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Fr. Francis Gonsalves,

professor on systematic theology at Vidyajyoti in India.

Introduction: The irony of me – a Catholic priest – speaking about lay empowerment and the common priesthood of all the faithful seems suggestive of the superior role that priests either appropriate or are accorded within ecclesial structures, often resulting in the silencing of the varied voices of the ‘People of God’ that VC II  gave so much weight to. In this case, I have been requested by the organizers to speak on this topic. And therefore, to be somewhat representative of the laity in India, I conducted a sample survey of a cross-section of laymen and laywomen whose voices and views I shall echo in my presentation. A questionnaire was prepared with 18 questions and sent to 45 people living in 6 important cities in India: (1) Delhi, (2) Mumbai [Bombay], (3) Chennai [Madras], (4) Kolkata [Calcutta], (5) Ahmedabad and (6) Bangalore.[1] My choice of respondents was based on the following criteria:

  1. Each is deeply committed to her/his faith;
  2. Each has been involved at some time or the other in Church work or held an ecclesial office at the parish, diocesan or national levels,
  3. Each has a capacity to responsibly reflect, and constructively criticize, if need be.


The limitation of this exercise is that I was unable to reach the poor, rural laity due to the constraints of time and the inaccessibility of internet in India’s rural areas. Also, since there were no face-to-face, personal interviews of the respondents, certain comments and views sometimes seemed ambiguous. These lacunae notwithstanding, what emerges is not so much a ‘Theology of the Eucharist’ from the laity’s perspective, but rather a glimpse into the ‘Understanding and Practice of the Eucharist’. Collating the responses to the questions, four areas can be identified from the questionnaire pertaining to:

  • Meaning – what does the Eucharist mean to you, personally?
  • Identity – who do you see yourself to be in the Eucharist?
  • Priesthood/Empowerment – what is your priestly role/power at the Eucharist?
  • Mission – how does the Eucharist affect your commitment to the world?


I shall divide my presentation into three parts: (1) Present a few findings in the four areas mentioned above; (2) Provide a framework for understanding the Eucharist from today’s context of the common priesthood; (3) Propose suggestions that have emerged from the survey which will foster more meaningful eucharistic practice among the laity in India.


  1. A Representative Overview of Eucharistic Practice in Urban India

VC II’s Lumen Gentium n.11 described the Eucharist as the “source and summit of Christian life”. The centrality of the Eucharist has been reiterated in the past four decades or so in various ecclesial and papal documents. Since the laymen and women who responded to the questionnaire belong to Christian communities dating back to the apostle Thomas or to the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier and the first Jesuits who did missionary work along coastal India, there is a long eucharistic tradition treasured by the people. This is evident from the fact that to the question (Q.1): “Which is the most important spiritual observance to you?” 70% answered that it was the Eucharist (26 % said ‘Bible reading’ and 4% said ‘Rosary’)


1.1. The Meaning of the Eucharist: Sacrament of Communion

It is necessary to see what exactly most people understand by the Eucharist. Hence, Q.2 inquired: “According to you, which of the following words is most meaningful to you and personally best expresses what the Eucharist is?” The respondents had to choose one option from six options given – meal, sacrifice, memorial, thanksgiving, communion and Bible service. As a theologian, I expected most people to choose ‘sacrifice’ or ‘meal’ or ‘memorial’ since these aspects are stressed in almost all ecclesial and papal documents. However, what emerged most prominently was the word ‘communion’ (52%).


Gauging from the explanations given in later responses, ‘communion’ can be understood in three ways. First, it could signify Holy Communion or the ‘host’ that one consumes. For example, Vimala Padmaraj (Chennai) wrote, “Today, people go mechanically for Holy Communion without confessing their sins” and Ruth Noronha (Chennai) wrote: “At Communion something special has been offered to me: the wonderful gift of God himself.” Second, and connected to the first meaning, is the ‘vertical aspect’ of communion, namely, relationship with Jesus through consuming of the sacred host. Thus, for instance, Joycelin Jose, editor of Delhi’s Catholic youth magazine Yu-Kris wrote: “I love going to church, sitting through Mass in silence and contemplation. It deepens my communion with God.” So also, A. Chinnappan, Secretary General of the Catholic Association (Delhi) wrote, “The Eucharist raises us up to a different platform altogether to be in communion with God and God alone.” Third, is the ‘horizontal aspect’ of relationship among members of the eucharistic community. Margaret Kings (Kolkata) feels that she is an important part of the communion wherein: “we celebrate with people. It’s one big family gathering.”


All three aspects seemed important to the respondents. In fact, among Indians – and, among Asians, in general – the aspects of ‘coming together’ as family, clan, tribe, and community is essential at various moments in life, be it to celebrate births or marriages, or to console one another in times of disaster or death.


Besides ‘communion’, other words to describe the Eucharist were also mentioned as significant. Q.3 asked: “After choosing the most meaningful word in Q.2 above, how would you arrange the other five words in descending order of importance?” To ascertain how important the other words were, I worked out a weighted average giving fewer points in the descending order in which the respondents arranged the words (i.e. 6 points for most important and 1 point for least important. On the basis of tally of points, I worked out what could be called a ‘percentage of preference’). Thus, in descending order of importance, the respondents chose: (1) communion – 24%; (2) sacrifice – 21%; (3) thanksgiving – 18%; (4) memorial – 16%; (5) meal – 13%; and (6) Bible service – 8%.


On seeing such a high percentage of lay faithful choose ‘communion’ over sacrifice, memorial and meal, one wonders whether it is reasonable to conclude that there is wide divergence between magisterial teaching and daily eucharistic practice. While one could say that there is, surely, some degree of divergence, it must be noted that the lay faithful who have done some theological studies are able to make finer distinctions. For instance, in response to Q.3, lay theologian Dr Astrid Lobo Gajiwala (Mumbai) distinguished between what was ‘theologically meaningful’ to her (memorial, sacrifice, meal) and what was ‘personally meaningful’ (communion, thanksgiving).


1.2. The Identity of the Laity at the Eucharist: Beneficiary or Co-Celebrant?

‘Who’ one is unfailingly affects the way one participates in or celebrates the Eucharist. To Q.5. “Do you feel you have an important role to play in the Eucharist?” an overwhelming 89% said “Yes” and 11% said “No.”. This question was followed by asking in Q.6, “If yes, then, according to you, which one of the following words best describes your role?” Of the options given – namely, (a) I am an observer; (b) I am a co-celebrant; (c) I am an offerer; (d) I am a beneficiary of graces – 48% said “I am a co-celebrant, while 36% wrote, “I am a beneficiary of graces.” This probably indicates that while the people consider themselves as an important part of the celebration – and therefore see themselves as ‘co-celebrant’ – they also feel that they receive many graces and blessings through their participation at the Eucharist.


The active and passive dimensions of the Eucharist are best highlighted by the words ‘co-celebrant’ and ‘beneficiary of graces’, respectively, since while one actively participates in the liturgy through prayers, singing, the responses and so on, one also keeps silence and waits to be ‘acted upon’ by God. N. Lourdunathan (Bangalore) who said, “yes” to having an important role to play at the Eucharist saw himself as a ‘beneficiary of graces’. Later, in Q.13, when asked whether he felt that the laity had a sufficient role to play during the Eucharist, he said “yes” and mentioned this role as “seeking forgiveness”. A. Chinnappan (Delhi) who saw his role as important and saw himself as a “beneficiary of graces” wrote, “Through the Eucharistic assembly, my communication with God is established. There is a peaceful satisfaction which I cannot get from anywhere else.”


8% of respondents wrote ‘offerer’ and ‘observer’ as their role in the assembly. Dr Lucas D’Souza (Ahmedabad) who chose ‘offerer’ explained that: “As a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, I become an indispensable part of the sacrifice and thanksgiving being performed at the altar.” Another person felt that, at every Mass, he was offering up his family to God. This response is not very different from saying that one is a co-celebrant. Since only 8% wrote ‘observer’, we can conclude that many feel that they have an active role to play no matter how that role and the corresponding responsibility are understood


1.3. The Priesthood of the People and Lay Empowerment

The documents of VC II – for instance, Lumen Gentium 31 – exhort the laity to share in the “priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ.” While Scripture and many Church documents speak about the “triple function’ and “the priesthood of the faithful,”[2] there is little awareness among the laity of its role as prophet-priest-pastor. Thus, despite 89% of the respondents saying that they “feel we have an important place in the Eucharist” (in (Q.5) and that they “like the participation of the people,” (45% in Q.4), yet, when it comes to elaborating on the question (Q.12): “Do think that the laity has a sufficient part to play in the Eucharist?” the faithful are dissatisfied and almost unanimously feel that their roles are not only subordinate to the priest, but often they are either taken for granted or altogether denied any important part in the eucharistic celebration. Dr Astrid Lobo Gajiwala wrote: “Only the priest is important. The assembly is important only in so far as it ensures that the priest has an audience.” Keith Lasrado-Shenoy (Mumbai) wrote: “Priests are extremely autocratic and consider their opinion final.”


The answer to the question (Q.10): “VC II stressed that the faithful, like their priests, are also to fulfill the roles of prophet-priest-pastor. Have priests spoken about this in their homilies during Mass?” is alarmingly negative. No one chose ‘often’ while 48% chose ‘never’ and 22% chose ‘rarely’ – a total of 70%. The reason for this varies. Dr John Dayal, Member of the National Integration Council of India and National President of the All India Catholic Union, wrote: “The clergy never speak about the priesthood of the people. They are either not aware (or give us the impression that they are unaware) of the importance of educating the faithful in all that was expressed in VC II.” The question arises: Are the clergy truly not well versed with the documents of VC II themselves?


From all that has been expressed and experienced, it hardly seems as if the clergy are keen on impressing on the faithful their roles and responsibilities as prophet-priest-king. A respondent wrote, ““It suits the clergy not to educate the laity about their role and priesthood in the Church.” Said another: “I think the priests feel threatened by the involvement of the laity.” A couple of verbatim statements from the respondents will give us an idea of how little the laity get empowered as a result of present eucharistic practice and how little is their awareness of their role as prophet-priest-pastor:

* Shyamala Raj (Chennai): “Priests might say something positive on Laity Sunday; but Laity Sunday comes and goes without a whimper, and nothing changes.”

* Subir Gomes (Kolkota): “Most priests talk down to the laity, and do not recognize their priestly, prophetic and pastoral functions.”


In sum, there is little awareness of the faithful being prophet-priest-king. Moreover, apart from the laity’s usual role of singing hymns, reading the first and second readings and responding to the priest’s prayers, many of which require but an ‘Amen’ response, there is neither much responsibility given to the laity nor are sustained efforts being made at empowering them through the Eucharist.


  • Mission of the Laity Flowing from the Eucharist

Although the English word ‘Mass’ – from the Latin missa, meaning, sent – is perhaps not as theologically rich as its synonym ‘Eucharist’, meaning, thanksgiving, a vital component of the Eucharist is undoubtedly the ‘sending’. The eucharistic community is not merely a worshipping assembly that praises God or a contemplative gathering that silently reflects upon God’s gift of Jesus Christ, but it is also a ‘sent community’ (comunitas in missione) – commissioned to live out existentially what it has celebrated ritually and sacramentally. Thus, unless the faithful are inspired, as well as empowered, to launch out into committed action as outcome of their eucharistic celebration, the Eucharist remains but a sterile ritual, far removed from what Jesus envisioned it to be.


The mission normally flows from an understanding of the Word of God (Scripture) in prophetic perspective in the sense that the Christian is called to proclaim the good news in word and witness. In other words, do priests inspire people through their homilies to love God’s Word (Scripture) and to be committed to life? Two questions – Q.8 and Q.9 – inquire whether the Sunday sermon (homily) given by most priests “gives you a love for Scripture,” and “inspires you to live a more committed life of love and service during the week?” 48% of respondents wrote ‘rarely’ and 12% ‘never’ for the first question, and 41% and 11% wrote ‘rarely’ and ‘never’, respectively for the second question. The ‘often’ in both cases is only 15%. This is a serious lacuna since, if the priests and deacons – who are the only ones permitted to read the Gospel and deliver the homily at present – are not able to inspire the faithful and lead them outwards in love and service, then, how do we expect the faithful either to counter the consumerist currents that sweep most people off their feet (negatively), and to (positively) give effective witness of the Lord’s love and self-giving, which is celebrated at every Eucharist?


A Hindu convert – who joined the Catholic Church 10 years ago and wishes to remain anonymous – reads and relishes the Bible and is “desperate to hear God’s Word and experience his consolation.” She is disappointed with the ‘secular’ attitude of priests whose homilies “neither refresh our souls nor challenge us to life a radical life of love.” She says, “Priests must openly speak the truth about moral issues such as abortion, sterilization, live-in relationships and bribery….. I don’t come to church only to feel good and have my prayers answered, but I also come to be challenged with the truth of the Gospel.” Finally, a respondent wrote that, “For many people, the Church is not a missionary body but a kind of club….All you have to do is follow the rules – not of Christian living but the obligations laid down by the Magisterium.”


  1. The Eucharist: Towards Building Christic Communion and Cosmic Community

Having highlighted a few elements of the eucharistic understanding and practice of some of the laity in India, I shall now strive to develop a framework to more meaningfully understand and celebrate the Eucharist. Although the structure that I suggest is personal, the inspiration comes from the views of the respondents to the questionnaire.


It is necessary to first stress that a big majority of laity feels that the Eucharist is central to its spiritual life and religious practice. Yet, a majority also feels that its role is marginal in the celebration and that its practice is mostly determined by the priests – many of whom fail either to inspire devotion or to impel for action. It is also evident that there is a significant gap between ‘what’ the Church’s magisterium teaches about the Eucharist (as regards belief, its celebration and effect on life) and ‘how’ the laity actually understands, celebrates and lives the Eucharist.[3] Moreover, there is discrepancy between the teaching and preaching of theologians and priests, on the one hand, and the everyday life and eucharistic practice of the faithful, on the other. To bridge this gap, I suggest that instead of repeatedly reiterating the importance of the Eucharist as meal, sacrifice, memorial, thanksgiving, and so on, it would be better to launch out from what the laity sees as important, namely, ‘communion’. The idea of communion is fully consonant with Jesus’ vision. This is also what His Body, the Church, must strive to accomplish, here-and-now.

