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Vol 38 No 3


Frank Andersen MSC

Kerrie Hide

Tony Kelly CSsR

Michael Trainor

Andrew and Liz Chatelier

Denis Uhr MSC


Kevin Mark


The long journey home:
Searching for eucharist today


The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2004

THE STORY IS TOLD of the construction of the first Catholic Church in the town of Cloncurry in 1907.1 Father Hanley had arrived in the town in 1898, and for nine years Mass was celebrated in the old Shire Hall. During this time monies were collected and an order was placed in England for a wooden Church. In time this building did arrive at the seaport of Townsville—but there it was waylaid by customs to sit for months on the wharf. It was eventually redeemed by a consortium of Catholic locals (including a Father Walsh) who now possessed a ready-made Church which he promptly erected in South Townsville. My newly married parents, Em and Claude Andersen, knew this church well—which is more than can be said for the patient parishioners of Cloncurry! They were left with a debt of forty (40) pounds, and no Church!

But the West was hungry for worship and further monies were raised by the faithful of the Cloncurry district. Led by their newly-appointed Parish Priest, Father O’Keefe, suitable building material was again purchased—this time, prudently, in Townsville itself. Construction was delayed as the materials had to come via Julia Creek, with the final leg of the journey to Cloncurry being by wagon-team. It was a wet year…and it would take three months for the teams to ‘get through’, and Father O’Keefe (they tell), ‘often rode out of an afternoon on his creamy horse to the Six Mile Well to see if his Church was coming!’

I suggest that this delightful metaphor still holds for today—and that many of us wait, with yearning and hope—at the Six Mile of our lives—‘to see if the Church is coming’ .

Today’s Catholic faithful are living through a time of rare moment: the Church is in Passover; it is crossing a momentous threshold—and we have been led into Great Expectations. We find ourselves on the cusp of something so extraordinary that only a Council as visionary as Vatican ll could both mark and trigger its commencement. In the sweep of history this is a journey barely begun and far from completed.

For example…
Barely 100 years ago, at any Sunday Mass in this country, few adult Catholics would have presented for Holy Communion.2 Today, a century later, most in our congregations do so—but this can only be said for the reception of Eucharistic Bread (our practice of receiving from the Chalice is less established). That this central Eucharistic gesture of ‘eating and drinking’ remains so fractured should alert us all to the unfinished and still urgent business of liturgical renewal. Underneath an apparent lack of urgency concerning the Blood of Christ lie deeper issues of meaning and symbol…

Yes, a commencement has been made. Yet, in terms of celebrating and proclaiming ‘the mystery of faith’ we are still (in the words of Noel Davis) ‘somewhere between towns’ .

I read our current situation as a transition between two distinct epochs (both of which I have experienced). I grew up in an era of Church dominated by a sense of Priesthood. That era is by no means past, yet as the realities of Vatican ll sink deeper into our consciousness, I find myself living in anticipation of what many would refer to as the coming epoch of the Laity (in its best and all-inclusive sense).

Sandra Schneiders remarked recently:

We know the kind of Church we want to leave behind, but the shape of the Church that is coming eludes us all. Nothing comparable has existed since perhaps the third century.3
I am talking about our experience of being a Church, and about what appears to be an inability to sense that my primary, personal identity lies in being a member of a communio—that the secret of grasping who I am is to be found only in terms of my relationships with others.

What does this mean in practical terms?

I find myself most fulfilled when being called to love; when challenged to extend my boundaries of affection and loyalty. From others I need regular expressions of both forgiveness and empathy on this lonely and at times terrifying journey. I need others with whom to sing my celebratory moments. When facing into the tasks of life, I need experiences of strengthening solidarity. I cannot sustain alone this attempt on the mystery of God. I am now conscious of how shared an endeavour this has to be (just as it was for Jesus).

Yet, this need for companionship in faith has been a late arrival in the consciousness of this writer…

I grew up in a spirituality that was individualistic. I lived the spirituality of an isolated heart. For this individual, life was a lonely journey towards a distant God. The Church was a vehicle for my personal salvation; according to my recollection, our manner of ‘doing sacraments’ reflected a like mentality.

