A Litugical Anticipation of a Domination-free Church: The Story of an Asian Eucharist

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2006 »Volume 43 2006 Number 3 »A Litugical Anticipation Of A Domination Free Church The Story Of An Asian Eucharist

By Aloysius Pieris, S.J.

Aloysius Pieris, S.J. is Director of Tulana (Dialogue Center) in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. He earned his first PhD in Buddhist Studies, the first ever awarded to a non-Buddhist by the University of Sri Lanka. An indologist and theologian, he has been a long-time lecturer at the East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila. He has held Chairs in Theology in many universities, and has taught on both Catholic and Protestant theological faculties. A prolific writer, he has written many works including An Asian Theology of Liberation: God’s Reign for God’s Poor, Mysticism of Service: A Return to Jesus Formula

The Description of the Asian Eucharist

There is a specifically Asian version of the Eucharist—one among many—which is being celebrated in small circles in some parts of Asia today since the 1970s. The annual participants of the Renewal Course at the East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI), Manila, representing many cultures and nations of Asia and Oceania, were among the early recipients of this new liturgy as well as its theological rationale, both of which are presented below.

This liturgy was initially born of my own experience of the Buddhist way to interior peace, for I had the privilege of being baptized in the waters of Buddhist interiority under the guidance of a spiritually advanced recluse. The masses I celebrated during those years of intense practice of mindfulness (sati-patthana) gradually evolved into a silent, low-key, slow-motion replay of the drama of salvation, a wordless enactment of a wordful event. It was this experience that I later tried to communicate to the participants of my annual course at the EAPI. The few among them who had imbibed the spirit of this liturgy have, in turn, created something native to their respective cultures. During the 23 years of my teaching there, I had also given successive generations of participants certain exercises of mindfulness and showed them how to celebrate the Eucharist in a climate of intense awareness.

The various names that the participants of the EAPI course have coined—the Contemplative Mass, the Silent Eucharist, the Buddhist Liturgy—indicate that they had clearly assimilated at least one important but forgotten dimension of the Holy Eucharist: awareness, namely, the awareness of what happens within us and around us; the awareness of things and persons breaking down and turning into dust in the process of giving life; and the awareness of the Paschal Mystery that recalls the One who had laid down his life for his friends.

The practice of awareness is a key element in Buddhism and in the best of Christian spirituality; hence, "God-awareness" has become my preferred substitute for the traditional Christian term "contemplation" (Pieris 1999: chap. 17). The Paliword for awareness is sati from Sanskrit smrti, literally, "memory," "remembrance," "mindfulness." The questions I raised for my audience were these: What kind of "memorial meal" would the Eucharist be if it was merely ritualized unmindfully? Is it not the Asian church’s mission to enrich the Christian tradition with the art of mindful celebration of the Paschal Memorial?

The primary object of our mindfulness is the Eucharistic transformation, not only of things placed on the table, but also of those seated around it into the Body of Christ. However, the consequence of the celebration was the creation of an ethos in which we make a profound subconscious appropriation of what such transformation implies for us as Asian Christians: that we are called to be a domination-free church, a community of little ones, a discipleship of equals, who would bear witness to the Triune God in whose "community-image" we humans have been created.

This will become clear in the latter part of this article, where I spell out theChristologicalecclesiological, and eschatological dimensions of this new liturgical awareness. In view of that theological discourse, I reproduce below one of the more recent versions of the Instruction which I used to distribute annually to the EAPI participants.

This Instruction, like the Ignatian Exercises, is terse and dry because it presupposes an oral tradition; it presupposes the memory of my own journey through a course on mindfulness-meditation which gave birth to it; moreover, it presupposes the explanations and exercises that were made abundantly available to the participants during my lectures; and finally, it presupposes an initiation into what I describe in the following text as the "harmony between word and silence." It is only these orally transmitted elements that can turn this laconic Instruction into a living tradition. But any Christian who has practiced and mastered the art of mindfulness can effortlessly glide into the spirit of this brief Instruction.

The Text of the Instruction

The Principle: This mindfully celebrated mass is just one possible model of an Asian Eucharist, and even this model can vary. But what is not variable is the principle involved, namely, the need to tune in to the Trinitarian movement within us:

Silence = God, the ineffable mystery, the totally other, Abba
Word = What comes forth from Silence and leads back to Silence
Spirit = The Breath of Speech, harmony between Word and Silence
When we listen to the Word, it is Silence that pervades us.
When we respond to Silence, it is the Word that invades us.
That by which we listen and respond is the Breath than animates us.

The Spirit of a good liturgy is the very Spirit of God, namely, the harmony between Word and Silence. Words which neither originate in silence nor hush us into silence are mere noise. Verbosity in a liturgy indicates the absence of the Spirit. When we try to quieten all our interior noises, arrest all our compulsive thinking which proliferates into words, then surely the Spirit is sensed within and amongst us. For, contrary to the traditional scholastic philosophy, we can be profoundly aware of something without having to think about it. Constant persevering effort at this kind of ‘thought-less’ awareness is rewarded with a Pentecost wherein the Spirit turns all words into The Word, by allowing all our thoughts to fade back into supreme Silence, who is our loving Abba-Amma. This is a radical way of communing with the Triune God and communing among ourselves: silence, breath, and word.

Time: Evening after sunset, when the cosmos resumes its daily rest in a night of silence.

Place: A dark room, with just one candle or oil lamp illuminating a bare table (no flowers, no books, no cloth, no crucifixes…) on which are laid a plate of bread (hosts) and a cup of wine mixed with water.1 These elements represent Jesus and us as an offering to the Father and nothing must take our attention away from them.

Beginning: A little before the appointed time, the participants trickle in one by one, sit round the table, and quieten themselves with any method taught in class, specially the exercise of breath-awareness. Stop all formulations of prayer, present an empty mind, without any thought, for thought is noise. Try! Remember the patristic dictum: silentium tibi laus(our true praise to You is our silence before You)! If you are restless (i.e., unable to quieten yourself), just accept yourself in patience because the group will soon help you to be calm. If your neighbor is restless, accept her/him lovingly, with detached non-thinking attention. As far as possible, do not formulate or internally verbalize any prayer. Just beprayer. Do not bother as to which may dominate within you: presence or absence, peace or restlessness, fullness or emptiness; for they are two sides of the same coin; they are each an exchange between the word and silence. Five to ten minutes.

Conclude this session with "Glory be to God through the Word in the Holy Spirit" recited by the leader, to which all respond: "As it was in the beginning etc."This formula is a signal to begin the next phase of the liturgy.

Reconciliation: Now I begin to send waves of affection and forgiveness (a) to myself (= self-acceptance), then (b) to the things around me (the floor, cushions, the table, the walls, etc.), (c) to my companions sitting around, one by one, (d) to my friends and loved ones far away, (e) to persons whom I have hurt (asking for forgiveness), (f) to persons who have hurt me (offering them forgiveness), (g) to the trouble spots in the world where there is hatred causing war and destruction, and finally, (h) to the whole cosmos: earth, vegetation animals, stars, and other beings (spirits, etc). Five to seven minutes.

N.B. When practising this meditation of loving kindness (metta-bhavana), do not dwell long on each person lest you get distracted. Of course, you may internally verbalize your acts of love and forgiveness at the initial stages; for, after some time you learn to communicate non-verbally (i.e., without any thought construction) with persons and things even at great distances. With this act of filling our minds with love, we experience the Spirit who reconciles us with one another and with the cosmos, and consequently with God Herself.

This session of reconciliation ends when the leader says "May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to life everlasting" or any other formula of absolution, to which all answer "Amen."

Prayer of the assembly: The leader says "Let us pray" and pauses, allowing for personal silent prayer. Each one prays in silence, expressing the prayer of all. After a while, the leader concludes, "This prayer we make through Christ our Lord" (to which all say "Amen").

(At the beginning each one might pray differently, but in the course of many celebrations, communion grows and the unity of hearts and minds is established so that all will learn to say the same prayer deep within one’s being and each will be aware of that common prayer by interior hearing.)

Reading: A slow and deliberate reading of a short scriptural text, with pauses and perhaps with repetition of certain phrases or sentences. Here again the art comes with time. During the pause each one reflects, prays, makes aspirations, and so on. Time should be given also for personal prayer, intentions, etc., always to be made singly and in silence. With time, there would be a non-verbal internalization of the Word of God—the Word as read out from the Scriptures as well as the word as one’s response to It in the form of non-verbalized prayer.

Offertory: The leader makes a silent gesture of offering, holding high the bread and wine and remaining in that posture for a few moments, just long enough for each one to make an offering of oneself and others with a deep feeling of being one with the whole range of creation permeated by Christ’s Spirit. (At the initial celebrations, one might say a very terse prayer, e.g., "Our gift to you O God; may it be your gift to us: Jesus. Amen." Later even this may not be needed). Ending the offertory-gesture, the leader breaks the silence by uttering the words "through Christ our Lord," all answering "Amen."

Preface: "The Lord is with you etc. … it is good to give you thanks and praise always and everywhere," after which let there be a long pause for each one to interiorly and silently thank the Lord for big and small gifts received personally and communally. End the pause with something like "And so we invite the whole creation to join us in this hymn of praise" eliciting the response "Holy Holy, etc." or any other hymn of praise.

Eucharistic prayer: Either Canon II or a short one improvised (or previously composed by the leader), recited slowly and meditatively. Economy of words reveals the presence of the Word. After the doxology give a long pause for silent adoration.

Communion: After adoration, the Our Father (without any introduction) pause …. Lamb of God …. pause …a prayer for breaking of the bread…pause. Pass the species round. After communion, leave the empty plate and the empty cup back on the bare table. They too are signs that speak. Do not purify the chalice; the leader will do that after all have left the room. Communion means silence. No human words, not even expressions of gratitude:silentium tibi laus! True communion (with God and with one another) defies words; here, words cease for good.

The end: No dismissal at all; rather each one, as one feels it is time to leave, withdraws from the table and goes out of the room, with a profound sense of communion with the others. It is a departure in which what has been gathered is never scattered. When all have left, the leader will clean the cup and the plate, blow out the candle or oil lamp and leave the room him/herself.

N.B. (a) What is given above is a mere guideline. Understand the spirit of it rather than obey the letter. Be free with the freedom of the spirit. If you persevere, in daily or weekly celebrations, each group will evolve its own formula according to its own culture of the word and its own culture of silence.

(b) This is certainly not an experiment with the liturgy but an experience of the Trinity. Do not therefore discuss or evaluate it! Instead, the group will, non-verbally and with mutual sensitivity, discover gradually the appropriate format of the Eucharist as well as the proper measure of verbal expression that does not drown the Word with words but ensures that harmony which we recognize as the Spirit. This comes with time, with periodical celebrations. You will modify the procedure according to non-verbalized feedback of the group.

(c) If you do this frequently… especially where various groups celebrate the daily Eucharist in various places simultaneously in the same building (as at the EAPI and as it can be in seminaries), there will be a convergence within a rich divergence. Group identities will have a Eucharistic stamp that will open up channels of communication among the celebrating communities, a foretaste of inter-communion between local churches scattered in different places.

(d) Normally in religious and clerical communities, interpersonal reactions, both negative and positive, take place subconsciously. Our exterior behavior is determined by these unconscious exchanges. But mindful celebrations of the Eucharist could make one acquire a great degree of sensitivity to subconscious inter-personal reactions, both good and bad. Where such sensitivity is absent, as often happens in many "community-meetings," we experience that words, which are meant to reveal actually conceal these subconscious messages of love and hatred, trust and suspicion. Community meetings conducted in deep silence might reveal more of ourselves to one another than mere discussions that often drown the voice of truth. To generate communion, this kind of wordless exchange must be fostered among basic communities, especially in Asia where we have such a tradition.

(e) Note also that this liturgy opts for sobriety rather than exuberance. However, there must be room also for other types of liturgies where celebration is more vocal and where joy is expressed in song and dance. The Eucharist is too rich to be restricted to one form. It defies uniformity. Hence, the Silent Eucharist must be treated as one among many rather than the Asian liturgy.

The Threefold Challenge of this Liturgy

A Christian community is judged by the liturgy it celebrates. For, the liturgy of a church is an infallible index of that particular church’s inner dynamism. In other words, the way we worship together reveals the kind of church that we are. And if we are truly a creative and forward-looking community, then our liturgy will be authentic enough to project also the church that we want to be. A Eucharist that can transform the participants into an ecclesiola (a mini-church), which points to the future that we, the Asian disciples of Christ, dream about, is genuinely an Asian Eucharist.

Hence the need to pose this question: What kind of church are we today, and what kind of church do we want to be tomorrow? Our contention is that the Roman Church, which we are even today, has registered in its Latin liturgy three deviations which its ecclesiastical tradition had internalized many centuries ago.

By "deviations," I mean three forms of ecclesiastical domination which are very clearly dramatized in the Latin liturgy. The first is that the Word of God, which ought to be the central event of the liturgy, tends to be lost in a concatenation of human words; secondly, the People of God who are co-priests with Christ are eclipsed by a clerical class of liturgical performers who steal the show; and finally, the intimate encounter with God or the recognition of Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:30-32) is hindered by anachronistic paraphernalia of an imperial past. Therefore, what we Asians want to be is a church delivered from this threefold aberration. It is such a church that we anticipate in the Asian Eucharist described above.

Though it might be beyond our power to eliminate these three defects from the institutional structure of the Church, it is quite within our right to anticipate their elimination in our liturgy. It is even our duty as Asians to celebrate a liturgy that restores the three opposite features: the centrality of the Word of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and an intimacy with Abba-Amma. These three Trinitarian emphases, conspicuously absent from the prescribed rituals, imply a threefold change—Christologically, a shift from a manipulative use of words to a creative hearing of the Word of God; ecclesiologically, a shift from a clerical control of God’s People to a discipleship of equals animated by the Spirit of God; and eschatologically, a shift from a triumphalistic display of an imperial past to a celebration of Hope which anticipates Abba-Mother’s end-time intimacy with the little ones.

Here below I dwell at length on the first two changes that we desire and recommend through the Silent Liturgy: (a) The centrality of the Christ, the Word and (b) the domination-free Church animated by the Spirit. Then a few words about the most wordless dimension of the Eucharist: (c) the foretaste of the end-time communion with God, our Future.

(a) The Christological Dimension: The Centrality of the Word

After attending some liturgies in the Western European churches, the Russian writer, Vladmir Rozanov is reported to have remarked that

In the West they actually do not worship. Instead, they have a lecture followed by a concert (Nichol 1997:194).

The allusion—tinged with prejudice no doubt—was either to Protestant church-services with long biblical discourses and generous rounds of singing, or more probably, to the Roman Church’s pre-Vatican II Missa Solemnis, where a long sermon was allowed to interrupt a musical dialogue between the celebrant-soloist and the choir. Furthermore, the Latin rite of the Mass, unlike the Protestant services, had reduced the Liturgy of the Word to a mere introductory rite leading to the high-profile celebration of the Eucharist. Even today, the importance attached by Vatican II to the Table of the Word almost on a par with the Table of the Bread, has not trickled down to daily practice in parishes and even in communities of religious. The priests are trained for the cultic role of performing the rite of breaking the bread and not adequately in the prophetic ministry of sharing the Word of God. The homilies could easily drift away from the holy writ. There is something even more regrettable than that. The Word is not simply neglected but drowned in a flood of clerical pronouncements.

The Roman ritual reformed by Paul VI has provided many occasions for silence but these recommended pauses are hardly observed in churches of the Latin rite, except hopefully in some monastic communities. Verbosity has marked also the post-conciliar renewal of the Roman Rite with the intrusion of the so-called "shared prayer," which all too often is neither shared nor prayer but only an exercise in "composing speeches to God and to one another"—as Tony de Mello used to complain. Or, are we following the lead given by the radio and the TV in which silence is a cause for embarrassment ("We apologize to the listeners for the interruption")?

Besides, the Latin Church (from where we have received our liturgy) has developed a peculiar theology of the word based on the notion of Greek logos as reason and intelligibility with no semantic roots in the notion of Hebrew dabar as operative word-event. Gradually, this theology has arrived at treating God’s dynamic and ever creative Action-Word (dabar) more as a series of revealed truths taught by the so-called teaching church to a learning church—a dubious 19th century distinction, whose validity has been questioned by no less a person than John Paul II himself (1994:175). This overly neat differentiation between the teacher and the taught reflects a species of magisterial power derived from an exclusive access to logos-truth rather than a martyrial authority of a prophetic leadership obedient to God’sdabar-command.2 Teaching is emphasized in the former and witness in the latter; the use of power in one parallels the exercise of authority in the other. Even the Second Vatican Council’s reminder that the Magisterium is not above the Word but must subserve the Word (Verbun Dei, 10) is ignored by various "organs" of the Church which claim that God’s Word is what they interpret it to be and none other.3

Associated with this misapprehension is another aspect of this theology of the Word, which is equally defective. In the Latin Eucharistic tradition, it is not the epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit to transform the Bread and Wine, or more precisely, to manifest the transformed matter of the End-Time), which constitutes the so-called "form" of the Eucharist (as claimed by the Greek Orthodox tradition), but the transformative power of the words uttered by the minister!4

Regrettably, the new Indian Rite (severely criticized by the caste-discriminated Dalits of India) has outdone the Roman Rite in verbosity while its "Brahmanism" competes with Rome’s androcratic clericalism! The potential effect of very powerful cultural symbols employed in that Eucharist is frustrated by an excessive use of words and a prolix Eucharistic Prayer which tries to impose on the assembly an elaborate treatise on the entire Indian theology of salvation. That rite contradicts the great Indic tradition of contemplatively communicative silence.

In both the Roman and the Indian liturgies, the harmony between Word and Silence—which is the true Spirit of a liturgy—is lost because of an altogether exaggerated zeal to verbalize the mysteries that can best be tasted interiorly bycommemorating them in the depths of one’s being. "Commemoration" is most effectively experienced when the word and silence in their proper measure allow space for the Spirit to make us remember what Jesus said [and did] (Jn 14:26). Since God’s dabar is speech-action, whoever listens to the Word of God with the unction of the Spirit remembers Christ as God’s spoken action; and remembering the Word-Deed means doing things according to that hearing: "Do this in remembrance of me." Our response to silence therefore is the Word, which the Spirit both recalls and does within us.

Being conscious or mindful of this Trinitarian faith-experience is authentic prayer, for "Prayer is conscious faith," as Karl Rahner has put it (quoted in Clarke 1986:60). This implies an important but often forgotten dimension of prayer which is born of the Word and the Breath proceeding together from the Divine One.

Every prayer, insofar as it is breathed out by the Spirit from the abyss of God’s silence (cf. Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) is always a poetic word, with music programmed into it, an evocative word that stirs our imagination, kindles the fires of selfless love which impels us to action on behalf of the powerless: those silent ones of the earth, whose word of protest never fails to reach God’s ears (Ex. 2:23-25;22-27, etc.). The Spirit can therefore be recognized in a liturgy by these two criteria: a judicious economy of words and a prophetic concern for the poor.

The reason is obvious. God is the Silence of the Asian Poor whose cries of protest are muffled by the noise of the open market wherein the temple of Mammon stands. These displaced ones of our continent, who have no place to be born in (Lk 2:7), to lay their head on (Mt 8:20), or even to be buried in (Mt 27:59), are, precisely on that account, one body with Jesus of Nazareth whose paschal mystery we celebrate as the Eucharist. They are the Asian Christ, "the lamb that is slain" (Rev. 5:12; 7:14). Assuredly, no liturgical prayer ever springs from God, which does not resonate with the silence of the Asian Christ. Thomas Merton, a man of God, and, therefore, a man of the poor, had sensitive ears that heard the voice of the voiceless in the silence of his monastic cell at Gethsemane; his response to that voice was a word that was prophecy and poetry in one. His was true liturgical prayer.

Finally, there is an indescribable joy in the silent communion of hearts, which the Asian Eucharist evokes within us. Look at Mary, the prototype of the worshipping community! "Rejoice, favored one" (Lk 1:28) was the theme song of the drama of the incarnation. In the womb of the lowly handmaid, the divine Silence was heard whispering the joyful Word of salvation with the breath of the Spirit that overshadowed her. For, the long awaited joyful tidings that began to germinate in her womb was the same good news that escaped her lips as poetry and prophecy in the Magnificat. In her liturgy of praise (Lk 1:47-55), the powerless, the hungry and the poor broke their silence through her word, the same Word that she conceived in her heart and in her womb. This Asian woman is the epitome of a silently joyful church that celebrates the Good News to the poor in her worship. She is the church we want to be, the church we must anticipate in our Asian liturgies.

(b) The Ecclesiological Dimension: The Fellowship of the Spirit

In the contemplative Eucharist described above, there is no class of clerics fussing around the altar in feudal attire. We all sit on the ground, around a low table. There is no special dress or a special wand of authority or headgear to set one person as wielding power over the rest. He who washed his disciples’ feet at the first Eucharist taught us that the leader is really the servant, that we are the children of the one and only maternal Father, the brothers and sisters of God’s one and only Child, gathered into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Should not the Primordial Community, which is the Triune God, be visibly reflected in the Christian Church during its most intensively self-expressive moment, the Eucharist?

The liturgy of today reflects, not the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, but the structure of domination inherited from the imperial Rome. In the current ritual, it is not Christ and his body (the whole people of God) that acts as the center of the liturgical assembly, but the priest or the bishop clothed with power and drawing all eyes unto his own person. It is he who dominates the liturgy from ingress to exit. Further, an unorthodox catechesis has injected into the popular consciousness the venomous presumption that the priest wields power even over Christ, "calling Him down into the bread"; wherefore, he can a fortiori command and control the People of God. If indeed he has so much power over the Eucharistic Body of Christ, why cannot he hold sway over the ecclesial body of Christ? See how the people kneel before him, sit and stand at his command, and leave when he dismisses them. What power! No wonder, the greatest obstacle to a liturgical renewal are us clerics who consolidate and perpetuate this system of domination by ritualizing it before the people with rhythmic regularity, Sunday after Sunday.

The contemplative mass, by contrast, educates the people to experience the church as a fellowship of the Holy Spirit, a domination-free community, reflecting the interior life of the Triune God. The food and drink stand there on that illuminated table, staring at us as our own proxy, awaiting the Spirit of Christ to overshadow them and transform them into the Body of Christ. With and through them, we too continuously become that same body, a communion of saints, a discipleship of equals. Thus, the Whole Christ—the head and members together—celebrates the Eucharist while various persons undertake different services or ministries in the celebration with no status attached to any of them. The food and drink laid on the table as well as the entire worshipping community seated around it, both growing into the Body of Christ through the epiclesis, remain the sole arena of action and the focus of attention.

Among the post-conciliar advances in sacramental theology was the welcome substitution of the phrase words of consecration with the more appropriate words of the Lord (verba Domini: "this is my body, this is my blood…") or ‘narration of the supper’ (narratio cenae: "on the night he was betrayed…"). The impression that these words were a consecratory formula by which the priest changes the species into the body and blood of Christ was gently pushed aside in the 1960s, during and after the Council. But it has returned with vengeance in ecclesiastical pronouncements of recent decades. [It would be useful to remind ourselves that in the most ancient form of the Chaldean liturgy, the so-called words of consecration do not occur at all in the Eucharistic prayer but are read out during communion.] Similarly, the word "priest" which had acquired over the years a cultic connotation, was abandoned in favor of its etymological ancestor, presbyter, which means an elder, a term expressive of a pastoral leadership. But the cultic term ‘priest’ has staged a triumphalist comeback in some post-conciliar magisterial documents of the recent past.

In the Asian Eucharist under discussion, however, the members of the community share the responsibility (misnamed "power") of serving (not of controlling) the worshipping community according to the charism each one has received. The gifts of the Spirit (charismata) are for the common good (I Cor 12:7), that is, for the building up of the Body of Christ and not for being abused as status symbols that designate ranks of power.

Let us recall how, in the early decades of the Church, the little Christian communities assembling in the homes of believers sent a disturbing message to the "pagan" Rome which was built on a slave-run economy. The breaking of the bread on Sundays was the message as well as the medium. While Romans would kneel before an altar in temples where priests not only served idols but also made a cult of the emperor calling him Supreme Pontiff (Summus Potifiex), thus perpetuating the hierarchical society of imperial Rome, the early followers of Christ did exactly the opposite—they shared life around the table of the Lord, where slaves and masters, men and women, Jews and gentiles sat as equals. A table challenged the altar; a meal defied the cult; a home challenged the temple; the fellowship of equals questioned the pyramid of power. Unfortunately, in a matter of decades, the attractive beast (the apocalyptic nickname for the Roman imperial system) swallowed up this early Christian spirit, and we are heirs to this massive blunder. Our Roman liturgy tells the tale with bitter irony.

