Meaningless Ritual? Never!
My liturgy professor once shocked me out of my post-lunch comatose state one afternoon by saying, “If the Eucharist does not cause you to want to make a difference in the world, then you are doing nothing more than making meaningless, ritual turns around an altar.” What could he possibly mean? Surely the Eucharist is more than just ritual turns, even if it doesn’t cause me to want to change the world. Since that day, I have been affirmed in my thinking that the celebration of the Eucharist is never a meaningless ritual. Why? The liturgy is always transformative, regardless of anyone’s state of mind or ensuing actions. Although we may not notice this in the short term, we can be assured of the efficacy of the liturgy in the long term. Just as water carves out even the hardest rock, liturgy molds us all into the image of Christ—even those with the hardest of hearts. Though the connection between celebrating the Eucharist and working for the betterment of the world is apparent each time we celebrate the Eucharist, it’s made especially clear during the Mass of our Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. On that day, we celebrate the Eucharist (Luke 22:15–20) and we wash feet (John 13:4–17) just as Jesus asked of us during the Last Supper. It’s important to remember to embody these acts we perform so solemnly on Holy Thursday during every day of our life. Christ mandates us to pray for the needs of the world and at the same time work toward a better world. These two Christian characteristics of prayer and action are not mutually exclusive—prayer without action is hollow, while action without prayer is arrogance.
This all became clear to me one particular Holy Thursday many years ago. As our priest finished the washing of feet, I noticed a man entering the building and walking briskly toward the front of the church