The best analogy I know for Transubstantiation – the conversion, after consecration, of the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ – is the phenomenon of “Magic Eye” images. These are glossy, colourful, two-dimensional pictures of what appear to be a series of wavy lines or patterns. For the viewer to get the “magic” effect, they should gaze upon the picture for some time, allowing the eyes to relax. At first there is a moment of dizziness as the stereoscopic functions of the brain kick in, trying to make sense of the two-dimensional surface, then, sometimes helped by the viewer moving the picture towards, or away from, the eyes, suddenly a three dimensional image is apparent. It has no necessary relationship at all to the content of the wavy lines or patterns. Indeed the wavy patterns simply yield and become the contours of, for instance, three dolphins leaping out of the water.
I am going to take the readings which are usual for Good Shepherd Sunday, that is to say Ezekiel 34 and John 10:1-18, and see how we can allow ourselves to enter into what I have tried to outline as the eucharistic dynamic of our faith. First of all I would like to set out what I take to be the structure of Eucharist, and then see how we can allow these readings to come alive for us.
My explorations will proceed by way of showing the “ﬁttingness” of the rise of the modern social order with certain conceptions or misconceptions of sacriﬁce in the Reformation era. I will begin with an examination of Martin Luther’s critique of the Mass as sacriﬁce. Then I will show how Luther’s arguments on sacriﬁce —as well as those of his opponents—serve as a bridge from the medieval to the modern, speciﬁcally in partially reﬂecting the shift from an organic idealization of society to a contractual conception of social processes. Finally, I will conclude with some brief comments on alternative Christian conceptions of sacriﬁce which do not succumb to the modern logic of gift and exchange.
I was going to subtitle this essay “How to be a Global Village Idiot”, but “A Geography of the Eucharist” better captures what I hope to accomplish, for I believe that much of the Christian confusion over globalization results from a neglect of the Eucharist as the source of a truly Catholic practice of space and time. Globalization marks a certain conﬁguration for the discipline of space and time; I would like to juxtapose this geography with another geography, a geography of the Eucharist and its production of catholicity.
Economics, we are told, is the science which studies the allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity. The very basis of the market, trade – giving up something to get something else – assumes scarcity. Resources are scarce wherever the desires of all persons for goods or services cannot be met….Consumerism is the death of Christian eschatology. There can be no rupture with the status quo, no inbreaking Kingdom of God, but only endless superficial novelty….The Eucharist tells another story about hunger and consumption. It does not begin with scarcity, but with the one who came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
This is often our approach to liturgy and social life: we try to “read” the liturgy for symbols and meanings that we take out and apply in the “real world” — the offering means we should give of our wealth, the kiss of peace means we should seek peace in international relations, and so on. This is fine, but it doesn’t address the liturgy as an action that forms a body, the body of Christ.
It is easiest to tell what transubstantiation is by saying this: little children should be taught about it as early as possible. Not of course using the word “transubstantiation”, because it is not a little child’s word. But the thing can be taught, and it is best taught at mass at the consecration, the one part where a small child should be got to fix its attention on what is going on. I mean a child that is beginning to speak, one that understands enough language to be told and to tell you things that have happened and to follow a simple story. Such a child can be taught then by whispering to it such things as: “Look! Look what the priest is doing … He is saying Jesus’ words that change the bread into Jesus’ body. Now he’s lifting it up. Look! Now bow your head and say ‘My Lord and my God’,” and then “Look, now he’s taken hold of the cup. He’s saying the words that change the wine into Jesus’ blood. Look up at the cup. Now bow your head and say ‘We believe, we adore your precious blood, O Christ of God’.” [The cry of the Ethiopians at the consecration of the chalice.] This need not be disturbing to the surrounding people.