Joseph MUDD. Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014. Pp 240. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-8146-8221-0.

Thomas O’Loughlin, The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings. NY: NY, Bloomsbury, 2015. Pp 220. $34.95, ISBN 978-0-567-38459-1.  Reviewed by Nathan R. KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618

These are two new books about the Eucharist. Both provide information and insights that offer new ways of understanding to a church still caught in pre-1960’s understandings of the Mass. Will they be accepted by contemporary keepers of the tradition as helpful insights as to why  Sunday attendance and parish membership continue to decline in the developed countries?  I wonder.

Mudd offers a transposition of doctrines stated in metaphysical categories into categories of meaning that allow us to retain the truth of statements while developing a fruitful analogical understanding of their meaning (159). Thus the metaphysical categories of instrumentality, causality, substance, and accidents are transformed into Lonergan’s understandings of meaning, mediations, and the Law of the Cross. Of the two hundred thirty one pages used to perform this transformation thirty-seven explain the position of Louis-Marie Chauvet’s view of postmodern sacramental theology, one hundred twenty-two pages provide the necessary categories of Bernard Lonergan to make the transition and seventy-two are Mudd’s use of these categories to make the actual transition. He writes well and makes a good argument against Chauvet’s attempt to do the same thing he is doing: claiming that the medieval categories associated with transubstantiation, sacrifice, and presence make no sense to postmodern philosophers, theologians, or people in general. Although he never says it such a claim means that the continual use of these categories are a lie to the true doctrine because no one understands them in their original meanings.  If my interpretation of this statement is correct then one of the central acts of every Christian Sunday Eucharist is done without its traditional meaning. There is a great deal of work to be done by theologians and catechists to argue over this traditional meaning and how to convey it to each other and the non-specialists in its original context.

The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings seeks to remind us of what the Eucharist first was and has been while urging us to do it in such a way that we become energized by the ancient tradition. Contemporary historians have more resources to discern our past than any other humans in history. O’Loughlin skillfully uses these resources to enable those who wish to critique the current sacramental malaise. He reminds us of all the information we have about the vast difference between what Christians originally did as Eucharist and today celebrate as the Mass or Eucharist. He explains the present situation as a series of “displacements” occurring to the original event:  1) the ritual separation of a real meal from  the Eucharist; 2) shift of focus from praising and thanking the Father for his magnalia Dei to the unique way that Jesus becomes present in the bread and wine; 3) from everyone being responsible for the Eucharistic meal to a male ordained for the explicit purpose of doing the necessary ritual to make Jesus present on the altar(from action of the community to action of the priest); 4) from the sacrality of every meal celebrated by Christians to one person, a priest, praying over part of what makes up a meal, bread and wine, to be eaten and drunk by the same priest.  These historical realities have been present to those interested in such things since the 60s but have been authoritatively forgotten by authorities since then: Eucharist may be called meal but the real bread is not there nor are most participants permitted to drink of the wine – on Holy Thursday of this year my local parish had the stations of the cross immediately following the Eucharistic celebration, a reminder to me at least as to what is ritually important and, possibly more meaningful to the congregation.  O’Loughlin’s three chapters dedicated to explaining how the Eucharist is a meal and how meals function in human society would certainly be incomprehensible to those responsible for the liturgical celebration I participated in. Yet it would be proof of his claim in the introduction to the book: “…if the Eucharist is considered a peripheral activity in the worship of Christians – a position also widely held among Christians today – then there must be some account as to why if Jesus chose to thank the Father from within the domain of human eating, and the first disciples saw this as part of their specific inheritance; this practice is now marginalized.”

These books remind us that the talk and writing about the Eucharist as central to Catholic life since Vatican II must also coincide with equal talk and writing about the future ways of doing and thinking about Eucharist that coincide with the original tradition in both meaning and eating – or explain why the tradition has been abandoned.