02 November 2007

Living With and In the Eucharistic Presence

Apparently it is a surprise to some people that canonical or diocesan hermits are allowed to reserve Eucharist in their "cells" or hermitages, and also, as solitaries, to self-communicate during a Communion service on those days when it is impossible to get to or have someone come in to say Mass. More than surprise, there is dismay, indignation and concern for the legalities of such a situation. The idea that Bishops approve Rules of Life which may describe this arrangement for reserving and receiving Eucharist seems to be anathema to these folks, and they suggest that it is not surprising reverence for the Eucharist is supposedly declining in the post Vatican II Church given such praxis and permission. The idea, on the other hand, that a hermit might actually enhance reverence for the Eucharist through such praxis seems not to have occured to them.

The history of eremitical reservation of the Eucharist is as old as eremitical life itself. The following is EWTN's desciption of the situation: [[Under the impact of this faith, the early hermits reserved the Eucharist in their cells. From at least the middle of the third century, it was very usual for the solitaries in the East, especially in Palestine and Egypt, to preserve the consecrated elements in the caves or hermitages where they lived. The immediate purpose of this reservation was to enable the hermits to give themselves Holy Communion. But these hermits were too conscious of what the Real Presence was not to treat it with great reverence and not to think of it as serving a sacred purpose by just being nearby.]] See also: Notes from Stillsong Hermitage: On the Reservation of Eucharist by Hermits

Recently I had the occasion to hear actual accusations that the Eucharistic praxis here at Stillsong detracts from reverence for the Eucharist and belief in the Real Presence because I am allowed to open the tabernacle, open the ciborium, and remove the Eucharist so that I may receive it in Communion. Given the contents of this blog thus far (there is nothing in text or pictures which points to a lack of appropriate reverence for the Eucharist), I found the accusations disingenuous, and beyond pointing out that my Rule of Life was accepted by my Bishop and had been thoroughly checked over by several canonists, I sought to move the discussion to greater levels of reflection, and more significant Eucharistic questions than the important but BEGINNING questions about legality and conditions of reservation and reception. I think these are the questions that any hermit, consecrated virgin, or religious considers when they live with the Eucharist in their most intimate space. While none of us is worthy of the privilege of retaining and receiving the Eucharist in such solitary circumstances (or any other for that matter), the simple fact is I live with what I consider to be much more profound questions and demands because of the Eucharistic presence and reception here in Stillsong. I honor the canons on proper reservation and reverence toward the Eucharist, of course, but they are merely the starting point for a life of living with Jesus in the Eucharist.

So what questions, does this raise for me? What ARE the questions I live with which help challenge and define me and my Eucharistic adoration? Well, they are more foundational and more concerned with going beyond the letter of the Law than the concerns and questions of the accusers. For instance, what is it that constitutes appropriate worship of Eucharist? How should it function in our lives in order to indicate a GENUINE and even PROFOUND belief in the real presence? Is it enough to adore it remotely, or are we to consume and be consumed by it to truly adore it? What are the dangers of someone having Eucharist in their hermitage or home (as in CV's or religious Sisters and Brothers) --- assuming normal prudence and limited access of others to the Eucharist? How does one protect against such dangers? What are the benefits and what does such a thing say to others ABOUT the Eucharist? How would having Eucharist in one's hermitage, home, or cell change the way one relates to her environment? Does the idea of worship begin to change? Should and does it, for instance, come to envelop the smallest thing one does so that the most ordinary tasks become a matter of worship?

All of these questions are part and parcel of Eucharistically oriented prayer. They are certainly questions someone who LIVES WITH the Eucharist considers on a regular basis. And then of course, there are the very personal questions about one's own living and loving, one's being and failing to be what the Eucharist calls us to be. They are questions about the state of one's heart, the way in which one really serves or fails to serve the God who reveals himself as God-with-us in every moment and mood of our day. How has one grown in prayer? In service to the Church and World? How is the dialogue with God which one IS, maturing and coming to greater articulation because of the constant Eucharistic presence? How has it failed to happen and what are we being called to that very day or hour? How constant is the state of gratitude one finds oneself in in light of lving with such a precious gift? How pervasive is the sense of giftedness in all things? How aware is one of the capacity of the most ordinary piece of reality to mediate the presence of a Living God? And how well has one maintained an environment of silence, solitude, prayer, penance, AND hospitality which are appropriate to one living with such a Presence?

The questions of canons regarding appropriate reservation and communication of the Eucharist, are important questions initially, but for one to really REVERENCE and WORSHIP the Eucharist as it is meant to be, one needs to move to all those more profound and personal questions, questions of relationship, questions of vulnerability, questions of increased sensitivity and true worship --- especially worship which embraces the most ordinary and everyday aspects of one's day. (When one lives in the presence of the Eucharist, and with a presence lamp always burning, it tends to encourage one to superimpose these images onto every place and situation into which one enters. Everyone and every place becomes holy, and potentially eucharistic.) Those who are allowed to reserve and receive Eucharist in solitary circumstances (hermits, CV's, small houses with a single vowed religious) serve the Church by raising all these questions (and forcing others to raise them instead of remaining simply on the level of law); so too do they serve the church by becoming a living symbol of the realm where the Eucharist is REALLY and visibly central in an individual's life, and without which the individual would be very much more alone and even bereft.

It seems to me that such questions point to a profound (if ever-growing) reverence for the Eucharist and commitment to the Real Presence --- even where the quality of these things needs to continue to mature and deepen every day. I suppose I also think that remaining on the level of Law in one's considerations of eremitical praxis today in regard to Eucharistic reservation and reception represents its own form of lack of reverence and failure to worship the Eucharist appropriately. No hermit could live this life and take Eucharist for granted or fail to genuinely and profoundly worship and reverence it. More, I think every hermit must (and does!) develop a practical or pastoral theology of worship which extends to the most ordinary moments and moods of one's day --- because these moments occur in the Eucharistic Presence, that is, they occur in an environment which is completely oriented towards and conditioned by that Presence. I think this leads to genuine reverence, a more profound reverence than might otherwise be the case, and a theology of worship which is more adequate than one which brackets Eucharist off from everyday life and circumstances even while surrounding its reservation with the appropriate, but relatively remote trappings of more usual Eucharistic adoration.

The original accusations stung a bit; they were directed to precisely where I care the most and so, am most vulnerable in some ways. However, they also served to allow me to reflect on the kinds of questions and challenges that are more important and far reaching than those of rubrics or law, but which are also served by those rubrics and law. So, I come away grateful for those persons who raised the issues and objected that such praxis as found in hermitages and the residences of CV's throughout the world contributes to the decline of Eucharistic worship and reverence. In so doing, they allowed me to begin reflecting anew on what Eucharistic reverence and worship really consists of. They return me anew to the center I had never really left. For this, I owe them my profoundest thanks!