Posted on: October 3rd, 2008 “Of Thine Own Have We Given Thee:” Donation & Eucharist

“All things come from you, and of your own have  we given you.” (I Chron 29:14)

David had just witnessed God’s people demonstrate that they understood a foundational principle of all joyful giving—that what they were giving, and thus, what they had, was not theirs, but God’s. This understanding had resulted in joyous and abundant giving, the type of giving we are called to even today (II Corinthians 8:7-12).

This is exactly what is going on in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the first thing we do — in the offertory, that is — is to offer a sacrifice to God. We give of the abundance he has given to us. It all comes from him anyway. In the ancient church this initial offering would have included things like wine, bread, meat, eggs, in addition to money.

These gifts (in the form of bread and wine) from the people back to God — which are God’s and provided to us by God — are then taken by the presider and offered up to God on behalf of the people.

These gifts are then given back to us yet again (this is the third act of giving so far!), yet now transfigured. The creation has now become new creation (in this renewing of covenant) and now the bread and the wine, in the midst of the members of Christ’s body, become the body and blood of Christ in some sense which is not merely symbolic or merely a simple change from one substance to another in time, but rather in a sense which can only be called sacramental. When we eat this bread at this ritual meal, we are truly feasting on and being nourished by Jesus Christ.

This circle of giving, this cycle of donation, is truly God’s world in miniature. It is a microcosm, or perhaps a microchron, of God’s world.

Participation in this cycle of donation is what priests — and all Christians have been made priests in baptism — are called to do.

As Bono says in quotation of Psalm 116:

What shall I offer the Lord

for all his benefits toward me?

I will lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God!

This view of the Eucharist-as-giving-and-receiving goes well with the thought of Louis-Marie Chauvet, by the way, which I have blogged about here and there, including this:

Chauvet argues sociologically that the Eucharist can be viewed as an example of symbolic gift exchange, in which a “circuit” of community members share in gift exchange which is not simply bilateral, and in which gift givers actually give themselves to their fellow circuit members. In this community of (self) gifting, the upshot is that a superabundant economy of peace is created and sustained which truly binds people together in the fullness of human communion. In other words, Chauvet, in a very post-Heideggarian move, sees ontology as symbol, or even symbolic gift exchange. When the Body of Christ performs this action in Eucharistic synaxis, deification occurs, and the members of the Body participate not just in one another but in the very life of the Triune God.

Chauvet’s approach to the Eucharist presupposes not only post-Heideggarian metaphysics, however. It also relies on the “scansion shift” of the three-fold body of Christ documented among others by Henri de Lubac. No other development in the history of modern theology opens the door to ecumenical relations more than this recovery of the patristic understanding of the three-fold body, for it gets behind the high medieval doctrine of transubstantiation in a way that even Rome must be open to. To assert that the ancient corpus verum, the members of Christ gathered around the bread and the wine, is what is transubstantiated is precisely what The Cypress Statement affirms when it speaks of deification in the context of the Eucharist.

Such a reinterpretation of transubstantiation resonates deeply with this theology of personhood kata holos, for it sees that which is ultimately real as dynamic, free, and (above all) relational between persons. In addition to critiquing radical individualism as seen in the competition between church entities such as Anglican provinces, it also reveals the inherent individualism behind the medieval Eucharistic theologies in the wake of the three-fold body scansion shift.



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