This is a Jewish parable, but it captures better than several long courses I took on Eucharist.
I went through the seminary and I went through graduate school and at each level I took a major course on the Eucharist. After 3 major courses on the Eucharist I have decided that I do not understand the Eucharist. But, that is okay, the Eucharist is not meant to be understood. Why not? Well this is the story.
This is a famous Jewish parable.
Once upon a time, there was a young Jewish boy called Mordecai. A beautiful Jewish name. When it was time for Mordecai to go to school, he was 6 years old. His mum and dad took him to school, and he refused to stay there. He came home and would not stay at school.
His father and mother tried to reason with him. They tried to explain to this young boy that at 6 years old all children have to go to school. His time at home was over, but he would not listen to them. His mother would take him back to school each day. As soon as she left, he would go home. If she took him back, he would go and play on the swings, until it was time to go home. He would not stay in school.
The parents did what many parents do in a situation like that. They tried various combinations of bribes and threats. If you stay in school, we buy you a new bicycle. If you don’t stay in school, you will be punished in this and this way. But nothing worked.
Finally, in desperation the father went to see the rabbi. And he explained this to the rabbi, we have this young boy, Mordecai, he is 6 years old and he refused to go to school. We try and reason we him. But he won’t reason. He won’t listen.
The old rabbi said, “if the boy will not listen to words, then bring him to see me”. So the father went home, brought the young boy. Took him into the rabbi’s study. And the rabbi said to him not a single word. Not a word. He picked up the young boy and held him to his heart. For a long time. Then he set him down and afterwards there was no further problem.
Mordecai (then) went to school. He became a scholar and a great rabbi.
What does this parable tell us? What has this got to do with the eucharist?
The parable tells us there are times when words no longer have power. Notice the rabbi said, if the young boy will not listen to words, then bring him hear.
When words no longer have power, we still have another kind of language. Which is the language of ritual. The Eucharist is a ritual. But the most primal, archetypal ritual of all time, is the ritual of the embrace. To kiss somebody. To touch somebody. To hold somebody. That is a ritual and it says something that words can’t communicate.
Something is given that words can’t communicate.
More than any other image, that is the image of the eucharist. The eucharist, simply put, is God’s physical embrace. The eucharist is God’s kiss. That is why it is physical. Notice when it is instituted. We will celebrate Holy Thursday. In a couple of days.
Notice Jesus instituted the eucharist the night before he died. When all his words were exhausted. He had been speaking for 3 years. He had been trying to teach and to congeal and to challenge. Words, Words, Words. They were more or less effective, but more or less ineffective.
And when the words had stopped. There is no more to say, but something needs to be said, something else needs to be given. Then, he gave us himself. That is why it is a sacrament.
It does not matter if you are Roman Catholic or any domination. The whole essence of the sacrament is that it is something physical. You cannot have a sacrament where there is not something in it.
I remember as a young child. But, I do not want to blame the sisters, because they did a good job. I was catechised by the Ursline Sisters. They would tell us on days when you cannot go to the eucharist, you should make a spiritual communion.
What is wrong with a spiritual communion? Nothing. Except the spiritual communion is a little like an imagined kiss. It is not much. Kisses are powerful because that have to be physical. In the eucharist, God touches us in a physical way. Andre Dubus who is the father of the present Andre Dubus who wrote the “House of Father Sand”. His father was pious Catholic and went to mass each day. He used to say, without the eucharist, God becomes a monologue. We have words and we have eucharist. The eucharist is God’s physical embrace.
So I took 3 courses on the eucharist and did not understand it. But I understood that it does not need to be understood.
I used to tell me students. If somebody writes a 400 page book. And it is called, “The Metaphysics of a Kiss”. Don’t buy it. You can’t explain a kiss. An embrace. It works. It has a power which is not intellectual. You cannot extract the intellectual dynamism of this. You can’t explain it.
That is the whole purpose of ritual. Ritual just works. Eucharist is a ritual. It is God’s physical embrace. Of us.