“No man is lonely eating spaghetti,” author Christopher Morley said. “It requires so much attention.” Mamma mia! Those are the words of someone using his noodle! Such thinking can whet our appetite for gratitude in maneuvering that tricky pasta staple on our plate.
In Jesus’ day, Jewish people basically said, “Everything you see on my plate, I owe to God.” Even common food items like bread and wine were so holy that a meal without prayer was a meal that was accursed. The poor ate barley bread while the rich enjoyed bread made from wheat. Either way, bread was such a staple that “to eat bread” in Hebrew meant, “to have a meal.” Similarly, when I grew up in Louisiana, rice—more than bread or pasta—was the starchy staple that fed one’s daily energy. The poor often ate rice with leftover grease while the well-to-do afforded a more flavorful etouffee. Regardless, “to eat rice” essentially was “to have a meal,” since it was so integral to the Louisiana diet.
Moreover, my mother was a consummate Cajun cook who frequently preferred preparing food to eating it. To a cousin she once confided that she’d sometimes dance while alone in the kitchen cooking a meal. I relish the endearing image of my mother dancing from sheer delight at creating a meal for the enjoyment of those who would gather to feast on it.
For Jesus, eating and drinking was a way to be with God, which is why he instituted the Eucharist with the command, “Eat and drink in memory of me.”
“The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1327). In other words, everything people see in us as Catholics we owe to the Mass. It’s the sustenance that gives us the energy to keep going. In prayerful gratitude, we prepare the Lord’s Table and ask God to bless our everyday staples of bread and wine and make them holy so we ourselves can become holy. We hunger and thirst for holiness so we can become bread and wine shared to a wounded world; in turn, the wounded help us love God better because of them.
Nevertheless, we hear much these days about people who no longer go to Mass. They’re like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son who refuses to enter his father’s house. But when we step into our Father’s house, do we truly enter into the feast and the dance? If not, are we that different from the prodigal’s brother?
“Let them praise his name in dance…for the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:3a, 4a). Think of the impact on our world if Catholics better appreciated what actually transpires at the eucharistic banquet. Picture the presider who barely keeps from dancing while preparing the gifts at the altar! Imagine those in the Communion line with a lively pep in their step! Savor the image of our Lord who dances with sheer delight at instituting a meal for the life of those who gather to feast on it. No one is ever lonely at the feast of the Eucharist!