I’m writing this at a time of probing the meaning of Resurrection, and of Eucharist in terms of memorial, thanksgiving, table fellowship, love feast.
It’s an account of an experience I had recently of celebrating a memorial. It was the first anniversary of my deceased brother, Joe, and we had agreed on having a spontaneous thanksgiving memorial celebration of his life rather than a formal anniversary Mass. The group celebrating included Joe’s wife Beverly, Fr James the parish priest and Jane, still mourning the loss of her recently deceased husband Bill, close friend and colleague of Joe.
Seated in the conservatory, with a picture of Joe facing us in front, a lighted candle by his side, we began by reciting together the prayer of thanksgiving used towards the end of his funeral Mass.
Then after a pause for silent reflection, each of us in turn began sharing with the group on what we found most meaningful and inspiring in Joe’s life. We looked at some of the huge challenges he faced during his life, while at the same time, being the kind of person whose presence would light up a room when he entered, full of joy and with a rich sense of humour. This celebration was coming at the end of a year of mourning the death of someone we loved so much. We reflected on the happiness that Joe brought to his wife and family and that they in turn gave him. Looking back on his life, with his picture and lighted candle in front of us, our reflections tended to centre around something that could best be described as death and resurrection.
There was the deathly struggle with alcohol to which, in mid-life Joe had become addicted. Then there was the beginning of a new life when, through the urging of a friend he eventually joined the Alcoholics Anonymous community, sought treatment for alcoholism, and through the A.A. became aware that alcoholism was an issue for many of his dental colleagues. At his own expense in time and effort and with the assistance of many of his colleagues he set about taking action for treatment of the condition. A long series of initiatives over the years resulted in the establishment of a national network of colleagues trained to intervene locally to help alcoholic or otherwise addicted members of the profession. He was instrumental in the setting up similar programmes for The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Through the good offices of the British Dental Association, Joe was awarded an MBE for his work in addiction within the professions. As he wryly put it ‘The Queen gave me a medal for being a drunk’.
As we continued our Memorial celebration and the meal together that followed, one person talked briefly about what this inspirational group sharing meant for her. It went something like this:
It brings home to me, and now I think I understand better, the powerful experiences the disciples had of Jesus’s life-giving presence among them after his death, as they remembered him walking with them, talking and asking questions, sharing meals, and helping them understand. Their mourning was turned into joy. He would always be with them, weak as they were at times. They felt strengthened and given courage to face the way ahead, whatever it would be.
Then we began to reflect together on how, throughout his life with disciples and wider community, Jesus celebrated meals, and especially the Passover meal, memorial of the gradual escape from (inner and outer) slavery into freedom, and on how after his death the mourning of the disciples was turned into joy as they experienced his presence among them.
Pope Francis is looking towards a paradigm shift in our understanding and practice of being Church, the community of People of God. But if we truly believe that Eucharist is at the centre, maybe it’s time we, as Church begin to address the possible features of paradigm shift towards Community celebration of Eucharist as ‘Memorial, Thanksgiving, Love feast, Table Fellowship’.