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Practicing Catholic “Place”—The Eucharist

  • Philip F. Sheldrake (a1)


A sense of place is critical to human identity. The Eucharist is a ritual practice that “places” us within a narrative wider than our individual and exclusive stories. The Eucharist breaks open private identities to embrace the oikumenē of all times, places and people. This article explores ways in which the Eucharist may be thought of as “the practice of Catholic place.” It does this by integrating sacramental and ethical perspectives. The eucharistic narrative in a radical way makes a place for stories of suffering and exclusion that demand redress. It is a place of reconciliation that makes space for memories that refuse to remain silent. The Eucharist draws believers into the all-embracing catholicity of God. It thus engages a power beyond the ritual enactments themselves that makes an entry point for “the other,” not least for the oppressed, the marginalized and the excluded.



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1 McBrien, Richard, Catholicism (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 7.

2 For a detailed analysis of “thisness” see Wolter, Allan B., The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 8997.

3 See the contrasting essays by White, Susan and Habgood, Archbishop in Brown, David and Loades, Ann, eds., The Sense of the Sacramental (London: SPCK, 1995), 3143 and 19–30 respectively. White's ethical approach needs to be balanced by Habgood's more markedly sacramental understanding of the whole of the natural world.

4 See Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, q.8, a.1.

5 See Tracy, David, “The Return of God in Contemporary Theology,” in Concilium 1994/1996, Why Theology?, 3746.

6 See Tracy, David, On Naming the Present: God, Hermeneutics, and Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 4245.

7 Rahner, Karl, The Trinity (London: Burns & Oates, 1970), 22.

8 For the notion of space in God, see Gunton, Colin, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997), 112ff. See also his The One, The Three and The Many (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 164 where he writes, “There is thus a richness and space in the divine life, in itself and as turning outwards in the creation of the dynamic universe that is relational order in space and time.”

9 On reconceiving particularity in Trinitarian terms, see Cunningham, David S., These Three are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), chap. 6.

10 See Gunton, , The One, The Three and The Many, 113.

11 Dulles, Avery, The Catholicity of the Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).

12 McBrien, 8–16.

13 Traherne, Thomas, Centuries (London: Mowbray, 1975), 1, 31.

14 Curran, Charles E., The Church and Morality: An Ecumenical and Catholic Approach (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 1820.

15 Curran, , The Church and Morality, 9.

16 The link between the enactment of identity and the ethical nature of the Eucharist is discussed by the contemporary moral theologian, Spohn, William, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics (New York: Continuum, 1999), 175–84.

17 On this point, see Saliers, Donald E., “Liturgy and Ethics: Some New Beginnings,” in Hamel, Ronald and Himes, Kenneth, eds., Introduction to Christian Ethics: A Reader (New York: Paulist, 1989), 175–86.

18 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), pars. 19–20 and 22. Cited subsequently as WCC.

19 Williams, Rowan, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 209–10.

20 See Cavanaugh, William, “The Eucharist as resistance to globalisation” in Beckwith, Sarah, ed., Catholicism and Catholicity: Eucharistic Communities in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 6984.

21 Certeau, Michel de, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 115–30.

22 WCC, 24.

23 Ford, David, Self and Salvation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) touches on what he calls “the ethics of feasting” in 268–70.

24 See Rowland, Christopher, “Eucharist as Liberation from The Present” in The Sense of the Sacramental, 200–15.

25 For a radical social reading of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, see Williams, On Christian Theology, chap. 14, “Sacraments of the New Society.”

26 The classic work remains Dulles, Avery, Models of the Church (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books, 1987).

27 Cavanaugh, William, Torture and the Eucharist: Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 207–21.

28 Williams, 212–14.

29 WCC, 14.

30 Codina, Victor, “Sacraments,” in Sobrino, Jon and Ellacuria, Ignacio, eds., Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology (London: SCM Press, 1996), 218–19.

31 See Ward, Graham, “The displaced body of Jesus Christ,” in Milbank, John, Pickstock, Catherine and Ward, Graham, eds., Radical Orthodoxy (London: Routledge, 1999), 163–81.

32 See Codina, , “Sacraments,” 228.

33 Ellacuria, Ignacio, “The Church of the Poor, Historical Sacrament of Liberation,” in Ellacuria, Ignacio and Sobrino, Jon, eds., Mysterium Liberationis: Foundational Concepts of Liberation Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 543.

34 On corporeality and the incorporation of the church in history, see Ellacuria, 545.

35 On the prophetic quality of Jesus' incorporation, see Ford, , Self and Salvation, 151–52.

36 See Cavanaugh, , Torture and the Eucharist, 1118.

37 Ford, , Self and Salvation, 163. Although Ford's precise phrase concerns baptism, his wider context is the theology of the Eucharist.

38 WCC, 18.

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