Andrea Bieler and Luise Schottroff (The Eucharist) speak of “sacramental permeability.” 

That phrase brings a number of emphases to the fore. For starters it “takes seriously the realities of human bodies as a central part of Eucharistic practice and life.”

Once we take the bodies of those who partake of the Body seriously, then we also have to take account of all the things that affect those bodies, “the bread we consume at our kitchen tables, the bread we steal from the poor” as well as the “bread that is consecrated and consumed during Holy Communion” (5). Eucharistic theology cannot isolate itself from food politics, whether it has to do with the causes of global hunger, American obsession with diet, eating disorders, and so on. (Not to say that Bieler and Schottroff necessarily get these issues right; only to say that Eucharistic theology must shed light on them, and must be open to light shed from outside.)

Further, sacramental permeability means that the Eucharist, as a gift of God’s love made visible, opens potential to see sacramental dimensions everywhere: “The sacrament of Holy Communion points to the presence of God among us and in the world,” so that it reveals the “sacramentality of life” (5).

Armed with this concept, the authors note, for instance, that the practice of the Eucharist has sometimes conformed to the political economy outside the church rather than embodying an economy of grace. During the middles ages, they observe, “The Mass became a means to obtain certain favors for the living and the dead. . . . In a certain sense, the benefits of redemption could be bought” (101-2). More generally, they plunder the tradition for resources to offer a ritual challenge to the “omnipotent claims of the Homo oeconomicus” (91).

As the eschatological meal, the end of all things, permeable Eucharistic theology thus opens own to encompass all things.

More on: Sacraments

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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