This post is more explicitly about the Eucharist than some others in this occasional series; but they are all about the Eucharist, which includes every meal shared in love.
I have been reading an article Facing the Lord’s Table by Thomas O’Loughlin1 where he discusses the positions taken up by priest and people in the Catholic Eucharist: either one man on one side of the altar-table and the rest facing across it to him, or in the older tradition, the priest facing the altar but also away from the people.
Neither of these is ideal, he argues. If two of us are eating together, we will usually face each other, the better to communicate; if there are more of us, we will sit around the table. Thus, in the first picture above, you’ll see how we have re-arranged ourselves for the photo, and we returned to our plates a moment later. In the Last Supper from Strasbourg Cathedral, like so many others, artistic licence dictates that those present are facing us – but we Christians share that same table in Strasbourg, in Canterbury, or wherever we may be in the world, so the gathering around the table is symbolically completed by the onlookers’ presence.
Dr O’Loughlin reminds us that at Mass, rather than in front of a carving, we are a community when we gather round a table; that is when we say Grace to bless the food and drink.
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
My brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.
1 Corinthians 10:17; 11:33
Dr O’Loughlin also suggests that an accurate translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer would have us standing around the table rather than just standing before God, and that this is borne out by ancient liturgical instructions about how the broken pieces of the loaf were to be set out on the paten for distribution.
He closes with these words: The theological bottom line is this: if the Logos has come to dwell among us (John1:14), then every table of Christians is a place where one could rub up against him at one’s elbow.
Now there’s a thought! Do read and digest the article if you can find the journal.
1In The Furrow, October 2017, p554-560.