I had an insight while I was teaching a few weeks ago (on the lay vocation) and it blew my mind. I shared it with a friend afterward and he said, “Write it down as soon as you can.” So I did. I will share it with you on this Holy Thursday. It is actually not really a new insight, just a new vantage on a previous insight.
That evening I was teaching on paragraph #34 in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, which says this:
The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.
For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.
This passage links in a stunning way the Eucharistic Sacrifice to the ordinary lives of men and women who live in the world, and go about gathering the “material” of their spiritual sacrifices, which are accepted by God and joined to the sacrifice of His Son by the Holy Spirit. “Pray, brethren, that your sacrifice and mine may be acceptable to God the almighty Father…” This work of “gathering” material for the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Council tells us, is an act of secular consecration that necessarily precedes the sacred consecration in the Mass. The lay faithful, who were made priests in Baptism, gather each day the fragments of what they have consecrated by means of their faith-full lives, and gather those fragments together at the Offertory as bread, wine and alms.
With that very basic background, let me share the insight that kindled a little fire in my mind. Here is what I sent myself as a voice-to-text email the night I had this insight. It’s a string of messy sentences, but I will leave it as it was from my phone (correcting bizarre v2t spellings!). Sorry it rambles:
Teaching tonight about the link between the two consecrations–liturgy of Daily Life and liturgy of Eucharist. There is a profound connection, and fiery analogy between the transubstantiation of the bread and wine effected under the force of Christ’s words of selfless and self-sacrificing charity AND the consecration of the world to God by the lay faithful, which is ALSO effected under the force of their Christlike lives that speak His Word of self sacrificing love and call down the Spirit poured out into their hearts at Baptism. In the liturgy of the Eucharist the bread and wine receive a new substance: the merciful Christ’s risen Body and Blood. In the liturgy of Daily Life the secular world receives a new form: the mercy of Christ. Parallel liturgies going on, one feeding into the other: Life into Eucharist and Eucharist into Life. My God.
So I was thinking in class teaching today: in Latin theology it’s the Words of Institution that bring about the transformation of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood — “this is my Body broken for you…my Blood spilled out for you”. It’s very specific. How can I say this? The Christ made present in Mass at the consecration is very specific in His mode of presence: Present at the apogee of His selfless outpouring, the most concentrated moment His life-giving merciful love for fallen humanity: this my self-sacrificing Body and Blood for you. The Eucharist is not a “generic” Jesus presence, but Jesus in-the-midst-of-offering-His-life-in-love presence. And there is no mistake He changes bread and wine. Yes because it’s Passover, but also because God is a feeding God who lives and loves to give joy to humanity [Psalm 146:7; 104:15].
So this is amazing: the Eucharistic transformation at Mass is a paradigm, a model, a source, an exemplary sign of the Way [John 14:6] the lay faithful, in their secular contexts of life, are supposed to consecrate the world to God in Christ: building a culture of mercy, a civilization of selfless and sacrificial and merciful love for fallen humanity, feeding the hundry and giving joy to the downcast. Consecration, which means to “make holy,” does what holiness is, and holiness is of course the “perfection of charity” which is perfectly modeled in Jesus’ sacrificial death. The laity in the world love like Jesus does in the Passion, which is what the Last Supper really is. The Meal of that sacrificial-love-in-action. The Truth of the Way of Life that Christ revealed to us AND gave to us at the Last Supper, epitomized in the Words of Institution, IS the very specific meaning and sructure of how we are to “consecrate the world.” It’s the consecratory pattern (taxis/ordo) after which we are to build a culture of life and civilization of love [neat typology for this: Exodus 24:8-12; 25:40]. No accident that “love one another AS I have loved you” is said at the Last Supper in the midst of Eucharistic Consecration [John 17:17].
The new transubstantiated substance that remains in the aftermath the re-creating Consecration is also to be the new substance of the culture we are to be building. It’s why He commands us to eat and drink before He says: Go! The Real Presence is the Real Blueprint and source and cause and goal of all our world-consecrating strivings after-Mass. Empowered in our baptismal priesthood, we are lay missionaries who go out into the world as its soul, threatenig to love that world into new life. We are a praying laity who call the Spirit down everywhere we go in hope that every quark of time and space will be redeemed in that “eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” I’m thinking: Catholic Social Teaching really is in the deepest sense the specific application of this Eucharistic paradigm to the whole social order. If we say: how do I apply Eucharistic logic to business or economics or the arts or war or sex or medicine? CST! For the laity CST is their new “Way of Perfection” to transforming and transformative union with Christ the Lover of Mankind. Teresa of Avila gave her nuns a contemplative’s Way, the Church has given the secular lay geniuses their Way.
When the priest says, “Go! Be Sent!” he really means, “Continue in your lives the substance-changing liturgical work you have seen and heard and ingested today. Gather more grain for bread and grapes for wine, grind them down by your labors, bake bread and ferment wine by your charity and return again with all you have gathered to offer it here so we can send it up on High to store as Treasure in Heaven for the life of the world and the glory of the God who made heaven and earth to be filled with His glory.” So when St John Paul says “Christian marriage is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God” this what he means, that marriage is a great work of preparing material for the Kingdom. My God!
I know a woman who has a Down Syndrome son who is also severely disabled. He suffers from chronic insomnia, and regularly has sleepless bouts that stretch for three days in a row. And he’s afraid of the dark, so she stays up with him for that whole stretch of time and then works during the day. She’s been doing this for 24 years. Never complains. Whenever I compliment her, she deflects it by saying: “He’s the champ, not me.” And one time she added, “If I’m ever saved when I die, it will be because of him. He pulled me out of my selfishness and taught me to love. He’s the champ.” Well, the whole world is saved by her Christ-like love, is consecrated. Between mother and son, their daily “sleepless” sacrifices of love given and received are so vast — I imagine — that were they physical and not spiritual things they could not be contained by a thousand worlds. Such a beautiful love, a beauty that saves the world.
I leave you with an image of the Consecration of the Eucharistic Liturgy to capture the union of the two liturgies into one. The faithful, Christ’s Body, are anxiously watching as their offerings are being accepted, consecrated and taken up into the Kingdom: