Sacraments and Ecological Crisis: Reappraising the Recipient as a Created Cocreator

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2009 »Volume 46 2009 Number 4 »Sacraments And Ecological Crisis Reappraising The Recipient As A Created Cocreator

Izunna Okonkwo



Human beings abuse nature to the extent that other species are endangered to the point of extinction.  In our time, more than ever before, this issue has become the concern of various disciplines, groups and even individual researchers.  Against this backdrop, the ecological, socioeconomic, and political significance of sacraments ought to be a matter of enormous importance as far as liturgical theology is concerned.  Surprisingly, this has not been given the attention it deserves.1  With love and wisdom, God the creator fashioned human beings in God’s image and likeness.  God further charged them to till the earth, increase and multiply and in various capacities make the world a place worthy of habitation.  Human beings thus become with God cocreators and conservators.

Long before now, discussions on ecotheology were quite uncommon.  There was a time the poorer countries thought the ecological crisis was not as serious a problem as poverty and economic exploitation.  In fact, the environmental problem/issue was taken to be a luxury of the industrialized countries.2  Consequently, social action groups and people’s movements in developing countries showed relative indifference to the problem of ecology.  Many believe today that the discipline of ecotheology is established.3  Thus, more people have come to realize how urgent this issue is for the entire world, the rich as well as the poor, developed as well as developing countries.  The threat in the final analysis is on life in general.  Even the planet’s life is endangered.  It is widely believed that the ecological crisis raises the problem of survival itself.4  But does the Church have any role to play in this problem?  Can the sacraments of the Church be situated in this crisis?

The trust of this paper is to argue for the role of the Church’s sacraments, with particular reference to the Eucharist, in the redemption of creation from human domineering and exploitative tendencies.  The Eucharist brings together in a harmonious whole, the divine, the human and nature.  Against this backdrop, an understanding of the Eucharist that engenders positive actions directed towards God, humanity and the environment will be proffered.  Beyond this, an orthopraxis that complements orthodoxy will be suggested in an attempt to give the Eucharist a central place in addressing the prevalent ecological crisis of the contemporary era.

A Paradigm Shift

Over the centuries, discourses on the sacraments, to a great extent, have been revolving around either their dogmatic or ritualistic import.  In the early beginnings, preoccupation of the primordial Christian community was more on preserving the tradition that was handed on, by Christ and his disciples.  Obviously none of them was talking of any of their practices as a sacrament, much less of what sacraments can mean.  Nevertheless, “sacraments are essential to the Christian tradition.”5  Though some elements of what one finds in Christianity are evident in some other religions, it is only in the former that they are categorically called sacraments.  The scholastic understanding of the sacrament as ‘outward sign with inward grace’ instituted by Christ seems to have beclouded the sacrament that it was taken by many to portend merely an ‘automatic dispenser of grace.’  This was kind of fashioning a philosophical perspective for a theological reflection based on the influence of Aristotelianism.  This has the potentiality of landing us into a mechanical or even magical understanding of sacraments.  We cannot be settled with accepting it to be the case.  For Lambert Leijssen, however:  “No one imagined the danger of this presumably innocent model.”6  Unfortunately, this conception endured various stages of the Church development.  With the advent of modernity and the attendant postmodernity, a paradigmatic shift was experienced, not only within the perimeters of theology but also in sacramentology.

Attention is now being paid, more than ever, to the human person.  For our concern in this paper, we will prefer to talk of the subject that receives the sacrament.  Since an individual that receives sacrament do not and cannot live in isolation from the happenings around him/her, sacraments are now linked (among others) with social concerns.  The environmental crisis is one of these.  This concern reached its climax at the Second Vatican Council, especially with its documents: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church, Gaudium et Spes and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.  Of all the sacraments, the Eucharist ― the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission (LG 11) ― stands out as the one in and through which this is uniquely witnessed and expressed.  In the words of the Fathers of Vatican II:  “From the Liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men [and women] in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness.” One would have expected the concern for the environment to be given a very prominent place in the Church’s life and mission.

