for fifteen years on the Advisory Committee, on the General Editorial Committee for revision of the Sacramentary, and as chair of the Subcommittee on the Translation and Revision of Texts. He was on the Board of Trustees of Quincy University and his province’s Board of Education. Gil is a past-president of the North American Academy of Liturgy, and he has also been a consultant for the American Franciscan Liturgical Commission.

Gil’s hobbies are woodworking and photography.

More about Gil.

© Copyright 2018 Catholic Theological Union. All rights reserved.
Site design and development by Symmetrical Design.