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book revieweucharist with a small “e”

By: Miriam Therese Winter Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2005
Review By: Fran DeChant

In the wake of the International Synod recently concluded in Rome, Eucharist should continue to capture our attention, whether with hope for its accessibility or, sadly, just continuation of fear that the precious center of our faith is slipping from our grasp. Then comes a wise and gentle writer with a message that points out powerful gifts in our possession all along. These are the blessings we barely knew we had. These are gifts woven from the fabric of our everyday lives, so integral to existence that they cannot be endangered, cannot be taken from us. It is this world of praise, peace and abundance Sister Miriam Therese Winter names eucharist with a small “e”. She invites us to discover its riches with her.

Early on, the author identifies lower case “e” eucharist as originating directly from Jesus, from the many meals he shared with his friends and disciples, as opposed to Eucharist which evolved from the table fellowship of the followers of Jesus after his death. The heart of her book she gives over to a series of fifteen parables seen as a focus for the feasts or simple meals described in the telling of each story. Related in this way, subtle meanings are uncovered, truths that may have slipped by us as we related only to traditional interpretations. Take for example a perennial favorite, the parable of the prodigal. In the rendition given here, father and mother run all the way to meet and greet their beloved child with tears and warm embraces. Didn’t we know, the mother, while she was written out of the story at some point before it entered the Canon as part of accepted Scripture, didn’t we know she was there, too? Of course, it would be the mother procuring the robe, the sandals, the decorative ornaments that would receive the lost one with regal welcome. The family patriarch wouldn’t be involved in the readying of clothing. And in any household, who but the mother would begin arranging a sumptuous feast?

It is the feast taken just as a meal that becomes a template for eucharist with the small “e”. Additionally, the implication of a celebration with food models eucharist in the telling of many stories of the life of Jesus. A multitude of meetings Jesus undertook with those to whom he ministered took place at table. Sometimes the host seemed drawn from the most unlikely levels of society. In Matthew 9:9-13, Sister Miriam Therese Winter shows Jesus repairing to the home of Matthew, a despised collector of taxes. A leader of the Pharisees, whose house Jesus also chose to enter on the sabbath is another controversial choice of a tablemate. These are but a few of the reported meals that give rise to teachings Jesus either drew out of the company and meal itself or from his interactions with someone present. On the next level, the author presents meals of the Resurrection, Emmaus, the Upper Room and those appearances where Jesus shared some sort of food, like a simple piece of fish, with his disciples. It is here that the author shows us Eucharist and eucharist as complimentary to each other.

So how are we to proceed in making each meal sacramental? Already, we have a rich tradition of thanksgiving and celebration. Our Thanksgiving national holiday lacks only awareness that the giving of thanks is best accompanied by giving good things, especially to those in need. Our lives offer endless opportunity to come together in celebration with those we cherish and also to include those outside our inner circle.
Sister Miriam Therese Winter extends the eucharistic concept to our wider world. Her challenge is to be really present to our storytelling and to receiving the stories of others. Our earth, the universe, the reverence we bring to practices of sabbath, all these can become eucharist if we add mindfulness and the Spirit to ordinary experience. In the midst of this plenty we need not suffer inner emptiness. We do not have to fear quite so much losing our precious connection to Eucharist with a capital “E”. Eucharist with a small “e” shows us that we have the power to elevate the daily elements of our lives in ways sometimes sublime and always nurturing.


Fall 2005



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