The Nonviolent Eucharistic Jesus: A Pastoral Approach
“Twelve frightened men, who feel that death is hovering over, crowd around the Son of
Man whose hand is lifted over a piece of bread and over a cup.
Of what value is this gesture, of what use can it be?
How futile it seems when already a mob is arming itself with clubs, when in a few
hours Jesus will be delivered to the courts, ranked among transgressors, tortured, disfigured,
laughed at by His enemies, pitiable to those who love Him, and shown to be
powerless before all.
However, this Man, condemned to death does not offer any defense; He does nothing
but bless the bread and wine and, with eyes raised, pronounces a few words.” François Mauriac
“The Eucharist is not only a mystery to consecrate, to receive, to contemplate and adore.
It is also a mystery to imitate.” Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M.Cap.
Outside of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist has no Christian meaning. Everything about it must ultimately be referenced to Him and then through Him to Abba. The same is true of the Christian life. Jesus is the ultimate norm of Christian existence; everything must be referenced to Him. If He is not the final standard against which the Church and the Christian must measure everything in order to determine if it is the will of God or not, then who or what is?
The Ultimate Norm of the Christian Life
What would Christianity or the Church mean for the Christian if Jesus’ Way or teachings
were made subject to, or were measured for correctness by whether Plato, Hugh
Hefner, or the local emperor happen to agree with them? Since for the Christian Jesus
is the Word of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Self-revelation of God: “The
one who sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14:9), since for the Christian He is “the Way and
the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), it is senseless to maintain that the Christian life can
ultimately be modeled on anyone or anything except Jesus. Even the saints must be
measured against Jesus and His teachings to determine what in their lives is worthy
of Christian honor and what is not.
Jesus’ New Commandment Contains the Entire Law of the Gospel
Jesus, Himself, unequivocally commands precisely this when He says, “I give you a
new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love
one another” (John 13:34). As the one the Church calls “the greatest saint of modern
times,” St. Thérèse of Lisieux, says in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul:
Among the countless graces I have received this year, perhaps the greatest has been
that of being able to grasp in all its fullness the meaning of love…I had striven above
all to love God, and in loving Him I discovered the secret of those other words “Not
everyone who says Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one
who does the will of my Father.” Jesus made me understand what the will was by
the words he used at the Last Supper when He gave His “new commandment” and
told His apostles “to love one another as He had loved them”…When God under the
old law told His people to love their neighbors as themselves, He had not yet come
down to earth. As God knows how much we love ourselves, He could not ask us to do
more. But when Jesus gave His apostles a “new commandment, His own commandment,”
He did not ask only that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, but that
we should love them as He loves them and as He will love them to the end of time. O
Jesus, I know you command nothing that is impossible…O Jesus ever since its gentle
flame has consumed my heart, I have run with delight along the way of your “new
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the new commandment of Jesus, to love one another as he has loved us” and that “This commandment summarizes all the others and expresses His [the Father’s] entire will.” Now if, as the biblical scholar, Rev. John L. McKenzie, echoing the understanding of modern Biblical scholarship, says, Jesus’ rejection of violence is “the clearest of teachings” in the New Testament, then that love that is in the Spirit of Christ, that love that is imitative of Christ, that love that is Christ-like, that love that is “as I have loved,” that love which “contains the entire Law of the Gospel,” that love “which expresses His entire will” is a nonviolent love of friends and enemies.
Both Biblical scholarship and a common sense reading of the Gospel tell us that this new commandment of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you,” is not a throwaway line or an arbitrary insertion of a thought into the Gospel. On the contrary, the new commandment is so placed in the Gospel as to be presented as the supreme and solemn summary of all of Jesus’ teachings and commands. The importance of all this for Eucharistic understanding and Eucharistic unity is this: Jesus’ solemn new commandment is given and proclaimed not on a mountain top nor in the Temple, but, as St. Thérèse notes, at the Last Supper, the First Eucharist.
Poised between time and eternity and about to be pressed like an olive by religiously endorsed, rationally justified and state executed homicidal violence, to which He knows He must respond with a love that is neither violent nor retaliatory, with a love that forgives and that seeks to draw good out of evil, He proclaims, “I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me and as I told the Jews, where I go you cannot come; now I say to you, I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (jn 13:33-34).