2.1. The ‘Com-munia’ of the People of God

For most people communion is important. As mentioned earlier, the communion refers to: (a) the bread, (b) The Host, Jesus Christ, (c) and the community. Communion can be understood from its etymological roots, com-munia (i.e., a co-sharing of functions, duties and offices). In this “coming together” (Greek, syn-erchomai) that the earliest eucharistic text speaks about (1 Cor 11:17-20), there must be perfect equality and a sharing of gifts-offices-functions and duties that Paul elaborates in 1 Cor 12 by giving the example of a human body. This ‘coming together’ and sharing of gifts-offices-functions truly makes a non-people into a ‘eucharistic People of God’. Before any church-building or any well-structured priestly hierarchy ever existed, the group of early Christian believers came together and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, fellowship and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42-7; 4:32-7). This ‘com-munia’ with Christ, the Head, and with fellow-Christians, as Body of Christ, is fundamental to every eucharistic celebration; and, in this sense, “the Eucharist makes the Church.”[4].


The ‘People of God’ and the ‘Body of Christ’ terminology of VC II must be retrieved.[5] While there is sufficient stress on the ordained priest as president of the assembly in persona Christi or as alter Christus, there is hardly any importance given to the fact that the faithful is the Body of Christ, too. Therefore, at the Eucharist the priest must be a committed servant of this Body of Christ, the Church, assembled in the name of the Lord. He must realize that he is not the host, but a servant of the Host, Jesus, and a servant of the guests who have come together not only to eat at the Lord’s table, but also to strengthen the bonds that exist between them and God (vertical) and among themselves (horizontal).


The vertical and the horizontal dimensions of the eucharistic communion must always be held in harmony. One cannot exist without the other. In the most ancient eucharistic text available, Paul reminds us: “The cup of blessing that we bless is it not a communion (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). The communion that is celebrated must be one of participation, sharing, fellowship, equality and joy. Everyone must feel that s/he is an indispensable part of the community with no distinction of high-low, superior-inferior, fe/male and so on. Rather than pose any threat or provide opportunity for misinterpretation, such an understanding of communion will enhance our understanding of Eucharist as our Lord’s supper, now celebrated as a communitarian meal that provides a foretaste of God’s Kingdom, which has already arrived, and is yet to attain fullness.


In our world today, fostering the ideal of communion is imperative even beyond the confines of Church. Today, communion – be it between married partners or among members of any family or community – is threatened by globalisation that promises to create a ‘global village’ but has engendered excessive individualism, materialism, consumerism, secularism, alienation, isolation and a break up of marriage, family and community. Hence, first, true communion in the Church, symbolized and strengthened by the Eucharist, will serve as an antidote to the present-day ills that destroy family and community. Secondly, communion is also a valuable ecumenical ideal that unites all the churches and denominations. Thirdly, we must note that the Church is a distinctive religious society in that it is a ‘sacramental community’ unlike most of the other religious traditions.[6] And the best representatives of this sacramental community in the world today are the ‘faithful’: People of God.


2.2. Identities, Rights and Responsibilities of God’s People

Connected to communion is the issue of identity and responsibility. The laity is mostly defined negatively in Church documents.[7] For instance, LG 31 defines the laity as “all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in a religious state sanctioned by the Church.” Similarly, in the new Code of Canon Law (CIC 207.1), the lay people are the “others” who are not “sacred ministers.” In this regard Prof. K.T. Sebastian writes, “Lay people are not interested in knowing what they are not: They want to know what they are.”[8] Today, in a global world when identities are constructed, contested and clamour for recognition, responsibilities and rights, the issue of identity is important since identities inform our values, guide our choices and give us a sense of purpose, direction and coherence. It is important, therefore, to examine the identity of the laity.


Pope John Paul II used the scriptural images of the vine and branches (Jn 15:1-8) and the labourers in the vineyard (Mt 22:1-14) to speak about the identity and responsibility of the laity.[9] Other images he used were the ‘Body of Christ’ and ‘Temples of the Holy Spirit’.[10] He said that: “Only from inside the Church’s mystery of communion is the ‘identity’ of the lay faithful made known, and their fundamental dignity revealed.”[11] Although the idea of communion is inspirational and biblical, it has an inherent danger, namely, communion could be used as a veil to cover up the absence of rights and adequate structures of governance.[12] Without providing for the rights of the laity and clearly delineating responsibilities in the ecclesial and eucharistic community, although the faithful might be told time and again that they are ‘offerers’ and ‘co-celebrants’ at the Eucharist, their role will, at best, be limited to being mere beneficiary of graces, and, at worst, to being passive observers of what the priest and the others do during the Mass.