Like the early communities of disciples in the Roman diaspora, we too can send a message of deliverance to those who fear any change in the structures of power. Let our Eucharist be the pulpit from where we proclaim it and the stage on which we dramatize it. By gathering round the Lord’s table silently and frequently as a fellowship of the Spirit we can challenge the feudal hierarchy that kills our ecclesial life; we can eucharistically anticipate and celebrate its abolition.

(c) The Eschatological Dimension: The End-time Intimacy with Abba

"It shall not be so among you!" (Mt 20:23-28). When Jesus gave this stern warning to his disciples, his fingers might have been pointing towards Roman officials strutting about in pomp and purple. The Book of Revelation had also warned the Christians of the late first century that the imperial governmental system and its worldly values were a dangerous beast, however attractive it appeared, and that salvation came from the Lamb that is slain by that beast. Certainly, the Roman liturgy still bears the stamp of that attractive beast. The silver chalices and gold-plated patens, the Roman robes, mitres and crosiers, the jeweled rings and purple bands are not worthy of the Lamb that was slain. Were we not, until a few decades ago, accustomed to see bishops wearing the cappa magna, a flowing purple mantle that swept about four yards of the floor behind them? Today they do without it! Surely we can do away also with every other vestige of the imperial past, the legacies of the attractive beast, which make our quest for intimacy with the Father a non-priority in these liturgies.

The mysteries we celebrate in the Eucharist are too profound for the sophisticated and the supercilious; but they are within the grasp of little children, simple folk, the humble ones, to whom alone Abba, the motherly Father of Jesus reveals them (Mt 11:25). The Eucharist is the feast of the powerless, not the banquet of the pompous. Jesus anticipated his last supper with many fellowship-meals at which the weakest of human beings, the lowliest in human society, the saddest of people, and the worst of sinners were welcome to his enlightening, comforting and healing presence. God’s reign began to germinate precisely with those encounters. This is the prototype of the Eucharist. There, the God of nearness, Immanuel was experienced as a warm radiance of love, which Jesus named Abba.

The table of the Lord, therefore, is not only an evocation of the memory of the Christ-event recorded in the past but also the pignus futurae gloriae, the guarantee of the end-time intimacy with God who is our Future. This is the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist, through which this Future that awaits us not only passes its judgment here and now on the pomp and pageantry of a fallen empire’s distant past, but also summons us to worship with evangelical simplicity. Everything about the Eucharist must, therefore, be worthy of the Lamb that was slain:

the place we choose and the table we prepare,
the vessels we use and the dress we wear,
the words we say and the gestures we make,
the way we pray and the postures we take.

Yes, indeed, all these must be worthy of Asia’s innocent victims of organized greed. Mahatma Gandhi conducted many a prayer-session with the poorest of the poor, dressed in the garb of the poor, intoning the prayer of the poor (Om Ram), in which God and the Poor touched each other in deep intimacy. Would it not be an Asian precedent for us to follow? Let all Asians say "Amen."


1. Perhaps water mixed with wine, rather than the other way about; more water than wine. The possibility of choosing the kind of food and drink which is eucharistically meaningful in different parts of Asia would be welcome. This has to be determined by each local church in consultation and in communion with the rest of the worldwide church.

2. For a detailed discussion of this difference, see Pieris 1999: chap. 12, especially, 140-43.

3. One cannot help mentioning here the profession of faith tailor-made by the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith (CDF) for Tissa Balsuriya, and criticized by the Jesuit canonist Ladislaus Orsy.

4. As elaborated in Pieris 1999: Chapter 7 "Does Christ have a place in Asia?" especially 69-74.



Clarke, Thomas E.

1986 Praying in the Gospels: Spiritual and Pastoral Models, (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward).

John Paul II

1994 Crossing the Threshold of Hope (London: Jonathan Cape).

Nichol, Donald

1997 Triumphs of the Spirit in Russia (London: Darton, Longman and Todd).

Pieris, Aloysius

1999 "Ignatian Exercises against a Buddhist Background," in Fire and Water: Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity (Maryknoll: Orbis Books).

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