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Why the Eucharist promotes Social Justice

Fr. Jerome R. Secillano


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Social justice is a ticklish issue. Those who make it their concern are branded as subversives. Those who don’t care are seen as unsympathetic or heartless. Some see it mostly as the problem of the poor and never one that affects the rich and the powerful. Governments deal with it with great caution and uneasiness. The Church makes it a noble advocacy.

Admittedly, the term “social justice” can be vague and allusive. But in the context of the Compendium of the Social Doctrines of the Church (CSDC), let us define it broadly as love and service of neighbor, most especially the poor and the suffering.

So, how does this definition relate social justice with the Eucharist?

St. Thomas Aquinas’ insights are helpful in this regard. He identifies the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity. (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 73, a.3). In his treatment of the theological virtues, Aquinas argues that, “no true virtue is possible without charity.” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 23, a.7.) Thus, justice, including social justice, fails if it is not accompanied by charity—if it is not united to the sacrament of charity. In every act of charity, one loves another person for the sake of God and the grace to do this flow from the Eucharist.

One gets a clearer understanding of Aquinas’ reasoning upon recognition of the Eucharist as the offering of the body and blood of Christ for the sake of a broken humanity. Each Eucharistic celebration is always an act of Christ’s charitable self-giving and it is never just a mechanical act but it is a giving out of love.

As a celebration of love, there is no class distinction in the Eucharist. In fact, the Eucharist is about inclusivity and it is both a protest and resistance to social exclusion and discrimination. It is about solidarity and sharing, and it offers a dynamic that empowers action and it challenges us to make a difference in a world torn by strife and indifference.

In the Eucharist, we begin by begging God for forgiveness. It is a reminder that sin is never merely an individual affair and that we are all complicit in the injustice and the violence that scar our world today and that all of us need to forgive and be forgiven. The Eucharist is essentially about the acknowledgment of oppression and the giving and receiving of forgiveness. All are given the opportunity to lament, to understand the hurts we have caused and to come face to face with the need to be just and morally upright.

As a festive meal, the Eucharist also becomes a prophetic protest that challenges global hunger. The prayer we repeat at every Mass, “give us this day our daily bread”, obliges us to do everything possible to end the scandal of hunger and malnutrition afflicting so many people in our world today. Margaret Scott says, “A better world is possible, in which “yesterday’s bread” becomes “bread today” for all.

The inseparable link between the Eucharist and social justice has its roots in the Scriptures. For the Old Testament Prophets, it was impossible to render worship to God while ignoring the demands of justice. God also repudiates any worship offered by those who are insensitive to the needs of the poor and the powerless. The book of Sirach says, “The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the ungodly…Like the man who kills a son before his father’s eyes is the person who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor”. (Sir. 34:22)

In the New Testament, St. James condemns all inequality and discrimination based on status and wealth and reminds the early Christian communities that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress”. (James 1:27)

In a society that has missed the concepts of equality and justice in the scripture, listening to the readings in the context of the Eucharist can refocus our vision of reality, correct our mistaken perceptions, widen the horizons of our worldview, and attune our way of thinking to Christ’s.

The foregoing seems to suggest that the Eucharist is deeply “political” and potentially subversive. It is simply because God in the Eucharist uses both ordinary things such as bread and wine and people as His instruments to challenge the status quo in a world torn by violence and indifference. God is not removed or uninvolved in the affairs of the world but He continues to be at work in them through His creation. The liturgy can never be merely understood as an end in itself. Rather, it is the means by which humans encounter God and are transformed into His instruments, cooperating with God to establish a more just world.

Being ecstatic therefore after each Eucharistic celebration simply because we fulfilled our sacred obligation or performed our Eucharistic devotion does not make any sense. The efficacy of the Eucharist goes beyond mere personal aggrandizement. When the priest says, “The Mass is ended”, we are actually taken to task to make a difference in a world characterized by unjust social structures.

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