Last Tuesday my friends, a married couple, with their children came to visit me. Despite the weather I’ve been trying to show them some interesting places in this part of Scotland and they’ve been very happy to see the hidden college in Scalan; they were impressed by the Ladder Hills (although the hills were mostly covered by mist); they’ve enjoyed the Glenfiddich and Glenlivet distilleries and their products. I’ve been happy to take my friends to all those places, but the happiest moments were when I’ve made delicious meals and we all sat at the table enjoying them.
In ancient cultures inviting someone to share a table was a sign of trust and respect. Even today many events from big parties to small meetings include a meal of one kind or another – so sharing food is still regarded as a sign of trust and peace. This attitude was formed in us as humankind evolved. In prehistoric times our early ancestors were constantly involved in the race for resources, the most important element of which was food. As food was limited it could only be shared among members of small communities: for example a family or a tribe. Later on this evolutionary behaviour developed additional characteristics. Sharing food became a sacred activity.
The most ancient examples of Christian communities contain say about ‘breaking of bread’ as an essential element of their identity. In the Acts of the Apostles St Luke defines Christians in Jerusalem in terms of four characteristics – one of which is ‘breaking of bread’. Every time Christians were persecuted the first stage was forbidding them from saying Mass. In present times some people mockingly call the Eucharist ‘eating a wafer’. But even denominations which reject the sacramental concept retain some form of ‘liturgical breaking of bread’.
Once I took part in a non-Catholic celebration. It was OK, but I soon became aware of something I’d always felt – Catholic liturgy has a very human dimension with its symbols, gestures and rituals. God speaks to people using their language and customs. That’s the reason why God’s only Son became a human and has stayed with us in the Eucharist. Jesus gives himself out to his followers; this sacrifice is performed in a community and by a community – but it still requires a deep personal response. The Eucharist in my life is as effective as my openness to this gift. Jesus invites you to his table – but it is you who decides to come along.