One of the greatest things about escaping my former parish was the ontological certainty that I would never again have to endure the execrably puerile ditty “Table of Plenty” in the one place that ought to be a refuge from the destruction of culture. 

With a nod to Jeff Geerling’s facebook page, I read this insightful blog post about about the nature of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the ill-fitting nomenclature of the altar being described, even by Catholics, as a “table”:

Table Talk

Is this a table?

I’ve been away for the better part of the past week, and just tonight I arrived home to find an article from a Catholic publication with the following observations about Sunday Mass:

“and the missed opportunities to embrace our loved ones and the stranger now coalesce in the bread and wine that is shared by all of us without discrimination or distinction.”

“…Catholics have a weekly opportunity to come around a common family table.”

“Each Sunday, amidst all our human activity, we have an occasion to slow down and bring our stories to the table of faith.”

“Around the table, we simply slow down the cadence of our world and hearts and renew our mission before God’s love.”

“…but deep inside we trust that our running to and from has been transformed by the table bread and the words we have heard.”

All in all, “table” was used six times in a relatively short article about Sunday Mass.

This all sounds benign, right? Warm and comforting to be sure. As you can tell from the quotes, the basic gist of the piece is that, in coming together as a family around a common table, Catholics are refreshed by meal and solidarity to face the frenetic world “out there.” While innocent sounding enough, and surely with the best of intentions on the part of the author, the piece represents an all-too-common occurrence in Catholic discussions that reduces the Real Presence and the altar of sacrifice (and all that those words imply) to a less precisely definable and certainly more malleable concept of “table of faith.”

As statistics make painfully clear, belief in and awareness of the Catholic Doctrine on the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist among Catholics is abysmally low. This is inexcusable, but not surprising. American society, since its beginning, has been heavily imbibed with a Protestant gloss that, unfortunately surfaces even within the Catholic Church in terms of how theological realities are understood and explained. Many Catholics believe the Eucharist is merely a symbol, an “it” rather than a Person, and that the “community” is the heart of the Church. It is our “coming together” as a family that constitutes the nodal of the Church. The Eucharist then, is a symbol of our bond of love. You see how a concrete definition of what, rather Who, the Eucharist is becomes more hazy as we focus more on ourselves? Incidentally, I’ve always taken to Flannery O’Connor’s quip to a Protestant friend that, “If the Eucharist is just a symbol, then to hell with it.”

Given the catechetical lacuna in the country regarding the teaching on the Real Presence, articles about the Holy Eucharist that appear in Catholic publications should veer away from the more Protestant-inspired lexicon of words like “table” and “table bread” and “bread and wine” and take up a more Catholic-derived parlance of words like “altar” and “sacrifice,” “Body and Blood.” “The altar of sacrifice” so much more strongly evokes a correct theological and liturgical construct than the rarefied and less earthy formula of “table of faith.” I’ve found that one of Catholicism’s most appealing traits lies in its earthiness: faith and works, grace and nature, soul and body.

To be honest, I would have struck the phrases “bread and wine” and “table bread” altogether. We’re talking about Christ here! The former is downright Protestant in tenor, the latter smacks of table snacks, and “bread” should have at least appeared as “Bread.” “Wine” should never be used when referring to the Precious Blood. This is not mere quibbling or scrupulosity over nomenclature. Over time, how we talk about reality, the words we choose, etc., has dire and far-reaching consequences on the belief and convictions of a people. When uncatechized or misinformed Catholics read over and over again about the “bread and wine” they receive at Mass, what (instead of Who) are they likely to think they are receiving?

Furthermore, the Church’s teaching on the worthiness of individual Catholics to be able to receive Holy Communion does indeed make distinctions in terms of who may receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, i.e., those practicing Catholics who are in the state of grace, free of mortal sin. There is certainly no distinction when it comes to race, or social status, but when it comes to spiritual preparation, we need to be informed.

This was a piece that underperformed on a supremely important topic.