It would do the Church good to evolve and explain the role of the lay faithful with better terminology like ‘co-worker’ in ministry or ‘co-celebrant’ at the Eucharist. In his message on World Mission Sunday, 2007, Pope Benedict referred to the faithful as being ‘co-responsible’, saying: “[F]or the individual members of the faithful it is no longer merely a matter of collaborating in evangelizing work but of feeling that they themselves are protagonists and co-responsible.”[13] If the faithful are truly to be ‘co-responsible’,[14] then there is need to involve them much more in preparing for the Eucharist and celebrating it appropriately so that the Eucharist might truly make the Church, and vice versa. In the questionnaire, although many respondents felt that there is not much awareness of the faithful being prophet-priest-king, Virginia Saldanha (Mumbai) personally felt and wrote: “We are the Church!” However, she simultaneously felt that most people do not fully understand this statement and are not aware of its implications.

2.3. ‘Faithful’ Priests-Prophets-Pastors: Negotiating Power and Authority

Taking the debate of identity a step further, one must clarify what exactly “sharing in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ” really means. Besides being clearly stated in the documents of VC II, Pope John Paul II repeatedly spoke of this triple function;[15] and, in his message to the Congress of the Catholic Laity organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity held in Rome in 2000, he said, “No baptized person can be idle. As participants in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and enriched by a variety of charisms, lay Christians can make their own contribution to the liturgy, catechesis, and different kinds of missionary and charitable programmes.”[16]


Since Pope John Paul II desired that the faithful in this new millennium: “make their own contribution to the liturgy, catechesis and different kinds of missionary programmes,” it is necessary to state what these contributions could concretely be in liturgy, catechesis and missionary work. The answer in ecclesial documents is usually that the lay faithful must be active in the ‘secular realm’ or the ‘temporal sphere’.[17] Thus, for instance, in Christifideles Laici, especially in nn. 9,14, although the lay faithful are reminded of their triple function as prophet-priest-king, their roles and responsibilities must be exercised somewhere ‘outside’ in the secular realm: family, society, nation, world and universe. Further, n.15 is subtitled: “The lay faithful and their secular character;” and, although n.23 is subtitled “The ministries, offices and roles of the lay faithful,” it proceeds to include a caution about: “a too-indiscriminate use of the word ‘ministry’, the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood,” and a second caution about: “the ‘clericalization’ of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders.” Thus, with a minimal role to play in the eucharistic liturgy and the breaking of the word of God, have the prophet-priest-king functions brought corresponding roles and rights for the faithful in ecclesial ministry? Could not much more be done in this realm?


In living out the ‘common priesthood’ and ‘ministerial priesthood’ greater awareness is needed of the dynamics of power and authority. Although authority and power are used interchangeably, a slight distinction could be made between the two. Vimala Padmaraj (Chennai) opined: “We desperately need priests with the authority of Jesus and not the power of the Pharisees.” Power (from the Latin potestas) refers to the level of ‘having’ while ‘authority’ (Latin, auctoritas) – with its root in augere meaning “to grow” or “to increase” – is about ‘being’. Thus, one has power but is an authority. Power is usually physical, delegated by/from an external source and hence can be revoked at any time. Authority, on the other hand, is usually moral, has to be cultivated from within and can never be taken away. Jesus attracts a large following since his authority (Mt 7:28; Lk 4:32; Jn 8:28) stems from his intimacy with Abba and his anointing with the Spirit. Today, the Church must seek its unique place in the world not through appropriation of power but through cultivating authority in matters of religion, morality, spirituality so as to be a prophetic presence in civil society. And this authority is not merely the monopoly of the Church’s hierarchy, but of all the faithful as a corporate Christic Body.


The term “Teaching Authority of the Church” normally brings to mind a hierarchical structure with the pope and bishops teaching, the theologians defending the teaching, and the faithful listening and obeying.  Such a structure is not implied in LG 12 that holds:

The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes for the holy one (cf.1 Jn 2:20 & 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and obeying it receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Thess 2:13), the faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3). The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.

Here, infallibility is situated with the whole People of God and does not merely apply to theoretical truths but with ‘daily life’. Indeed, the authority of the Church comes not from its teaching but from the witness of its lived life. Thus, from the sensus fidei, under the action and guidance of God’s Spirit, the Church as Body of Christ reaches a consensus fidelium so that its belief-worship-actions might more fully mirror that of Jesus, our Lord.


The call to holiness is a universal call. Rather than dichotomizing sacred versus secular or spiritual versus temporal, all Christians – ordained priests and the faithful – are called to ‘be holy’ and ‘make holy’. The essence of ‘sacrifice’ is precisely to ‘make holy’ (Latin, sacer + facere). A close reflection on Jesus’ life indicates that there was no separation between sacred and secular, priest and layman. Indeed, Jesus did not use the title ‘priest’ for himself probably because it was identified with the highly exploitative priestly structure around the Temple of Jerusalem. There is also no scriptural evidence to show that Jesus desired to establish a two-tier hierarchical community of priests and lay people as we have, today;[18] but he became ‘servant’ (Mk 10:43; Lk 22:26; Jn 13:14) and wanted his disciples to be servants, too. Discipleship in the early Church meant radical ‘social uprooting’ from attachments of family and enticements of wealth in order to be fully involved in ‘ministry’ as servants.[19] Thus, seeing the Eucharist as sacrifice is meaningful. The washing of the disciples’ feet and breaking of the bread was sacramental anticipation of the true sacrifice of Christ – the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood.