Liturgical and Operational Indifference
It is hard to conceive of a more dramatically powerful context to communicate the importance of a truth to people for an indefinite future. Imagine how the world would be today if this new commandment as taught on the first Holy Thursday and lived unto death on the first Good Friday was continuously remembered in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Eucharistic Prayers throughout the ages. For one thing, there would be no Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant division of the Church because, whatever the intellectual reasons were that promoted each division and each division of a division, the one thing that predates all of them and postdates most of them is a thoroughgoing liturgical and operational indifference to the new commandment that Jesus proclaims by word at the First Eucharist and by example at the Sacrifice of Calvary.
All the major modern divisions in the Church follow by centuries the Church’s justification of violence and homicide with all the distortion of perspective and spirit that persistence in such activities brings to individuals and communities. And, after each division all of the Churches—minus a few of the ‘Peace Churches’—continue to teach, to endorse and to employ violence and homicide as part of their Christian way. This necessitated that in these Churches, or any subdivision thereof, the Eucharistic liturgy be not too explicit in remembering the details of the Gospel-given history of the Lord’s Supper, of the Lord’s Passion and of the Lord’s Death. Less still could any Church that justifies and participates in violence and homicide afford to be continually Eucharistically emphatic in remembering Jesus’ new commandment given at the Last Supper, and the clear relationship between it and the Way He in fact historically responds to violence and enmity. What one does not underline is what one does not want to remember.
A Eucharistic Prayer that Embodies Nonviolent Love
So until this very day, in the Eucharistic Liturgies of such Churches, a solitary word,
“suffered” or “death,” has normally been quite enough memory, commemoration,
remembrance, or anamnesis for fulfilling the Lord’s Command, “Do this in memory
(anamnesis) of me.” Of course, technically the words “suffered” and “death” are
theologically correct, but are they pastorally sufficient for the sanctification of the
Christian, the Church, and the world? What would the condition of the Church and
hence the world be like today if the Eucharistic Prayers of the Churches of Christianity
had read at their most sacred point, “the institution narrative-anamnesis (remembrance),”
something like the following over the last 1700 years:
…On the night before He went forth to His eternally memorable and life-giving death,
like a Lamb led to slaughter, rejecting violence, loving His enemies, and praying for His
persecutors, He bestowed upon His disciples the gift of a New Commandment:
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also
should love one another.”
Then He took bread into His holy hands, and looking up to You, almighty God, He gave
thanks, blessed it, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said:
“Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body
which will be given up for you.”
Likewise, when the Supper was ended, He took the cup. Again He gave You thanks and
praise, gave the cup to His disciples and said:
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the
new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you
and for all so that sins may be forgiven.”
“Do this in memory of me.”
Obedient, therefore, to this precept of salvation, we call to mind and reverence His passion
where He lived to the fullest the precepts which He taught for our sanctification.
We remember His suffering at the hands of a fallen humanity filled with the spirit of
violence and enmity. But, we remember also that He endured this humiliation with a
love free of retaliation, revenge, and retribution. We recall His execution on the cross.
But, we recall also that He died loving enemies, praying for persecutors, forgiving, and
being superabundantly merciful to those for whom justice would have demanded justice.
Finally, we celebrate the memory of the fruits of His trustful obedience to thy will, O
God: the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at
the right hand, the second and glorious coming. Therefore we offer You your own, from
what is your own, in all and for the sake of all…
The explicit inclusion of the memory of Jesus’ new commandment, Jesus’ rejection of
violence, Jesus’ love of enemies, Jesus’ prayer for His persecutors, and Jesus’ return
of good for evil in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Churches at the point of “institution anamnesis”
is not a whimsical or arbitrary insertion of haphazard events from Jesus’
life. This is what happens from the Cenacle to Calvary. This is the memory given to
us to revere by the ultimate historical, theological and pastoral documents on the
subject: the four Gospels.
