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Eucharist and Identity

Don Conroy


" An Oriental wiseman always used to ask the divinity in his prayers

to be so kind as to spare him from living in an interesting era. As

we are not wise, the divinity has not spared us, and we are living

in an interesting era." Albert Camus

We would not be attending this conference if we were not living in an interesting era. Our study group has the task of examining our identity as Catholics. What am I saying about myself when I say, "I'm Catholic?" My role in our group is to ask the question,"Is there something specific
I can point to that identifies me as Catholic?" Another way to put this is, when Catholics are asked what is it that constitutes their being
Catholic more than anything else, the response is the Mass. In the few minutes given to me, I will discuss my belief that the Eucharist is central to my Catholic identity.

I begin with the observation that our identity is rooted in our experience. This is true of our social, economic, political identity, ethnic identity, sexual identity, and our religious identity. And the religious experience that shapes our religious identity is our experience of mystery.Mystery not as a concept, and idea, such as a secret or something profound. Rather, mystery in the sense of the experience of the sacred which fills us with awe and fascination and results in conversion.

Not all will agree that our Catholic identity is rooted in our experience of mystery. Many of our Catholic communitywould say their identity is based on what they believe;that is, a Catholic is one who accepts and internalizes the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Thus they believe that Catholic identity is rooted in beliefs, concepts, and orthodox thinking.

Most would agree that experience changes us. Some might object that our belief is supposed to be stable, constant, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As important as beliefs, teachings, and concepts are, they are not in themselves the living Christ. The Eastern Church refers to the creeds as symbols, Words are symbols. They point to the mystery; they are not the mystery. Our faith is a life form; it lives within us. We experience the mystery of the living Christ as we gather together in community for worship.

As Catholics, our primary experience of mystery is the Eucharist. Our religious experience is living and it is cultural.When we walk through the church doors of the church for worship, we take our culture with us. Remember now, we are talking about religious identity and what in us remains the same even as we experience change. What is the same is Jesus Christ. We experienve the mystery, God, through Jesus. Jesus risen is Jesus living. Jesus is our central symbol and our norm for understanding God. The stability of our Catholic,Chrisrian identity is Jesus Christ and we encounter him in the worshipping community.

Catholics are sacramental Christians. Sacrament is the word we use in the Western church; the word in the Eastern church is mystery. The sacraments, mysteries, are the every day symbols through which the Catholic community experiences God. Of course, these symbols have differences depending on the particular community, but always point to the mystery that is God.

Finally, let's say something about worship and the church. Vatican 2 tells us that liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations
of the church which is the sacrament, the symbol of unity. Jesus is the Christian High Priest, and we as the mystical body of Christ participate in his priesthood by our baptism. The sacrament of holy orders has a specific place in the rituals of the Christian community. When we come together at the Eucharist, we experience the mystery, not only of Jesus Christ, but of his church. In the liturgy, the public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Christ; that is, the head and his members

As we said earlier, we live in interesting times. Just as we accept the whole Jesus Christ and not just a part, so also we must strive to embrace the whole of the church. However, all must be included at the table. We must learn to sit together. the people, the bishops, the pope.  The table is the symbol of the Eucharist which is the root of our Catholic identity.