2.4. Our Priestly Mission: Baptismal or Eucharistic? Christomonistic or Trinitarian?   

Traditionally, Christian identity and the common priesthood are understood as stemming from one’s baptism. One becomes a member of both,  the Church and the common priesthood by virtue of one’s baptism. However, the ‘club’ terminology that respondents have used for the Church seems to suggest that many people think that being baptized is enough for one to belong to the Christian community or the Christian club. Thus, on the one hand, many baptized Christians live lives as they please and never come together to church to celebrate the Eucharist, and unscrupulously receive communion on occasions like weddings and anniversaries; while, on the other hand, although many non-baptized people are deeply ‘Christian’ in their service, often come to the Eucharist to pray, and love Jesus, they are never able to be in eucharistic communion with their friends and coworkers.


Although in the early Church people were mostly baptized as adults, today, most Catholics are baptized soon after birth. To hold that one is inducted into ‘common priesthood’ and sent on mission at the infancy stage makes little sense. Hence, it would be appropriate to locate the grace, roles and responsibilities of the common priesthood not merely as accruing at baptism, but of being constantly conferred, exercised and renewed at the Eucharist, too. To live an authentic Christian life, we all know that it is not enough to be baptized or even confirmed. Since apostolic times, the Christian community realized the importance of the ‘breaking of the bread’, the Eucharist, as the sacrament par excellence to encounter the crucified-risen Lord. Hence, although baptism ensured entry into ecclesial communion, it was the Eucharist that empowered for action in the world. The Eucharist has always ‘made’ the Body of Christ, so to say. And, at the Eucharist, the community continues to proclaim and celebrate its identity as ‘Body of Christ’ so as to go out into the world on mission to serve the ‘People of God’ in the larger sense of the whole world. Hence, true initiation (coming in) and commissioning (going out) takes place, daily, at the Eucharist where roles, responsibilities and charisms are exercised and pledged at the service of the world at large.


Church documents earlier spoke of the ‘two tables’ – of the word of God and of the Body of Christ – where we encounter God and are nourished by our Lord.[20] We could add a ‘third table’ where we encounter God and are challenged to live out the great commandment of love: the table of the world.[21] Here, not only Baptism – but also Confirmation and the Eucharist – must be seen as the sacramental wellsprings that provide the faithful with their identity, food and mission. The ordained priest will always be a ‘minister’ in the eucharistic assembly not in the sense of replacing Christ (since the whole assembly is the body of Christ) but in serving Christ (intra ecclesia) and God’s People (ad extra). In this way, the dichotomy between ecclesial and societal, inner and outer, sacred and secular will disappear, and all the faithful – ordained priests included – will have to be made aware of their responsibilities as missionaries, in the best sense of the term: as sent by God to follow in the footsteps of Jesus in the power of the Spirit.


The ‘missa’ (dismissal) of the Eucharist is not just a Christic commissioning but a Trinitarian one, for there is a triadic movement at every Eucharist, modeled, as it were, on the relationship among the persons of the Trinity. The call to communion is by God, the Father. Hence, all the prayers and intercessions are addressed to the First Person of the Trinity. Second, what is proclaimed-celebrated and realized is the life-death-resurrection of Jesus. Thus, the memory, sacrifice, meal, communion, thanksgiving and so on focus specifically on Jesus (anamnesis). Nonetheless, all the liturgical actions and the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, as well as the transformation of the communicants into ‘other christs’ are accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis).[22] Unless this ‘coming in’ and ‘going out’ as ‘Body of Christ’ is celebrated through effective eucharistic practice, we will neither be a praying church nor a prophetic church that God chooses, calls, consecrates and commissions to practise and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all peoples.


To conclude, I refer to Pope Benedict XVI’s comment in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, n.51 on the ‘dismissal’ at the end of the Eucharist. He says:

In antiquity, missa simply meant “dismissal.” However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word “dismissal” has come to imply a “mission.” These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church’s life, taking the dismissal as a starting-point. In this context, it might also be helpful to provide new texts, duly approved, for the prayer over the people and the final blessing, in order to make this connection clear.