A change to this outlook came in the 1970’s. In common with many of you, I began to explore the richness of Sacred Scripture – becoming conscious thereby that life could just as easily be imagined as a journey with God. Much of my early scriptural music was crafted around this delightful discovery: You are God who walks with me!

What I was still missing, of course, was a sense of Church—or (to put it another way) that life could be a journey with you and in God. The deeper one enters the Scriptures, the more this awareness seems to surface in our hearts—and perhaps it is a realisation that does take much time…

Those of you working in liturgy know only too well this crippling tension between the individualism so many of us bring to worship and the common mind that liturgy seeks to cultivate. I can be touched by God in a wilderness solitude, but I can only touch the God of Jesus—and the God of Christian ritual—when I reach out towards community.

We had forgotten the peculiar ‘fleshiness’ Jesus gave to his sense of God. To find this kind of God one washes feet, or takes bread thankfully, breaks it and gives it to others. To find the God of Christ, I must find the Body of Christ. Anything less (in my reading of the Gospels) is a delusion.

Thus, it is no accident that our inability to perform Eucharist properly lies central to this depletion. To get Eucharist right is to get Church right (Ecclesia de Eucharistia writes John Paul II4). I suspect that the gap in our lives left by this loss of a sense of Church is precisely the gap being filled on all sides by the current ‘quest for spiritualities’ of all types. My contention in this paper is that the primary, foundational spirituality of the Christian is corporate and that the formation of Eucharistic community is our spirituality, and that to forget this is to lose touch with the experience that lay at the heart of the person we call Jesus.

If Eucharist is our primary well of nourishment—and consider the haemorrhage occurring from our Sunday communities today—then are we not truly in a time of lamentation? Yet, how infrequently—indeed ever—do we sing songs of lamentation in our diminished and struggling communities?

Yet lamentation and anguish are part and parcel of the psalmody that formed the prayer-life of Jesus’ people—we can be confident it formed an integral part in Hebrew worship. Artists have long known that lamentation and grief source the energies of creativity and imagination. When I sense what the celebration of Eucharist could be in our communities and compare it to the general state of how things are, I know anguish in my heart. It strikes me as simplistic to suggest that our difficulties with Eucharist lie primarily in the realm of language: the depletion of our sense of mystery lies rather at the level of our perception and understanding. We are not conscious of what it is we are doing when at Eucharist. What we have lost is the country of the heart…

By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat and we wept!
When we remembered our country…
there we sat and we wept!

I sometimes wonder whether our loss of imagination as a Church might not be related to our incapacity to lament publicly.

Grief is a healthy process of life. So also is public penitence. Both face us into truth—yet we avoid them, afraid to admit publicly the defeat and loss of faith they entail.

To ‘follow you again, my Lord’ is inseparable (at least in our mythology) from ‘leaving one’s boats behind’. The disciples left ‘what was’ in their shared pursuit of ‘what could be’—and the rest is history! Our current transitional movement as a Church—our Passover event—is as momentous: from the individualism of recent centuries into an awakening realisation that we are, at our deepest level of being, a community called Christ, and that one’s individual giftedness was to be explored within this matrix of community life.

We call this a passover event: it involves for us all a massive conversion of heart, a shift in mentality from I to we, from my to our and from me to us.

This option between pronouns might appear slight, yet the imaginations they evoke are worlds apart. Is it any wonder that in this transitional period of the shift, our liturgical rituals would struggle for authenticity and meaning? Vatican II gave explicit shape to this image of Church as a People-on-the-Move, what Matthew in his Gospel calls a qahal (a ‘caravan of God’s faithful’). The Church is seen as a small band of believers in hostile territory, moving forward in history as one People, on journey together into the Mystery of God. Lumen Gentium gave this image prophecy; we wait yet upon its fulfilment.