 Unfortunately, “[l]iturgical reforms failed to note trends already at work among the faithful who saw the disintegration of the social and ecological fabric attendant on the failures of the age to line up to its humanistic ideals.  To be alert to this disintegration does not in fact require the deep analysis, necessary for a fuller understanding.”8  As such, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, is apparently more clear on Church’s concern for various occurrences of our time.  In this regard, it recognizes that everything genuinely human is worthy of consideration by Christians.9  The issue of ecology, as a matter of fact, can in no way be ignored in this venture:  “The question of ecology belongs to the issues which concern all people, regardless of their religious beliefs or political convictions.”10  At this juncture let us turn our attention to a brief survey of environmental crisis.

The Nature of the Environmental Crisis

The tendency to accord humanity a domineering status in creation at the expense of other creatures is believed to be responsible for the unfair justification of humans’ cruel treatment of plants, animals and even land ― despite their link to the creator.11  There is a “lack of solidarity between man and nature, contrary to God’s will,” a situation which suggests how human beings have started opposing the author of nature, whom Christians call God.12  This leads to reduction in the productive potentiality of the earth.  If the land is properly and lovingly utilized, there will be increment in the quantity of food that will be available for human consumption. 

Often described as rational creatures, human beings remain part and parcel of the earth which they share with other living and the non-living, animate and inanimate beings.13  Seeing themselves as lords of other creatures does inevitably lead to environmental degradation of the earth which can lead to low productivity and, in the final analysis, hunger.14  Leonardo Boff believes that an arrogant anthropocentrism is at work in contemporary Christianity.  With such an understanding, human beings see themselves as possessing a superior form of life than non-humans for whom they assume the status of lords of life and death.15   He contends that:  “The earth is ill and in jeopardy”16 due to human overtures.  Hence, the urgent need to fashion out a solution to this quagmire.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tends to teach that God created everything for man [sic].17  This may suggest an arrogation of power to control and treat, without much regard, other beings in creation; thus, ignoring the fact of the entire creation, humans and non-humans alike, having their intrinsic values, purposes, and integrity.18  There are groups of people who prefer to be eco-centric.  In that effort, they “attribute to plants and animals features which personalize or even sacralize nature while, at the same time, human beings are denied the status of a person.”19  However, some Holy See documents advocate a responsible stewardship that favours the protection of the environment to a great extent.  The words of John Paul II may be of help in this matter:

Among today’s positive signs we must also mention a greater realization of the limits of available resources, and of the need to respect the integrity and the cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for development, rather than sacrificing them to certain demagogic ideas about the latter.  Today this is called ecological concern.20

The expression of an ecological concern indirectly calls for a holistic approach towards the entire nature.  John Paul II highlighted this in his 1990 World Day of Peace Message:  “Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that humans cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as they have done in the past.  The public in general as well as political leaders are concerned about this problem, and experts from a wide range of disciplines are studying its causes.”21 Though a genuine environmental theology needs an anthropology that repositions the dignity of human life, care should be taken to see that such a venture does not give humans an undue right to dominate creatures and lavish the resources of the earth for themselves alone.22 From the trend of events, lack of sufficient heed to these calls to treat the earth with love and concern is now adversely affecting human beings themselves.  Brennan Hill articulates the situation thus:

  There is a crucial need today for a theology that addresses ecological justice.  People are being subjected to unhealthy environments by greedy developers; auto and oil industries, which resist alternative fuels and rapid transit; and industries that illegally pollute air, land and water.  Massive degradation to the environment continues to cause drought, freakish weather conditions, famine, and human deprivation.23

The introduction into the environment of toxic wastes by industry and agriculture has a lot of adverse effects.  Ronald J. Sider sees it this way:  “We pollute the air, contribute to global warming (climate change), exhaust our supplies of fresh water, overfish our seas, and destroy precious topsoil, forests, and unique species lovingly shaped by the Creator.”24   This problem is evidenced not only in the Western World, but also in the countries in the Southern hemisphere.  It has been argued that industrialized nations (about 20% of the world population) accounted for about 63 % of net carbon emissions from both fossil fuel burning and land-use changes.25  Use of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals in farming aimed at massive increment in production also has devastating counter-effects with regard to the land’s output.  On this note, it has been argued that despite the fact that there is availability of resources, overstressing the limit of the land is weighing down the entire ecosystem.  This influences the quantity and quality of food production and distribution as well as the sustainability of the environment.26 

If human beings are to be more aware of the seemingly inseparable relationship between them and the earth and the common destiny they share, the modern view of reality can be reviewed in favor of the entire creation.27  Otherwise, the environment stands the risk of continuously decreasing productivity,28 and consequently increasing hunger and other negative impacts on the planet.  Besides, in as much as the environment can be deprived of its potentials, human beings may also suffer from deprivation to the extent that it will affect their purchasing power.  To forestall this crisis and its attendant ugly consequences, it is our contention that proper understanding of what sacraments stand for will be of much help.  But how can this lead to salvaging the environment?

Connecting Sacraments and Ecological Crisis

At face value, the issue of sacraments seems to be a matter to be talked of only on the spiritual realm.  This is so when it is literary understood from the perspective of human beings’ loving assent to God who takes the initiative to begin an encounter.  In this panorama, focal point patterns only to God and his relationship with the being he created in his own image and likeness, and empowered to continue his work of creation.  Hence this imperative:  “Be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen 9: 7).  This elevates human beings to the status of a created co-creator.  It can be employed in a variety of issues including environmental crisis.  Traditional Christian worldview believes so much on the human beings’ connectedness to the world and all it contains.  In this sense, liturgy and sacraments can be employed in a variety of theological discourses:  “This include the sacramentality of human life viewed through the prism of the incarnation, and the sacramentality of all things in creation when viewed through the prism of God as creator and sustainer of the universe.”29  In this vein, the world is even perceived as a sacrament, and the incarnate Word – as the visible sign of God’s presence on the Earth and God’s love for it – the great sacrament.30

The Hebrew Bible, in which one sees the foreshadowing of the sacraments in Christianity as we have them today, was cautious about falling into a dualism that distances spiritual from material, a practice common among the Greeks.  It is not surprising; therefore, that the biblical tradition knows what it means to experience God in symbolic fashion of the things of nature.31  In this vein:  “The Hebrews gradually came to understand  that human being was an embodied spirit, who lived in a ‘good’ world, which through its creatures, resources, and history could reveal the Spirit of God.”32  Such a concern is also conspicuous in the New Testament, and of course in the tradition that was handed on by the early Christian community.  We will at this juncture look at Jesus’ public ministry, the place of word, worship and material substance in liturgy for the possibility of establishing a link between sacraments and ecological crisis.

Situating Jesus

 Jesus’ public ministry is punctuated by references to creatures other than human beings and profound regard for the entire creation.  He had unique respect for creation that some consider encountering him, and encountering Creator and creature as one.33  To be instanced in this context are:  the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, healing of the blind with sand and spittle, fishes of the water, bread for the hungry, and bread and wine for the institution of the Eucharist.  We can even argue that it is in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that this is clearly made manifest.  Hill puts it better in these words:  “Jesus gave us sacraments that we might be assured that God’s presence and power is with us ‘all days,’ and that God’s creative  plan will ultimately prevail.”34  Though the world has never been without grace, the entire life, death and resurrection of Jesus could as well be considered as manifestation/sacrament of God’s grace.  It is the same Jesus that has given the Church her sacraments as a memorial of his entrance into human history, in anticipation of his glorious return ― the parousia.

Consequently, “the intimate encounter with the risen Lord in the sacraments certainly can be a means to becoming more aware of the ongoing creative activity of God.  Sacraments can undoubtedly awaken us to the sacredness of the earth and provide us with motivation to care for it.”35  Though the Incarnate Word is no more in the world in a ‘tangible form,’ he is still present in the worshipping community, in the proclaimed word, in the officiating minister and above all (and this is his presence per excellence), under the species of bread and wine.  In this unitary-multidimensional representation of the Incarnate Word, the world is constantly sanctified.  As such, “sacraments have the capacity to connect, link, and bind people of faith to the Creator and creation.”36  Apart from the centrality of the person of Jesus in the sacraments, we can also talk of this connection in other ways.

Words: Creation and Institution of the Eucharist

We can establish a link between ecology and sacraments from the point of view of spoken word.  At creation, by mere utterance of words, the world and all it contains came to be, out of nothing.  This was when God said:  ‘Let it be, and it came to be.’  Similarly, in the account of the Institution, Jesus’ spoken words turned bread and wine into his body and blood.  It is the same Christ who was present at the moment of creation who is believed by Christians to have instituted the sacraments.37

During his public ministry he gave a new command to his followers:  Love one another as I have loved you.  Without his sustenance, this command that requires sacrifice may be very difficult for them to implement.  Thus, towards the end of his earthly life, he instituted the Eucharist and gave them the command to celebrate it in his memory.  This command to love can be broadened to include loving the entire creation.  Lois McAfee contends that humanity has even erred by not acknowledging this fact:  “Creation is very much a full, active, and complying partner in this ‘love one another’ command.  It is humanity that has failed to do what it was created to do:   Commune with God and preserve the life of creation.  For the most part humanity has failed to realize that the ‘one another’ that it is to love includes creation.”38  It is really necessary that this deviation is given the attention it deserves so as to put human beings on the right track.  A return to this interconnectivity will, therefore, enable humanity to assume a stewardship position in dealing with other creatures in the world.  This is a situation, which, when achieved will guarantee a convivial coexistence of human beings with other creatures with whom they derived their being from one and the same Creator.

Worship:  Commemoration of the Hebrew Passover / Thanksgiving Meal

Apart from spoken-words relationship, we can also talk of the connection between ecology and sacraments from the point of view of worship.  What immediately comes to mind are the Jewish Passover as a thanksgiving feast and the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) as a thanksgiving meal.  It was a common practice for the Jews to gather together each year to thank God not only for delivering them from the Egyptian captivity but also for God’s various gifts in creation.  Both feasts, Passover for the Jews and Lord’s Supper for Christians, recognize that all things come from God:  bread, wine, and in fact all good things.  The Jewish prayers are said in a spirit of thanksgiving and blessing, and recognition of the total dependence of human beings and other beings in creation upon God.  In the words of Frank Andersen:  “The very word ‘eucharist’ is instructive in this regard.  It is a Greek term translating the Hebrew word berakah.  Unless we recover the living richness of berakah, so familiar to Jesus and the early Church, we will never grasp the dimensions of meaning that lie under our increasingly popular use of the name Eucharist.”39  It was a common belief in the Hebrew culture that God did so much for them that they can never, ever thank/praise/bless God enough.  The Scripture is replete with instances of “the offering up and then eating of the first fruits and the spring lamb in meals of thanksgiving.  The Hebrews also developed fellowship meals, where they would gather to share bread and wine, strengthen their community bonds, and thank God for the blessings of creation and their covenant with God.”40  Common in their prayers therefore was the response of Berakah ― we praise you, we thank you, we bless you for all that you have done for us.41 Andersen articulates the situation this way:

In the realization of all that God had initiated in their regard, the Hebrew people developed a spirituality based on gratitude, appreciation, and joyful praise.  The truly pious Jew was encouraged to exclaim Berakah! one hundred times each day ― not as a fiction, but in a deliberate attempt to notice life’s goodness and to acknowledge God as the source of it all.  Such an approach to spirituality implies a constant deepening and broadening of one’s sense of appreciation; it involves a desire to notice with increasing clarity those aspects of life and creation that are beautiful, good, and true.42

Important in this remembrance and gratitude is Israel’s relationship with God in moments of severe difficulty.  Apart from liberation from their land of slavery in Egypt, others include provision of manna and water from the rock in the desert, and giving them victory over their ‘enemies’ on their way to the Promised Land.  These experiences were always remembered whenever they gather to mark the feast of the Passover.

Jesus, in his public ministry and when he was together with his disciples employed the berakah.  He blessed God the Father, Lord of heaven and earth for God’s revelation to the simple minded (cf. Mt 11: 25); he blessed/praised the poor widow that offered what she had to live on (cf. Mk 12: 41-44).  In a more unique way he used it before he fed the multitude (cf. Mt 15: 36, Mk 8: 6-7) and at the Last Supper.  “In all these [later] portrayals, Jesus ‘takes the bread’ (or the loaves, the fish, the cup of wine), and ‘raising his eyes to heaven,’ he gives thanks (or ‘says the blessings’).”43  The thanksgiving that was essential in the Passover feast was replicated by Christ at the first Eucharist and is continuously being uttered at every Eucharistic celebration.  More so, Eucharist derives its name from eucharistein denoting thanksgiving. 

Substance:  Matter Used in Sacraments

Various elements are used in the administration of sacraments. All of these emanate from nature and are common to the worshipping community.  As such, sacraments are very much connected with materiality.  A major understanding that emanates from this is that “the divine can be experienced through substantial things.”44  We can as well, through them, know more about God and the earth:  “Created things ― like water, olives for oil, grapes for wine, and wheat for bread ― donate their deepest meanings so that we can better understand our Creator and creation.”45  While this can be said of sacraments in general, it is more applicable to the Eucharist.  Firstly, because the materials used for its celebration are constantly being longed for by generality of people.  Ordinarily people take them for their sustenance.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly it is the most celebrated sacrament and regular reminder (to the worshipping community) of the need to thank God and care for creation.  The reason for the thanksgiving can be found in the prayer that the celebrant says over the bread and wine before consecration:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.  Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which the earth has given and human hands have made; it will become for us the Bread of life. [….] Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands.  It will become our spiritual drink.46

Bread and wine are works of human hands and products of the earth.  Jesus’ choice of these materials to institute the sacrament of his memorial in the church is most probably a sign of his attachment to creation.

The Eucharist is sacrament of the new covenant, of his sacrifice and our redemption.  Against this background, we can talk of the theological framework of the connection between sacraments and ecology:  linking of the “the two processes of creation and redemption, and it relates both to Jesus Christ through whom all things were created and through whom the world is saved (Jn 1:3-10).”47  Since it is in the sacrament of the Eucharist that this link is apparently more evident we shall expatiate more on that below.

Eucharist and Ecology:  Quest for Link

Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, can be linked to the environmental crisis.  Considering the place occupied by the Eucharist in the Church’s life and mission we will base our reflection here on the link between the Eucharist and ecology/environmental concerns. It stands out among other sacraments and brings human beings, nature and the Creator in close contact that abhors neglect and cruelty.  For Alexander Schmemann, “Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.”48  This can be from the point of view of the material elements that are used as well as its transformative nature.  With regard to the former, we learn that “[t]he eucharistic symbols are rooted in matter:  bread made from wheat, and wine made from grapes.  The eucharist symbolizes concern with the flesh and blood of the Lord.  In light of this, Christian orthodoxy rejects the disparagement of material things.”49  Sacraments transform recipients in such a way that they no longer become abusers but preservers of cosmos and nature by working towards their preservation.  Thus, Hill argues:  “Eucharist symbolizes the transformation of created elements into the risen Lord.  Eucharist also signifies the transformation of the community as it repents its complicity in harming creation and examines its responsibilities toward the earth.”50

Since sacramental materials are products of the earth, it behooves human beings (who receive them) to take good care of the earth by desisting from any form of cruelty against it and ensuring its preservation which will give rise (though not exclusively) to an increased productivity.  This may be difficult to come by unless there is a change in the life style and attitude of human beings towards other creatures.

 Liturgy and Life/Change of Life Style

One of the functions of liturgy is to charge participants to embrace a new way of relationship while living in their communities.  In the Eucharist, this is evident as it is not in any other sacrament.  With its two tables of the word (liturgy of the word) and the meal (liturgy of the Eucharist), this sacrament is intended to make a big impression on the worshiping community, that they become transformers of the environment.  Eucharist is even now being given a significant locus in conservation ethics.  Edward Kilmartin articulates this new wave in these words:  “In its own way the liturgy of the Eucharist trains Catholics for a critical response to the problems of conservation ethics ― a response that corresponds to the orientation of the Christian scriptures.”51  This can as well be associated with the kingdom theme of the Eucharist which manifests the social and cosmic range of genuine Christian living.52  By celebrating/receiving the Eucharist, the worshipping community is challenged to live in such a way that what they experience in the liturgy can be carried into the larger world.