The Mass is not ‘ended’ but it begins since the dismissal is a “starting point”. The Pope’s asking for new texts is significant and present ones like: “Go, the mass is ended!” really do not capture the essence of eucharistic mission since the eucharistic Body of Christ must now go out to bring about in their daily life that forgiveness, reconciliation and communion that they proclaimed, celebrated and realized through their own participation in the Eucharist.  Having established the basic dynamics of Eucharistic ‘coming together’ (communion) in order to be ‘sent out’ (missa, mission), we move on to the final section to see how this can be made concretely possible in the celebration of the Eucharist.


  1. Towards Lay Empowerment at the Eucharistic Table

If the Eucharist is to truly become a sacrament wherein and whereby the faithful are empowered to live their call and consecration as prophet-priest-king, then, there is need for the whole Church to introduce effective ways and means for ‘coming in’ for com-munia – to share and celebrate gifts-offices-functions bestowed on it by the crucified-risen Lord – and for ‘going out’ to make Christ present in a loving, life-giving, liberative way.


A circular movement from the Table of the World à to the Table of the Word  à to the Table of the Bread à and back to the Table of the World must be consciously created within a general awareness of a larger circle within which the community celebrates the Eucharist – i.e., the Divine Circle comprising Spirit à Son à Father. These two circles are representative of the whole of reality and, as such, one cannot create a dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, the inside and the outside, the Church and the Kingdom of God, the clergy and the laity and so on since the Christian narrative is a story of creation-sanctification-salvation in-community and with-community.


In the Eucharist the Church – the Mystical Body of Christ – proclaims, celebrates and realizes the life, love and liberation of the Christ event with words-symbols-gestures and songs until we finally enjoy the fullness of eschatological salvation. In the First Mission Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from October 18 to 22, 2006, the Church of Asia dwelt on the theme ‘Telling the Story of Jesus’ in an Asian way. In its ‘Mission Orientations and Priorities’ it spoke of two points that are relevant for our purposes:

  1. “Making the story of Jesus come alive through a deeper study and living of the Word of God in such a way that the power of Jesus’ story transforms our life” and
  2. “Making the celebrations of the community – especially the Eucharist – as powerful moments of making the story of Jesus come alive through the symbols used in the liturgy.”[23]

The hopes and joys, disappointments and sorrows, births and deaths of the Asian peoples could be brought into the Eucharist in the ‘coming in’ of God’s faithful, even as the eucharistic community is ‘sent out’ on mission to respond to these, mindful that it is, ultimately, the Body of Christ in the world, and a Servant to all peoples.


3.1. General Principles Central to Effective Celebration of the Eucharist:

  1. The communion aspect must be highlighted. God (The Father) calls us to ‘come together’ as Body of Christ (Son’s Mystical Body) so that through ‘a sharing of graces-offices-duties’ (in the Spirit), we become empowered to ‘go out together’ on mission.
  2. The ‘subject’ of liturgical action is always Christ as there is only one priesthood, which belongs to Him alone, as Mediator. The Church – through its ministerial and ecclesial/ collective priesthood – makes this mediation visible as it comes in and goes out.
  3. The active and receptive dimensions of the Eucharist must be stressed. True, the Eucharist is Christ’s parting gift to the Church. Nonetheless, the faithful are not to be only silent spectators at the Eucharist, but co-celebrants. Thus, greater participation is required, which also includes moments of silent prayer and thanksgiving for God’s gift in the body-and-blood of Jesus Christ.
  4. Structurally, rather than sanctuary-nave, sacred-secular, priest-laity, offerer-beneficiary pyramidal and hierarchical distinctions that are made and upheld, a circular seating or squatting arrangement can be made – especially in smaller groups like BCC, BHC, neighbourhood groups, etc., that celebrate the Eucharist.
  5. The Word of God must be given great importance, for God speaks to us here-and-now. Scripture contains the story of our creation, sanctification and salvation.  Thus, we must be nourished at this ‘first table’.
  6. We encounter the Lord Jesus through the gift of himself – his body and blood given for our sustenance. We must receive strength from this ‘second table’.
  7. The community must be made aware of the ‘missa’ into the world – the dismissal that challenges us to nourish others at the ‘third table’ of the world.


3.2. Particular Suggestions to Foster the Faithful’s Participation in the Eucharist:

The respondents have given some suggestions to foster participation of the faithful at the Eucharist. I simply jot down the suggestions that have emerged:


  • Entrance Rite and Rite of Reconciliation
  • The priest should make the people aware that they are ‘coming in’ and ‘bringing in’ the whole world to the Eucharistic table for offering and reconciliation.
  • The priest must remind the people of their communion at various levels – with God and with one another – and their responsibility at the Eucharist.
  • A brief word about the main point of the readings should be given at the start, and the faithful must be made to enter into the right mood for prayer and celebration.
  • In smaller groups arrange for a ‘circular seating’ around the Eucharistic table so that everyone may feel that s/he is important part of God’s ‘family circle’.
  • At the entrance of the Church, special boxes could be kept so that people put in (a) their requests for forgiveness, (b) special needs, (c) their thanksgiving for graces received. These could be read out during the Mass without giving names.