Just as surely, the sense of Sacrament that emerged from Vatican II was different from what had been in place for previous centuries: where once Sacraments were moments of intense grace that happened to individuals (e.g. I was baptised in 1942), now they were seen as communal rites of passage, as rituals that initiated and nourished life-long processes of shared incorporation into the Mystery of Christ (I am still being baptised with you, my community, washed each weekend deeper into the story of Jesus).

My sense is that the authentic liturgical alterations of Vatican II were attempting to address this massive shift in imagination: from individual to community; from piety to liturgy; from attendance to participation. The two Sacraments that benefited greatly in this process of renewal were those of Baptism and Eucharist. They now present as strongly communal in character (whereas the same quality of shift—individual to communal—sadly was not sustained in Reconciliation).

Here I wish to pay tribute to Bishop Jim Cuskelly MSC and his groundbreaking insight concerning the Spirituality of the Human Heart: that to know one’s own heart is to spend time in the library of the very heart of God—or (in other words) that our God has a heart as human as mine. It is called by the name of Jesus. To know my own heart’s pathways is to know Jesus at new depths of awareness; to know my own heart’s struggles and hopes is to know the heart of my sisters and brothers—indeed, to come into the presence of the Heart of Humanity itself. But first, the most difficult of steps: ‘to know thyself’! The pathway of inner wisdom lies through the experience of one’s individual heart.

I believe it is the same dynamic of returning to the heartland that is happening to the body corporate we know as Church. What we are witnessing since Vatican II is the struggle by the Church (as a corporate entity) to go into its own heart and there to confront—and be confronted by—its own truths, yearnings, hopes, dreams and longings. One goes there, to one’s heart (whether as an individual or as a community) cautiously. The heart is a wild and dangerous place—especially so when what lies at the heart of the Church community is the story of Jesus. The Gospel is the unique treasure that lies at the core of the Church’s memory. The Word of God constructs the community. Jesus is our story! We cannot now commence any sacrament without immersing ourselves in the Gospels, without ‘going into that inner room and carefully locking the door, so that the One who lives in that secret place will speak with us’.5

We were not always so welcoming of the Word of God, nor have we always viewed it as so critically important to the formation of Church. Some of us would remember that prior to Vatican II the legal requirement for attendance at Sunday Mass was to be there in time for the Offertory and to remain in attendance until after the priest’s Communion. In those times the Readings from the Scriptures were not really the ‘Catholic thing’.

What a different feel is developing amongst us now for the Word of God! The Introduction to the Lectionary puts it well: ‘ When the Word of God is proclaimed in the Church… and put into living practice… it enlightens the faithful and draws them into the entire mystery of the Lord as a reality to be lived’ .

The stories of Jesus (and the Old Testament stories leading up to him) wash the community into ‘the mind of Christ’. His life’s portrayal is what our communities shall become. It’s his way of living the Covenant that we remember when we come to make Covenant each Sunday. The community stands in the presence of Gospel stories—the invariable posture of the Risen Lord—ready to serve this Word! Today’s community lives ‘in Christ’, being his presence in the world of today. The risen Body of Christ is who we are…

Come! Be born of us once more!
With your Spirit fill our lives!
May we be—on earth—the Heart of God!6

For us, of course, the Word is a person. A Hebrew person, who lived in a Hebrew culture, whose thoughts and attitudes were shaped by Hebrew tradition, who thought about life and God in Hebrew ways.

One can fall in love with a person. Like the Apostles, we too are swept off our feet as we are thoroughly—and progressively—immersed (baptised) in living relationship with a real person.

But what kind of Jesus emerges from within the Gospel stories? What kinds of cultural richness lie undiscovered within the portrayal of the life of this Hebrew man? What are some of the cultural nuances that we Westerners can so easily misread?

I make the following comments as a liturgist who is now regularly surprised by the kind of symbols and images employed by the Gospel writers. They were always there (some obviously) but it has taken me a lifetime of symbolic maturation to notice as many of them as I do now. What I want to suggest is that the Gospels present Jesus not so much as a gifted individual but as the embodiment of Israel’s corporate story.

