There are few things I can do in this life more important than to place the host — the Body of Christ — into the hands of the faithful.
This is a service I am blessed to be able to perform as a seminarian and Lay Eucharistic Minister of the Old Catholic Church. But, sometimes, I forget others don’t have an understanding — as I did not a few years ago — of what it really means when we receive Communion.
A nursing home resident summed it up well for me last year: “Communion is to let Christ do the doing.”
I love that view of the Eucharist, because it properly frames Christ as the active agent in our salvation, and in what transpires — what we receive — when we consume the elements of the Eucharist.
Jesus outlined the Eucharist, and what would transpire for us in Communion, in Luke: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” Luke 22:19-20
There are many different views of this passage, and what it means for us and for the nature of the Eucharist. The point of difference revolves largely around the interpretation and usage of the word “remembrance,” drawn from the Latin memoria.
For many Protestants, the celebration of the Last Supper means to reenact, to remember in a mental sense, to memorialize the Biblical event — and it is not my intent to quibble with their interpretation. But, for those of us who believe and practice the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, “remembrance” has far more meaning than just remembering, or memorializing something in the distant past.
This latter distinction stems from the original Greek word that we’ve translated as “remembrance” — anamnesis. It is a Greek word that doesn’t have a direct translation to English, because it means something far more than just remembering a past event.
Anglican Benedictine monk Dom Gregory Dix pointed out in his 1945 book, “The Shape of the Liturgy,” the original Greek term “anamnesis” does not involve remembering something absent — something confined to our past. It means to make that past present.
In the case of the Eucharist, that means stepping into Christ at the Last Supper, present in the host. As J. D. Crichton put it in his 1978 essay, “A Theology of Worship,” “In the liturgical mystery we are actualizing the past event, making it present...”
A way to envision this is a timeline on a string, with past events and the present laid out in the linear fashion to which we’re accustomed. In an experience of anamnesis, as used in the Greek Eucharist account, that string is folded over, overlaying the past event onto the present.
Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, Professor of Liturgy at Hebrew Union College in New York City, explained in a 2011 essay the word anamnesis is “practically untranslatable in English,” and does not involve a recollection of the past, but rather making the past present. In anamnesis, in the Eucharist, time stops momentously, as “then” and “now” become the same.
Union with each other and with the Real Presence of Christ. This is why we, who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, receive the Eucharist.
I haven’t written this to dissuade you of your beliefs, but to state my own. I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because, without the Real Presence, the altar is nothing but a table; church naught but a meeting hall; worship merely a respectful visit to the tombstone of our past, while we anxiously await the future.
For me, Christ is real, and present. He is the active agent of all that is good. And I choose, in the Eucharist, to kneel, to listen, to receive. I choose, to paraphrase my friend at the nursing home, to let Christ do the doing.