Last week, I had two people back-to-back tell me they’d left church for 10 plus years. One had returned a few years ago, and one was still staying away, although she was flirting with the idea of coming back. Neither told me why they had left, but both mentioned they were raised Catholic. They also mentioned a fondness for the Eucharist (also called Communion or the Lord’s Supper). Something I appreciate deeply about the Catholic Church is the focus, teaching and preaching on the importance of receiving the Eucharist - bread and wine consecrated by a priest as the body and blood of Christ, filled with the real presence of Jesus. It's of central importance in the Episcopal Church too. So I told each of them that being away from church for an extended period of time meant suffering from “Eucharistic famine.” I’d picked up this term from a Catholic sister and seminary professor, Dr. Janet Ruffing.
I once heard Dr. Ruffing make the argument that Catholic clergy should be allowed to marry for pastoral reasons. There aren’t enough priests in Latin America and Africa, which are places where the Catholic Church is growing. This priest shortage is resulting in Eucharistic famine because Catholics in these areas don’t have ready access to the sacraments. I hadn’t known about this problem before, and I agree that allowing Catholic clergy to marry -- or be women! -- would help solve it.
In any event, it got me thinking of all the Christians closer to home who do have ready access to the Eucharist but aren’t partaking. They are essentially on a self-imposed fast from the most important spiritual food.
Of course there are many, many Christians who don’t observe the Eucharist in the first place. I didn’t have it growing up and I still developed a Bible based, passionate faith. But I also didn’t know what I was missing. And for those who find comfort and nourishment in this spiritual practice, forgoing it creates a real longing. The wine soaked wafer dissolving on my tongue has become absolutely precious to me. It’s edible grace, a means of experiencing the nearness of God.
A dear and hilarious friend once told me, “If I don’t get that body [of Christ], my week starts to get all funky.” That about sums it up for me. What about you? Some people would say the same thing about going to church, whether or not it includes receiving the Eucharist. Some people would say the same thing about reading their Bible, or going to God in daily prayer.
Whatever spiritual practice you need, keep it up, and don't let your week get funky.