We do violence to the memory of Jesus when we ‘see him’ from a Western viewpoint as some unusual and gifted person whose individualistic kind of life finally got him into trouble. His mission in life was the formation of a New Israel. In his being he carried the whole Nation he loved. Were we to penetrate his mind, I believe we would be shocked to realise that for Jesus it was not merely himself who was on the Cross—it was his whole Nation.

In other words, Jesus was Hebrew ‘to the bone’. He was born of a People whose self-identity lay in the Covenant struck at Sinai: we are a Pass-Over People! Yes, it was a ‘covenant with God’, but the human dimensions of its living involved a commitment by Twelve Tribes to collaborate in the formation of a new kind of Nation.

This commitment to create ‘a holy nation’ (one that could become in turn ‘a light to all nations’) was noble in conception, fragile in deployment and all too humanly deficient in practice. Yet the Prophets rose time and time again precisely to call back into their original fidelity the entire body-politic. Prophets were constantly calling for a reconstruction of social culture, the better to reflect the loving and loyal nature of the God who had ‘saved’ them from Egypt.
The Gospels merely continue towards fulfilment this process of corporate renewal.

• The Gospels may present as the story of an individual (Jesus), yet one of the first acts of his public life is to call The Twelve – clearly signalling his intent to lay a new foundation for the social entity of Israel. From that moment, the Gospels are about Jesus and The Twelve: their lives—as a dedicated band—become a deliberate street theatre depicting the ethical and loving shape of the Kingdom into which God was calling the whole Nation.
• When The Twelve broke the Law, Jesus was held liable.
• When he was unable to visit every village and hamlet, they were sent two-by-two in his name—preaching and healing and casting out spirits with the same energy (and impact) as Jesus himself.
• In the Feeding Stories, it is Jesus who insists: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ The miracle is performed over their bread and fish and the words spoken over these gifts are the already ritualised wordings of the Eucharist.7
• The Gospels end with the passing of the mantle to those same Disciples, which becomes in this year’s Lucan Gospel a seamless transition into the Church community of Acts.

This is probably saying no more—but this is so important to notice—that the Gospels were shaped and committed to written form by Churches, for Churches and using already established Church (and ritual) language.

I believe these same corporate dimensions are present within the language attributed to Jesus himself.

When, from the Cross, Jesus prays Psalms 22 and 31, he is making use of Hebrew ritual prayers. The Psalms are the ritual songs of the Hebrew Nation (we still call them The Prayer of the Church). They are the Prayer-Songs of a People, and in the

Psalms the personal pronouns I and Me—while catching the sentiments of the individual who prays them—are primarily pronouns that refer to the Nation of Israel, God’s Chosen Servant.

What is astonishing for me of late is how deeply Jesus loved his People. And in committed love for his People (despite their betrayal), he continues to pray on their behalf from the Cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Ps 22).

And, in one final gesture of trust, surrender and love for his People: ‘Into your hands I give my spirit…’ (Ps 31).

It was for the renewed life of the body-corporate called Israel that Jesus devoted himself so spectacularly, so completely. His own individual life was swept-up into a yearning for a renovation-of-heart that embraced his whole culture and times:

‘Jerusalem Jerusalem! How I longed to have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—and you would not!’8

This is the cri-de-coeur of a man whose meaning-for-life came from his awareness of being embedded—and responsible to—his beloved community. He carried them within his heart. His life would become a public manifestation of everything the

Nation was called to be (the ‘public life’ of Jesus). He (and his little band of believers) would embody to the end the affection (hesed) and the loyalty (emet) that characterised the God who had captured their hearts.9

This was public theatre—and all in Israel were invited to participate. This dramatic attempt to reform the heart of Israel came to climax in Jerusalem during the final week of their lives together—the week that celebrated Passover. What could be more naturally expressive of their passover faith than to ritualise their commitment to the Covenant that alone gave shape to their intentions. Let me dwell a moment on this central ritual in Jesus’ life (which we have come to call the Last Supper)…

The Gospels tell us much about how Eucharist was understood in the earliest communities for which they were written. Gospel accounts are less helpful in terms of precisely what occurred at the Last Supper. But we do know that Jesus was a
Hebrew and that he gathered during this Passover week with other Hebrew believers to celebrate the Hebrew Covenant commitment. These were not Tridentine theologians, but Hebrew-traditioned visionaries prepared to put their lives on the line for the practicalities of their Covenant faith.

