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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Ethics II - Week 7

For the remainder of the term, we are focused on William T. Cavanaugh's Torture and Eucharist. It's a consideration of the Roman Catholic Church's response to torture in Chili, under Pinochet's regime, and (though we haven't got quite that far in the assigned reading) how the theology and practice of the Eucharist informed and fed them as the Body of Christ, and strengthened them to resist the atrocities of the state.

It's a little hard to comment on the substance of our discussion this week. On Tuesday, when we began talking about the reading, I wasn't there, having been a bit sidetracked with my most recent medical adventures. And Thursday, while present, I was still not tracking as well as I'd like.

Nevertheless, there were a few things that stuck out for me. One thing I found that captured my attention was the comparison of a couple of the Eucharistic prayers we use (Eucharistic Prayers B and C, for those interested and not present). Listening to the way people hear the messages in them, or not, brought home something for me.

I was struck once again by the differences in how we hear the words of these prayers; how dependent our understanding is upon what we bring to the moment. Not only was there a significant variation between the two prayers we compared, but the spectrum of interpretation that our class shared within each one was wider than I would have expected. How do we develop commonality in our understanding within the diverse spectrum in which we hear the exact same words and phrases?

This is where a clarification that Nancy offered really made sense. We were tossing off the definition of "Liturgy" as "the work of the people," almost without thinking about it, we've heard is so often. But she restated it, referring to "private work done for the public good." Keeping this in mind casts a different tint to what we do in the context of our Eucharistic liturgy. It is private work-- not only performed, at this point in our worship service, primarily by the presider, but heard and seen and owned by each participant also as a private piece of worship, within the community gathered. At the same time, it is done "for the public good." Our private understanding contributes to the public worship, and influences the ethos that the community develops, as the "good" to which we hold, by which we are collectively formed, and through which we then see the world outside the liturgy of the church. The parts remain distinct, but the whole becomes greater than their sum.

I have not read the rest of our text yet, but it seems that this was the development that allowed the Roman Catholic church to eventually become a force for resistance against Pinochet's torturous practices, rather than to be ultimately splintered by them. And I can understand that. I think of something that Robert Harris said in our preaching class earlier that day, about Christian faith and practice being "Important. I mean, really important. 'Take-me-out-of-my-comfort-zone' important."

Done and taken in intentionally, isn't that what the Eucharistic liturgy does? Through it, are we not called out of our comfort zone, and given both comfort and challenge, as individuals and as part of a larger identity? "For we who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread, one cup."


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