About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Eucharist as a Protest Against Evil

Terence Cuneo, ‘Protesting Evil’, Theology Today 70:4 (2013), pp. 430–444

This is a fascinating article in the latest edition of Theology Today about, putting it crudely, the Eucharist as a protest against evil. Terence Cuneo argues that by celebrating the Eucharist – and celebrating it properly, with the liturgy’s petitions and blessings – a symbolic stand is taken against evil. When the Eucharist is celebrated, the wider community is blessed, and the evil present within that community is denounced.

Throughout ‘Protesting Evil’, Cuneo is appreciative of ‘the ancient liturgies of the Christian East’ (p. 436). Therefore, it’s no surprise that he offers a warning:

The church’s understanding and celebration of the Eucharist has undergone significant alteration in the last five hundred years. Large stretches of the Christian community rarely celebrate the Eucharist. And the liturgical scripts they employ to celebrate it tend to be very different from those which we find in the ancient liturgies; they are considerably starker, raising no awareness that the eucharistic meal occurs in the shadow of evil. Nor, for that matter, do they prescribe the performance of actions that allow us symbolically to stand against evil in the celebration of the Eucharist. The dynamic of petition and blessing is absent. This alteration in the Christian community’s understanding and celebration of the Eucharist seems to me a turn for the worse. I say this not primarily out of the conviction that the liturgical practices of the contemporary Christian community should more nearly articulate with those of the ancient church. I say it because, to live well, we need ways of symbolically being against evil by symbolically being for the good. (p. 443).

I’m no expert in the history of the development of the Eucharist, or in its theology, but it strikes me that in the Church of England, the Eucharistic Prayers are fundamentally prayers of thanksgiving and blessing – there’s a notable absence of protest in these prayers. I see nothing wrong with this. But the structure of Holy Communion Order One (see p. 166 of the main volume of Common Worship) also posits a close link between the Prayers of Intercession, the Peace, and the Eucharistic Prayer. Together, these should contribute to the conviction that in the Eucharist, God in Christ – and, through the Holy Spirit, the Church as the body of Christ – protests against evil, and blesses those caught up in it.

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