At such a meal, it would have been unthinkable for Jesus not to have consumed with them the elements of bread and wine. He gave, but also partook himself of what he ‘gave them’. In that desperate week of his life, what he needed to ritualise with them was a shared incorporation, his solidarity with them in the Covenant commitment. Only in solidarity with them would he find the strength needed later that night to walk into Gethsemane and into all it heralded. The Last Supper was a ceremonial of loyalty and committed Covenant bonding.10

In his own person, leaving that Upper Room, Jesus carries the whole Nation’s Covenant dream; he embodies the commitments made at Sinai and the Nation’s total trust in God. He is acting as no mere individual, engaging in a merely personal struggle-to-be-faithful. Jesus is a sacrament of the loyal Nation. When he suffers, all suffer…When he rises, all rise…‘In his stripes, we are healed…’

I believe that what we are being invited to participate in on Sunday is this same dynamic commitment to become together a Covenant Community. Called to be—in today’s world—this same faithful community, we are driven by the Covenant vision that drove Jesus and the Twelve. We are certainly doing more than merely changing bread into Jesus’ body!11 We are taking the bread of our lives, looking the world in the eye and saying together, ‘This is my Body, it is given up for you’ .

We must become clearer as to just whose ‘body’ this is that is being put on the line. Just whose ‘blood’ this is ‘ that will be poured out for you and for all people’ . The participation called for is a participation by all present in this central gesture of bread and wine. Would that we had a shape to the ritual that rendered this sacramentum12 with clarity! It is there already, of course, when we refer to the Presider as being there in persona Christi capitis [ in the person of Christ the Head]— and that when the Presider speaks, and whatever the Presider prays, they are our words, they are our prayers.13 It is our life as a community that is being transformed into Christ. It is our own corporate mystery that is being celebrated.

Let me finish with these increasingly well-known words of Augustine: ‘It is your own lives that are placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving…’14

If we wish to recover the mysticism embedded in Eucharist, we need go no further than this: when we are offered the Body of Christ, what is it that we are about to consume? What implications for the reception of Holy Communion can we draw from these profound words of Augustine?

He contends that we are ‘receiving’ our own mystery, our own lives now consecrated as the Body of Christ. Let us contemplate this for a moment…

In my hands I hold all of your lives, all of your sufferings, your hopes and your dreams. I consume you in this moment, my companions in Christ. I am prepared hereby to demonstrate publicly our total interdependence one with another, that we are

One Bread, One Body. We are mutual nourishment one for another. Even more profoundly, through this Eucharistic bonding with all who are present in this local ritual, the whole of created reality is also made present. The interdependence in Christ is a universal interdependence. The act of Holy Communion is of cosmic dimension—and therein, might I suggest, lies the only hope for our contemporary world.

And when we are offered the Blood of Christ, what is it that we are about to drink? We are prepared to drink the sufferings of today’s Christ! We blood ourselves in a sacred commitment to the contemporary Covenant task: to create of ourselves, ‘a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people set apart’.

We are using the ritual of bread and wine as a construction of corporate commitment—to name our corporate identity as a People—just as the ritual was employed by Jesus and the Twelve. This remembered Story is what feeds us; we are driven forward by that same Covenant vision that drove him.

Thus, it is one another we receive in Holy Communion, and through one another, the whole of creation. The gathering might be localised, but its sacramental significance is universal and unconditional. My gestures with you are gestures towards all creation: when I bond in peace with you, I am reaching towards a wider reality and bonding. This act of communio is appropriately called ‘holy’ in that it transforms in the instant all my relationships… We move towards knowing ‘the fullness of God’ by moving towards one another ‘in Christ’. Paul used these very terms when encouraging his community at Ephesus into their ultimate nobility…

Deep in Christ I pray you know the power he can give…
May your hidden self grow strong, and may you live…
strong in faith and built on love, until you know…
how high and long, how wide and deep the fullness of God.

