Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

We all share responsibility for the celebration of the Eucharist

Published: June 20, 2002

By Msgr. Richard Oswald

Writing to the people of the Church in Corinth about the proper disposition with which they should approach the Eucharist, Paul said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Cor. 10:16-17).” St. Augustine, in the fourth century, taught those assembled for the Eucharist, “There you are on the table of the Lord, and there you are in the chalice.”

Through the Eucharist Christ wants to unite us with himself and with one another in one body, the Church. Those who exercise leadership play an important role in helping us to be open to all that Christ wants to accomplish in us each Sunday. But we must always remember that it is not only the priest who prays the Eucharist. It is the Church that prays. As Paul reminds us, we all participate in the body and blood of Christ.

Everyone present has the responsibility to help the assembly to listen to the word of God, offer praise and thanksgiving and to receive the body and blood of Christ. The Church needs all of its members. Demonstrating good habits of prayerful listening, responding, silence, intercession, singing and posture generates positive energy that enables the community to witness to the importance and sanctity of what is happening.

We can become insensitive to the effect our actions have on others and think only of our own desires, expecting the commmunity to bear the burden of our exercise of individual rights and wants. An extreme example of this attitude occurred this past Good Friday when I witnessed a person walking forward in the Communion procession while engaged in a cell phone conversation.

When we enter the church we must leave behind that American individualism that tells us we should always have it “my way.” Instead our hearts should be unselfishly directed toward Christ and sensitive to our sisters and brothers in faith. Then we will want to make every effort to avoid any behavior that will deter the Church from its task. We will arrive early because entering after the celebration has begun is a distraction. We will remain until the celebration is complete because leaving before then is an insult to God and the community. We will avoid dressing in a fashion that is provocative or more casual than the dress of the people with whom we worship. We will not allow our children to enjoy noisy play, and when their vocal efforts become a distraction, we will take them for a comforting walk. We will avoid unnecessary trips to the restroom and water fountain arriving with plenty of time to take care of such needs before the celebration begins. We will disable our cell phones or leave them in our automobiles.

As human beings we are less than perfect. There will be days when spirits are low and we may feel that we have nothing to give and the best we can do is draw back and receive. There will be days when we just cannot arrive on time or the children are particularly difficult. There may be a perfectly serious reason for leaving before the presider exits the assembly. Our clothing may be, for the moment, inappropriate. Accidents will happen. At such times we will treat one another with compassion and respect trusting that these are indeed accidents or special situations and not normal patterns of behavior.

We can become the people that Saint Paul wanted the people of Corinth to be, a people united with Christ and with one another.

Msgr. Richard Oswald is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers.