At least 35 years ago I had a long conversation with one of the Theology (Bible) professors at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (For those of you unfamiliar with ORU, it is one of the leading fundamental/evangelical universities in the USA.) We were seriously, but openly, discussing methods of biblical interpretation. At one point he made a statement that has been a challenge to me through all these years. He basically said: “You Catholics say that we should not take the Bible literally while we say that everything in Scripture should be interpreted literally. Yet when Jesus gave the bread and wine to his friends at the Passover meal you take those words literally – that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine. And we take everything in the Bible literally – except those very words.”
Our Catholic belief that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine can be attested and celebrated only because of a pure gift of faith, enlightened and prompted by the Holy Spirit. Too often, because of our familiarity with the celebration, we take that faithful assent for granted. We look for “signs and wonders” in other areas of our lives – healings, apparitions, stigmatas – when a tremendous miracle is occurring regularly as we move through life. One of the issues I have pondered over the years is that we have developed a very private spirituality of the Eucharist. There is no doubt we are touched personally as we seek nourishment from the Eucharistic Presence, but Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist with his friends and his call is for us to share as a community and bring that Presence to the larger community in which we live our daily lives. We are nourished and forgiven so that we might nourish with hope and forgive with eagerness. “The Mass is ended” so that the Reign of God might become more present. This is the richness and the consequence of our belief.