Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Round the Table

Over at Fr. Jake we had a discussion that centers on the image of an extended family meal. A lot of interesting stuff happened in the course of this discussion, but all along I felt a certain discomfort at the image.

Five of the seven sacraments specifically refer to real aspects of our humanity. We are born (baptism); we cannot take care of ourselves or take full responsibility for ourselves until we grow old enough (confirmation); we eat and drink (the eucharist); we form families and have children (marriage); and we sicken and die (unction). I can't quite fit confession and ordination into this, but I don't think that's essential to the point.

When one talks about meals in this wise, the image calls up communion. But I don't think that the eucharist, for better or worse, is much like a family meal, especially the omnium gatherum thanksgiving day feast. Perhaps it ought to be, but that's not the point. No, I think the actuality of the eucharist is more like a restaurant, with the Father setting the menu, the Holy Spirit doing the cooking, and the Son picking up the tab. The clergy are like the hostess/maitre d', the waiters, and the busboys; and the laity are the customers. Now, this is not an ideal image either, but it's quite a bit more like the real image from scripture:
Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Inasmuch as the weekly eucharist realizes on earth the wedding feast of the lamb, it is not a family meal. Great and small, known and unknown are all gathered together, not for conversation, but to enter into the joy of the master.

But sitting to table together, if we do not converse, is not so hard. The hard sacrament here is not communion, but marriage. Eating is a simple thing; forming a nousehold and living in fidelity and bearing and raising children: those are impossible things, by comparison. The subject is so complex as to support most of the fiction in the world, when it comes to that.

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