Celebrating eucharistic action: Dix’s purple passage

Fresco of a female figure holding a chalice from Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus & Peter in Rome
Fresco of a woman holding a chalice from Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus & Peter in Rome

“At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity—the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and the taking, blessing and giving of a cup of wine and water, as these were first done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before He died. He had told his friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning “for the anamnesis” of Him, and they have done it always since.

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
People have found no better thing than this to do
  • for sovereigns at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold;
  • for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
  • for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; 
  • for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; 
  • for a school child sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
  • for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
  • in thankfulness because my mother did not die of pneumonia;
  • for a village chief much tempted to return to fetish because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
  • for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlements of a strike;
  • for a child for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war;
  • while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;
  • on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church;
  • tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
  • furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewed timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
  • gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why people have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei— the holy common people of God.”

Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945, p. 743, with a few changes I’ve made for the sake of a more inclusive language.

Jamie’s Great Britain

from Paddy’s Marten Inn, Leicester

I was intrigued by ideas of hospitality and celebration whilst watching Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 last night. I was wearing my metaphorical priest’s hat. Jamie gets everywhere on TV. The British public loves him for his energy and commitment. Last night’s programme focused on my home city, Leicester. Jamie’s comments began by highlighting the prospect of Leicester becoming the first UK city where the majority of the population is non-white. Jamie’s glass is definitely half-full and last night’s programme saw him at the asian veg stall on Leicester market and in the kitchen of Amita Mashru’s Gujerati restaurant eager to celebrate what immigrant communities have brought to us and our cooking and to celebrate the British achievement of entertaining different food cultures, and the spices of our foods picked up from different corners of the world.

Hospitality and celebration are central functions of ministry and defines the people of God, including Jews, Muslims and Christians, and other faith communities. Trace Hathorn reminds us that hospitality defines the people of God. He writes: 

The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the Torah and was a part of themeasure of the Hebrew community’s faithfulness to God. When a traveler came totown, they waited by the well, and it was incumbent upon the townspeople tohouse and feed the visitor for the night.Of course, these travelers were rarelyfamily. … They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods,different clothes, different languages, different gods. Opening one’s home wasrisky. Today we’d describe such a thing as out and out foolish. … Suchhospitality was central to the Hebrew identity. The risk did not define thepeople; their hospitality did, for they knew such hospitality was central tothe character of their God. The same was true in the early Christiancommunities. Paul reminded the Romans to offer hospitality to the alien, and inthe Letter to the Hebrews the people were reminded to show hospitality to allfor in so doing some entertained angels unaware. In Acts, the early deaconspracticed hospitality throughout the community, bringing welcome to those inneed. And in Matthew’s community, hospitality still measured the faithfulnessof the people. Welcoming prophets, righteous ones and disciples (those whomMatthew called “little ones”) was a disciplined practice of the young churches.

What seems to make Jamie such a good host and celebrant is his joie de vivre, the love of his subjects and his love of what people bring to the table. He seems convivial and congenial. Life tastes both bitter and sweet to Jamie’s palate, but his joy in that concoction is infectious. Being entertained and fed by Jamie is intriguing and is challenging my own hospitality and how I play the role of host.