One of the ways of doing this is to ensure, by their lives, that the fruitfulness of the earth and the lives of other creatures will be safeguarded.53  It is in this way that the environment, present human beings and future generations will be saved from disaster.  Benedict XVI puts it better in these words:  “The environment is God’s gift to every-one, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”54  However, this is very difficult to realize if there is disconnection between liturgy/worship and the real life situation.  The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council call this a severe misconception: “The split between the faith which they [Christians] profess and the daily lives of many people is to be counted as among the more serious misconceptions of our day.”55  The words of Scripture and the reflection by the celebrant in a Eucharistic gathering constantly call the worshipping community to model their lives according to what they have heard and seen.  It is in this case that we can talk of lex orandi, lex credendi and lex vivendi coming into play, all at the same time, in a unified harmony.  It is in the liturgy, more than elsewhere, that this harmony is realized, because liturgy “brings into the midst of the community the risen Lord, the Lord of creation, with all his compassion and self-giving.”56  As such, worship can in no way be alienated from the concrete life of the people; otherwise environmental damages already inflicted on nature by technological advancement will not be remedied.57  However, this remedy may not be possible if human beings fail to learn to sacrifice some of their desires and work towards conserving nature.

Christ’s Sacrifice/Human Purgation

In the Eucharist, Christ’s gift of himself is commemorated.  He gave up his leisure and desires in humble submission to the will of God.  Such life of abandonment needs to be emulated in our era. Healing is necessary.  The world that is pervaded by consumerism really needs to look up to Christ for the possibility of a change of attitude by exhibiting restraint on certain engagements that do not contribute positively to the good of the environment.  Paradoxically, some people live in affluence and extravagant spending while, at the same time, others lavish in abject poverty.  John Paul II sees the situation this way:  “It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate excess goods, squandering available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the lowest level of subsistence.”58  Moreover, the impact of neglect, waste and excess consumption, by human beings on earth is far from being quantified with accuracy.  It is therefore stating the obvious to say that there is an urgent need for human beings to re-appraise their relation with ecosystems.  This is a consciousness that will lead to a judicious treatment of other creatures, and usage of earth’s numerous resources that derive their being from the same God.   How human beings (and for our concern here Christians) experience themselves in relation to other creatures, requires restraint in any attitude that can threaten the survival of other species.  Unfortunately, while searching for comfort, human beings at times get engrossed in amassing resources to the extent of depriving other beings of their legitimate right to live.  John Paul II counsels that:  “Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.”59

Viewed from another perspective, the quest to multiply food items like rice, maize and soy beans in biotechnology through genetic modification, for the world’s teaming population has its own side effects.  The earth is constantly put at risk.  This in no way seeks to undermine the gains of biotechnology and similar technological advancements.  All the same, there is still “need to take a middle position which would help the reduction of environmental degradation and a more equal distribution of the benefits of technology.”60  In the face of all these, the role of human beings is not only necessary, but also urgent and inevitable.  But how can this be done?  How can this situation be rescued?  Responsible living should be embraced by all human beings.

Recipient (of Sacrament):  Created Cocreator

Each sacrament is laden with transformative elements.  This in no way suggests that its realization is merely in physical terms.  On the other hand, it stems from the nature of sacrament as a manifestation of Christ’s ‘presence.’  Above all, in the Eucharist, it is a presence per excellence:  body and blood, soul and divinity, really and substantially under the species of bread and wine.  It is an issue of concern that Christ chose to remain/be remembered, though not exclusively, ‘in’ what the human hands have made from the earth:  bread and wine.  But it is a matter of great significance that these ‘species’ are meant to change/transform the recipient that he/she can then bring transformation in society.  It is our contention that the state of the environment should be given a priority attention in this regard.

