The Eucharist as memory, body, identity, and expectation

Four words – memory, body, identity, and expectation – allow us to gather some important realities that enter the eucharistic celebration. Gerald O’Collins SJ is a professor emeritus of the Gregorian University.

The heart of Christian life, the Eucharist remains an endless source of meaning, an infinitely rich truth that can never be comprehensively stated once and for all. Nevertheless, believers are called to give an account of what they are about when they meet for ‘the breaking of the bread’. Four words gather up vital aspects of the Eucharist: memory, body, identity, and expectation.

Even if only the ordained priest says at the Eucharist, ‘do this in memory of me’, all the participants, by virtue of the priesthood they received at baptism, engage in an act of collective memory. As a group they remember the past, above all the events that involved the Jewish people, Jesus himself, and the founding of the Church through the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Memory shapes us, of course, as individuals. We remember both painful and joyful events that have made us who we are individually. Memory brings back the death of our parents, the breakdown of marriages, severe illnesses, and other sad, even tragic episodes that have left an enduring mark on our lives. Memory also recalls many happy occasions that have marked our personal story: magic Christmas celebrations, weddings, family birthday parties, and kindnesses that we personally treasure forever.

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