  • The Breaking of the Word at the ‘Table of the Word’
  • In India, printed handouts are available of the Sunday readings. These should be made available one week in advance so that people might come prepared for the Eucharist at least on Sundays.
  • Time ought to be given for interaction among people on the Scripture readings at Sunday Mass – this time could be given soon after the homily or during the time of ‘kiss of peace’.
  • There can be the enactment of the Gospel scene with a contemporary dimension added to the passage. This could be entrusted to a ‘liturgy committee’ that plans the breaking of the word in consultation with the priest.
  • Audio-visual aids like PPP could be used to more effectively explain Scripture and its relevance for the lives of people.
  • A short introduction can be given before the readings, especially on Sundays.
  • Priests must be reminded that people are hungering for the word of God; thus, they must not just give some pious platitudes or a set of dos and don’ts but effectively interpret the word of God for the faithful.
  • Priests must be made aware that that people need to be truly fed and nourished at this ‘table of the word’. This point came up in the Synod on the Word of God.
  • On special occasions the faithful must be invited to share their experiences keeping in mind the occasion – like Laity Sunday, Mission Sunday, Holy Family feast, Holy Childhood Day, Justice Sunday, Mothers’ Day, etc.
  • Have a spiritual ‘action plan’ at the end of each homily, which should be repeated at the ‘dismissal’. This way people will feel that the word of God must be carried on and carried out into the world and their everyday lives.


  • The Prayers of the Faithful and the Offertory
  • Break away from the usual structure where almost always the first prayer is reserved for the pope, bishops and priests; and only at the end the faithful are remembered.
  • Insist that this is the payer of the ‘faithful’ and it must, on no account, be read by the priest or deacon.
  • Allow for a time of silence so that people can add their prayers and intentions;
  • Allow for people to come up to the lectern and make prayers so that all the others may join them in praying for their special intentions.
  • On Sundays, there could be time kept at the Offertory when people come up to offer gifts with their own prayers. The gift – in terms of food items or cash – could be used for the poor.


  • The Eucharistic Prayer
  • Eucharistic Prayers be prepared on various themes for various occasions. These themes could be Eucharistic like meal, sacrifice, memorial, etc., as well as themes that directly deal with everyday life like marriage, death, births, anniversaries, Mothers-Father’s Day, examinations, etc.
  • Prepare a set of Eucharistic prayers with Indian-Asian themes to make the Eucharist meaningful in Indian-Asian festive contexts.
  • Printed copies of all prayers should be provided to the faithful with more responses so that active participation and more interaction is fostered.
  • There should be a time of silence during the intercessions after the consecration so that people can pray for their personal intentions.


  • The Kiss of Peace, Communion and Thanksgiving
  • A little more time should be set aside for the ‘kiss of peace’ so that people can look around and greet others and not merely their immediate neighbours.
  • There is need to reconsider the giving of the Eucharist to people of other faiths – especially to co-workers who deeply love and believe in Jesus Christ but cannot be baptized due to social-political problems.


  • The Dismissal
  • Priests must not use the standard “Go, the Mass is ended,” but must remind the faithful that they are sent out in the power of the Spirit for mission.
  • The people must be reminded that the Eucharist must have an impact not only among Christians, but it must affect all people since the Christian is sent out to practice and preach the good news with a view to transforming the whole world.



The paper has examined Eucharistic practice among a few laymen and laywomen in urban India based on a questionnaire sent out to them. The understanding of the Eucharist varies; yet, it seems that the aspect of ‘communion’ is very important for most people. By and large, the lay faithful know that they are an important part of the Eucharist. However, when it comes to their identity as co-celebrant or as prophet-priest-king, there is a lack of awareness. Moreover, many people feel that neither do priests take pains to foster Eucharistic devotion nor do they assign to people valuable roles and responsibilities at the celebration of the Eucharist. As a result, the Eucharist remains a largely clerical, routine ritual that does not fully nourish people.


In view of the latest ecclesial documents on the Eucharist, and given the theme of the 2006 First Asian Mission Congress of “telling the story of Jesus in Asia,” it is important that people be encouraged to bring in their live-stories into the Eucharistic communion. Then, nourished by the story of Jesus (at the table of the word), and the story of his meal-sacrifice-death-resurrection (at the table of the bread), the faithful must be ‘sent out’ (missa) to feed others and to be fed at the table of the world. The circular dynamic of the Eucharist must never be lost. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the circular dynamic Trinitarian God who constantly calls in, empowers, and sends out the Body of Christ, the Church, for commitment to the whole cosmos.


If we succeed in making more and more people aware of the dynamism of the Eucharist, and their empowerment through it, we will certainly succeed in creating a Church that is a servant-Church – ready to love and serve all peoples. It’s time that we break boundaries and build bridges so that through the Eucharist we may enter into, and exit, ever echoing the mystery of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”   [End]