Those who receive the sacraments, especially, the Eucharist have a very important role to play in this effort.  As those entrusted to perpetuate, in the world, actions performed by the Triune God at various times in human history, human beings should consider themselves as created cocreators and mere stewards while dealing with other creatures.  While assuming their position as stewards, human beings will be more concerned with “affirming, cherishing and enabling to flourish all life-oriented values.”61  As the only beings created in God’s image and likeness, human beings stand out in the midst of other beings in nature not to dominate or treat with cruelty but to deal with them responsibly and benefit from what they can offer.62  No wonder after creation of human beings, God entrusted the whole of creation to man and woman that they can share in the unfolding plan of God’s creation.63  Acting against this plan has its consequences:  ‘When man [woman] turns his [her] back on the Creator’s plan, he [she] provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order.”64  Human beings have all it takes to realize God’s plan in creation.

Evaluation and Conclusion

So far, we have tried to reflect on the nature and the understanding of the sacraments.  Going beyond this we have endeavored to link this with ecological concern.  This connection needs to be emphasized now more than ever before.  Benedict XVI sees it as an imperative:  “The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she asserts this responsibility in the public sphere.  In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone.  She must above all protect mankind from self-destruc-tion.”65  In this effort, it is our contention that proper understanding of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and living out the inherent values in them can reorientate Christians towards responsible living.  This, in effect is in tandem with their status as created co-creators (stewards) in their relationship with other creatures.  It is in no way a suggestion that reduces human beings to an equal status with other creatures; rather it calls them to constant awareness of their responsible and conserving roles that are indispensable for a genuine ecological equilibrium.  The extent to which this is reflected in theory and praxis should be one of the major concerns of Christianity in this third millennium.

Moreover, one of the major causes of hunger in the world today is the environmental crisis.  Recently the number of the world population that are hungry has risen to one billion.  About 900 million of them are from developing countries,66 where there are evidences of many people gathering to celebrate the Eucharist (and other sacraments).  It is important that theologians explore (more) avenues through which it can constantly be brought to the consciousness of the worshipping community (and entire human beings) that they have a relevant role to play in salvaging the environment.



1.   David N. Power, The Eucharistic Mystery: Revitalizing the Tradition (New York:  Crossroad, 1992), 9.  A turning point came in the Church with the Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium liturgical reform.  A close study of the document reveals that it did not treat, in depth, most of these burning issues (with particular reference to ecological exploits by human beings).  All the same, there was an opening to the understanding of sacraments which touches here and now the realities of the human beings.

2.   Havid G. Hallman, Ecotheology:  Voices from South and North (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1994), 65.

3.   Clive Pearson, “Electing to do Ecotheology,” The Journal of Religion, Nature and Environment 9, no. 28 (2004):  7.

4.   Ibid., 7.

5.   Brennan R. Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment:  Making Vital Connections (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1998), 123.

6.   Lambert J. Leijssen, With the Silent Glimmer of God’s Spirit:  A Postmodern Look at the Sacraments (New York/Mahwah, NJ:  Paulist Press, 2007), 9.

7.   Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.

8.   Power, The Eucharistic Mystery, 9.

9.   Gaudium et Spes, 1.

10.  Wojciech Boloz, “Integrated Protection of the Environment in the Works of John Paul II,” in A Holistic Approach to Environment Conservation, ed. Ryszard F. Sadowski and Jacek Tomezyk (Warszawa, Poland:  Wydawnictwo University Uniweryetetu Kardynala Stefana Wyszynskiego, 2008), 13.

11.  Michael S. Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics (London:  Cambridge, 1996), 141.

12.  Boloz, “Integrated Protection of the Environment,” 15.

13. Lawrence Buel, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crises and Literary Imagination (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 137.

14.  Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics, 125.

15.  Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (NY:  Orbis, 1997), 105.  It is alleged in the past three centuries that scientific and technical advances have provided the human person with tools for dominating the world and by so doing plunder its riches which are most often reduced to mere natural resources that possess no right to relative autonomy.

16.  Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, 1; see also Boff, Ecology and Liberation (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1995), 15.  In this second reference he puts the earth’s situation this way:  “Our common home is deeply cleft from top to bottom.  It could collapse.”  Paradoxically, human beings would prefer the earth to be freed from collapse, at least for now, but efforts towards realizing this are yet to be heightened.  

17.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nairobi:  Paulist, 1995), 111, no. 358.

18.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 10.