With these words we return to Bishop Jim Cuskelly’s major insight about the hidden depths of the heart. Yet we note here that when used by Paul, words like ‘your hidden self’ refer to the hidden dimensions that lie at the heart of the community called Christ.

Is it not true to your own experience that the Church’s task today is to reclaim its own ‘hidden self’ and thereby to rediscover its identity as Church (whether universal or localised)?

In conclusion (and like Father O’Keefe of Cloncurry), with Vatican II we have paid our deposit on the purchase of this new Church. And how frequently we stand hopeful at the Six Mile of our lives to see if that Church is coming! It’s in that kind of hope that we hold our hearts steady and for that kind of ‘arrival’ that we daily commit ourselves in ministry (as did O’Keefe and Cuskelly, as did Jesus and Paul).

For the Church’s journey into its corporate heart is no less difficult a journey than that undertaken by each of us individually into our own heart’s experience. Indeed, corporate journey may well be far more demanding of our patience, our courage and our hope. This was the kind of patient and loving fidelity into which Jim Cuskelly called us all—and he did so relentlessly. We may indeed be engaged—as a Church—on a long journey home. Yet its outcome is as immediate and as accessible as ‘turning to one another with a bond of Christ’s peace’.

Frank Andersen MSC is a teacher, liturgist, musician and adult faith educator. His music includes Eagle’s Wings, Everything I Possess, Rising Moon and Kindly Light. His publications include Jesus—Our Story, and Eucharist: Participating in the Mystery.


1. For this story I am indebted to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in their folio celebrating their contribution to the Church in Western Queensland (specifically Hughenden) entitled: North-West to Hughenden, Carmel Bourke SGS (2000).
2. The Sodality Movements of the early 20th Century (supported by Papal authority) promoted the reception of Holy Communion on a monthly basis—the Holy Name Society (for men) and the Sacred Heart Sodality (for women) were two of the better known.
3. During a conversation on Religious Life in Rome, March 2002.
4. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, written in 2003 by Pope John Paul 11, offers this eloquent title, which could be freely rendered as: The Church hangs from the Eucharist.
5. Matthew 6:6.
6. The Cross of Christ (Frank Andersen MSC), from the collection Kindly Light (Spectrum 1992).
7. Mark 6:41.
8. Luke 13:34.
9. Hebrews used the two terms hesed and emet when speaking of God’s love. Both are terms for love, but yet they differ in aspect: hesed being a term for affection (or tenderness) and emet a term for the decision to love (hence loyalty or faithfulness).
10. Mark’s Last Supper account (14:22-25) is framed by two stories of Covenant commitment: Judas’ lack of commitment (14:17-21) and Peter’s inability to maintain his commitment (14:26-31). Between these, Mark places the commitment of Jesus which he maintains at the cost of his life next day. This description of Jesus’ commitment is presented in the same wording we still employ at each Eucharist.
11. Beautifully expressed by John Paul 11 in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (#12). This paragraph alone deserves to be carefully studied at all levels of Catholic life.
12. In the Roman world from which the term was borrowed by the Church, a sacramentum was a public oath of commitment and allegiance made by the Army recruit to the Roman Emperor (considered divine). Once taken, this public oath of commitment could never be revoked. It forever changed the relationship between the person making the oath and the Emperor. The Church was happy to consider Baptism and Eucharist as experiences of sacramentum.
13. This phrase ‘in persona Christ capitis’ is often reduced to the three words ‘in persona Christi’ when being quoted as a definition of priesthood by various Church officials. The impression can be given that the priest is there at Eucharist standing in the place of Jesus (‘in persona Christi’) rather than in the more fulsome understanding that the priest at Eucharist actually stands in the place of Christ as head (of a body, presumably). The abbreviated understanding can lose sight of the communal dimension of the priest’s function at Eucharist.
14. St Augustine, Sermon 272.