Reflections on a Eucharistic Weekend: Hyning March 2019

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CPW is amazing! Instead of cancelling our weekend in the lovely surroundings of Hyning when our main speaker Tom O’Loughlin was taken ill, the team got to work to ensure we would have an excellent few days.

Full of prayerful reflection and ideas, the whole weekend was an extended Eucharist, with all we said and did focussed on the meaning of the Eucharist - thanking God.

Though sadly missing Tom, we were treated to a ‘virtual Tom’ in the form of a video and podcast which set us on the way with much food for thought. This was followed by further exploration with Mike Campbell and Nicholas Postlethwaite.

Tom’s book, The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings, and an article from The Pastoral Review (Jan ’18), provided a base for our discussion. We were reminded about the importance of Jesus’ actions, particularly at the many meals in the New Testament. Indeed, food was significant throughout, not only at the Last Supper. Quite revolutionary then (and now) was the idea of all sharing one loaf and especially one cup.

The sharing of loaf and cup was what Jesus did to offer thanks to his Father and what he asked us to do. Communities where it is practicable to share both one loaf and cup are necessarily small. The early disappearance of the custom in the history of Christianity is hardly surprising once large church buildings and congregations became the norm.

Nicholas Postlethwaite gave us the powerful image of the church as both undertaker (to bring to a good close what has outlasted its life, not simply trying to keep it semi-alive), and midwife (to nurture new growth). This means the church/theology/doctrine must continue to evolve. This reminded me of John Henry Newman’s thinking on change:

To live is to change, and to change often is to become more perfect.”

Indeed, the church of the second thousand years is so different from the first as to be almost unrecognisable. This is very clear from some of the ways of thinking of the Eucharist (and even calling it that rather than communion or Mass) that Mike Monaghan gave us in summary from Rolheiser’s writings.

Change is hard. How do we get a balance between the small group church and the large one and still maintain unity? Mention was made of a model of the large church with satellite small groups around it, coming together for special events. This would enable Eucharistic sharing in the way of the early church. How do we renew/create new symbols for those that have lost their potency over the centuries? What do the words we use, e.g. for the consecration, mean now? Nicholas Postlethwaite referred to Wittgenstein’s “Take the words to the dry cleaners”, a reminder that the meaning of words changes.

As you would expect at CPW, we owned a variety of views on all of this, which were shared in the spirit of friendship. There was the usual willingness to question and challenge. For some present, such CPW gatherings are what keep them in the church. In this sharing of our Eucharist – thanking the Father through Jesus in the Spirit - the weekend highlighted for me the participation of all prayerfully in our common priesthood.

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Congratulations to Breideen, Mike and Nicholas. Many thanks for taking on so much more work than you anticipated to make the weekend not just possible but such a success. It shows what a committed group of people can and will do.

I send very good wishes for a speedy recovery to Tom and to those several members whose sickness prevented them being with us. And finally, I would like to thank all the sisters at Hyning for their continuing wonderful hospitality and concern for and attention to our needs.

Teresa Saunders