19.  Boloz, “Integrated Protection of the Environment,” 15.

20.  John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 26.

21.  John Paul II, “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility,” (accessed 02. 05. 2009), no. 1.

22.  John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 26.

23.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 25.

24.  Moving from Affluence to Generosity (Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 1997), 149.  Ronald V. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 149.  In the midst of all these so called anomalies, the hungry and the poor are most often the victims.  Their farm lands are rendered less productive, and they are left to battle with reduced food production.  On the other hand, they also contribute to the degradation since they have to destroy tropical forests in their process of farming.  Adverse effects of these environmental crises are limited not only to the present, but have a devastating impact on the future.  This is a pointer to the fact that there is an urgent need for rethinking human attitude towards the environment and endangered species. 

25.  Ibid., 150.

26.  John W. Warnorck, The Politics of Hunger:  The Global Food System (London:  Methuen, 1987), 29.

27.  Hallman, Ecotheology: Voices from South and North, 70.

28.  Comparative advantage refers to an economic principle that asserts that different localities, states, regions, or countries should dwell on the production of commodities they can most efficiently produce and exchange those commodities for others produced in other places.  With cruelty on the environment, some region’s production could be adversely affected.

29.  Kevin W. Irwin, “Liturgical Action:  Sacramentality, Eschatology and Ecology,” in Contemporary Sacamental Contours of a God Incarnate, Textes et Études Liturgiques/Studies in Liturgy XVI, ed. Lieven Boeve and Lambert Leijssen (Leuven, Belgium:  Peeters, 2001), 115.

30.  Lawrence S. Cunningham, An Introduction to Catholicism (Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi:  Cambridge University Press, 2009), 101.

31.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 125.

32.  Ibid.

33.  Ibid., 126.

34.  Ibid.

35.  Ibid., 127.

36.  Ibid., 128.

37.  Joseph M. Powers, Eucharistic Theology (New York:  Herder and Herder, 1967), 21.

38.  Lois McAfee, “Eucharist Table, Love and Creation,” TableLove.htm (accessed 10.06.2009):  2.

39.  Frank Andersen, Making the Eucharist Matter (Notre Dame, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1999), 85.

40.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 141.

41.  Andersen, Making the Eucharist Matter, 85.

42.  Ibid., 86.

43.  Ibid.

44.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 130.

45.  Ibid.

46.  National Conference of Bishops, USA, The Sacramentary (New York:  Catholic Book Publishing, 1985), 370-371.

47.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 163.

48.  Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World:  Sacraments and Orthodoxy (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), 37-38.

49.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 143.

50.  Ibid.

51.  Edward J. Kilmartin, “Christian Worship and Conservation Ethics,” in Liturgical Foundations of Social Policy in the Catholic and Jewish Traditions, ed. Polish F. Daniel and J. Eugene Fisher, (Indiana, ID:  University of Notre Dame, 1983), 123-124.

52.  Ibid., 124. 

53.  Sean McDonagh, The Greening of the Church (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1990), 143.

54.  Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, no. 48.

55.  Gaudium et Spes, Chapter 4, quoted in Norman Tanner, The Church and the World:  Gaudium et Spes, Inter Mirifica (Mahwah, NJ:  Paulist Press, 2005), 50.

56.  Hill, Christian Faith and the Environment, 144.

57.  Power, The Eucharistic Mystery, 10.

58.  John Paul II, “The Ecological Crisis,” no. 8.

59.  Ibid., no. 13.

60.  Charles Irudiya, “Environmental Degradation:  A Call for Ecological Ethics,” Indian Theological Studies 46 (2009):  33.

61.  Denis Carroll, “A Green Theology? Theology and Ecology,” The Way 31/4 (1991):  278.

62.  Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, no. 50.

63.  John Paul II, “The Ecological Crisis,” no. 3.

64.  Ibid., no. 4.

65.  Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, no. 51.

66.  Alessandra Rizzo, “World Hunger Reaches the 1 Billion People Mark,” eu_un_world_hunger/print;_ylt=AsiN... (accessed 19.06.2009): 1-2

  • Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) in Spirituality and Leadership
    Aug 04
    Nov 30