Monday, May 28, 2012

Memory, Eucharist, Solidarity

Yesterday was both Pentecost and Memorial Day Sunday, and next Sunday at our church is communion.  I thought of some notes I took a while ago on themes of memory and communion, beginning with a book I've enjoyed studying, John C. Haughey, S.J., Housing Heaven’s Fire: The Challenge of Holiness (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 2002).(1)  Recently I’d used Haughey’s notion of Eucharist-as-solidarity in a lesson series about global social issues: 

Toward the end of the book, Haughey discusses human rights from a Roman Catholic standpoint, and then he brings the Eucharist to bear upon rights, in so far as the Eucharist is partly about solidarity with others and their needs.  Hopefully I’m not bowdlerizing Haughey’s interesting insights by thinking about them in terms of Protestant communion as well.

He affirms that sharing the Eucharist is truly an act of solidarity: “Paul stings the Corinthians with the indictment that they are not eating the Lord’s Supper but, by their allowing some of their fellow worshipers to go hungry, they have desacralized the supper. This disregard for another’s needs while taking care of oneself and one’s own, profanes the spirituality of Eucharist.” (p. 188).  “In effect, [the Corinthians] denial of a place at the table for the misfits, rendered the assembly’s rites so unworthy, it would have been better had they not been celebrated, Paul clearly says (1 Cor. 11:17).”

Haughey goes on to recall John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Connecting this verse with the problem at Corinth, Haughey notes that the Corinthian participants in the Eucharist had to learn that the supper’s purpose “was not simply their own spiritual nurture; it was nothing short of the life of the whole community and, beyond it, the world” (p. 189).

Earlier in the book, he notes that solidarity is, in the words of Pope John Paul II in his letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good…i.e., to the good of all and of each individual because we are really responsible for all” (p. 156). Furthermore, the Trinity itself is a “communion” which is “the source and ground” of our own solidarity (p. 165). We see this in Paul’s letters, where koinonia is a key term of the bond among Christians and others (2 Cor. 13:13). (p. 165).

Haughey writes, “Solidarity, like any virtue, needs a repeated action to become habitual. And it needs a story from which it is acted out. For Christians, solidarity has such an action and story. It is Eucharist. That is where the story is best learned and the virtue exercised with ‘a firm determination to commit oneself to the common good’ made. Eucharist is where ‘doing your own thing’ is transcended…. Eucharist is a call to solidarity and the conferral of the energy for the work of solidarity.”

Our solidarity with others “needs a story from which it is acted out,” and that is the Eucharist! Haughey’s discussion reminded me of an essay in Nils Dahl’s book, Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976), “Anamnesis: Memory and Commemoration in Early Christianity.” I’ve appreciated the way Dahl argues that memory is potentially an act of solidarity.

Dahl notes that the Greek work mnêmoneuein, “to remember,” and similar words “signify not only to recollect but also to think of something or someone. And ‘to think of’ could include to make mention of something and frequently to mention someone in prayer” (p. 120. He cites the example of Col. 4:18, Heb. 11:22, 1 Thess. 1:2ff, Phil. 1:3ff, and 2 Tim. 1:3ff. it could also mean to come to someone’s aid, as in Gal. 2:10 and Heb. 13;3. Likewise, the Hebrew word zakar, as when God “remembers” the covenant (Ex. 2:24, Lev. 26:42, etc.) (p. 13). Memory is thus “formative for attitude and action” (p. 13). 

Further, “the memory of [God’s] work of salvation and of his commandments had a fundamental importance in the religion of Israel (p. 13). So the “cultus” of Israel had not only to do with sacrifices but also the active memory of God’s great works of salvation via sacrifices but also trumpets, prayers, psalms, hymns, and the commemoration of festivals, each with their special significance” (p. 14).

Dahl notes that, for Paul, one function of his pastoral work was to help people remember!  For instance, writes Dahl, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul reminds the church to be faithful to his preaching and adds, gently, “just as you are doing.” Dahl writes that “the initial acceptance of the gospel puts the whole of life under obligation.” The Thessalonians had been trained, baptized, and had received the Holy Spirit. Now, “[t]hey need to preserve what they have received and to remind themselves of it in order to live out the reality into which they have been introduced” (p. 15). As Dahl puts it, memory shapes conduct (p. 16).

Dahl notes that we see a similar process not only in Paul’s letters but also in Jude 3 and 5, 2 Peter 1:12ff, 1 John 2:7, and other passes. Knowledge as “anamnesis” ("recollection”) is not platonic in the sense of preexistent knowledge that the soul must regain, but a recollection of what the believer received in preaching, baptism, and incorporation into church fellowship; thus Christian growth is “an ever growing assimilation and an ever more perfect application” of the Gospel traditions one had first received (p. 16). And this keeps early Christianity in line with its Jewish heritage, in that Christians also remember God’s mighty acts of salvation---especially Christ. Dahl argues that passages like Philippians 2:5-11 function in a commemorative/recollective way, as well as Colossians 1:15-20.

Of course, recollection and commemoration function powerfully in the Eucharist. Early Christians had no sacrifices, but the Eucharist was a key way of "recommemorating" the work of Christ, which through remembering made it a powerful, present reality (p. 24).


Currently I’ve two favorite books on the theme of holiness.  One book I purchased years ago at an American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature meeting, forgot about it, and then rediscovered it on my book shelves when I really needed it: John G. Gammie, Holiness in Israel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1989). I was fascinated by the way he traces aspects of “holiness” through the Old Testament, in which the theme is quite multifaceted, covering ritual purity (including Sabbath-keeping), the pursuit of justice, and a combination of moral uprightness and wisdom.  In the book discussed above, Fr. Haughey also finds variety and richness in different aspects of holiness as presented by different biblical authors within their theological interests.  Haughey also includes interesting discussions of Jesus’ own growth in holiness (in light the epistle to the Hebrews which affirms that Jesus learned obedience through suffering).  Haughey describes the work of the Spirit as “truing”—using the word “true”, in an old sense, as a verb---within Jesus’ life and ours as well.

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