Maundy Thursday—A Mandate to Love as Christ Loves
The very name for Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, comes from the Latin
“mandatum,” which means a command, commission, charge, order, injunction. It
is a direct and exclusive reference to the new commandment given at the Lord’s Supper.
The inclusion of the new commandment in the Eucharistic Prayer is not riding
one’s own theological or liturgical hobby-horse into the Church’s public prayer life.
The new commandment is there from Day One of the Eucharist and it is there in maximal
solemnity and seriousness.
So, also, rejection of violence, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors are an
irrevocable part of the history, Scripture, and authentic memory of the Sacrifice of
Love on Calvary. Refusing the protection of the sword (mt 26:52), healing the ear of
the armed man who is to take Him to His death (lk 22:51) and crying out for God’s
forgiveness for those who are destroying Him (lk 23:34) is the memory the Gospels
give to humanity of the victimization of Christ. To side-step these authentic Apostolic
memories in order to get to a more profound or holy or “deep” spirituality is
sheer folly. One has to have the humility to accept revelation as God offers it. If one
does not want to prayerfully enter into revelation as presented by God, then one has
no access to revelation; for who but God can author revelation?
Emaciated Revelatory Remembrance Subverts Divine Love
Jesus does not die of a heart attack. He dies when His heart is attacked by human
beings inebriated with the diabolical spirit of justified, religiously endorsed homicide—
and He dies giving a definite, discernible, and consistent response to that satanic
spirit. This reality cannot be insignificant in discerning the Truth of the revelation
God is trying to communicate to humanity for the good of humanity in Jesus. The
Sacrifice of the Cross is not about mere animal pain that is meant to assuage the lust
of a sadistic, blood-thirsty, parochial god. It is about the revelation of the nature and
meaning and way and power of a Divine Love that saves from an Enemy and a menace
that the darkest phenomena of history can only but hint at. To consistently dismiss
and to structurally ignore major facts in the God-given revelatory memory is to
assure that little of what God intended to be communicated by this costly revelation
will be communicated by it. So, while use of an isolated word, “suffered” or “death,”
in the Eucharistic Prayer is theologically passable, pastorally speaking it is emaciated
revelatory anamnesis (remembrance).
However, it does not take much reflection to perceive how these detail-devoid Eucharistic
Prayers—that do not mention Jesus’ new commandment given at the Last
Supper, that do not mention His rejection of violence, that do not mention His
love of even lethal enemies, that do not mention His prayer for persecutors, and
His struggle to overcome evil with good—serve a critical function in amalgamating
Christianity into the local national or ethnic violence-ennobling myths, as a
religious legitimizer. Intentional forgetfulness, structured inattentiveness, and a
cavalier disparaging of Jesus’ teachings of nonviolent love have always been part
of this process of religious validation by evasion. Without this cultivated liturgical
blind spot Jesus could not be drafted as a Divine support person for the home team’s
homicide and enmity.
Amnesia About Truths in Suffering and Death of Christ
It is possible today, as it has been possible for 1700 years, for a normal person to
spend a lifetime listening to the Eucharistic Prayers of all of the mainline Christian
Churches and never apprehend that what is being remembered is a Person—who at
the moments being remembered in the Prayers—rejects violence, forgives everyone,
prays for persecutors, returns good for evil. In other words, in most Christian
Churches, the anamnesis has become an agency for amnesia about truths in the
suffering and death of Christ that if consistently brought to consciousness at the
sacred time of the community’s Eucharist would stand in judgement on a multitude
of community activities, past and present.
The Rev. Frederick R. McManus, Emeritus Professor at The Catholic University of
America and one of the two or three most influential Catholic liturgists of the 20th
Century, writing on this issue says:
The Nonviolent Eucharist is a valuable and viable proposal to augment eucharistic
anaphoras with some direct reference to the ministry and teaching of Jesus concerning
peace and love, with concrete mention of the nonviolence of the Gospel message. The
tradition of variety in the Eucharistic prayer, longstanding in the East and happily
introduced into the Roman liturgy in the light of Vatican II’s mandate to reform the
Order of Mass, is ample reason to study this proposal. The centrality of the mission of
peace and nonviolence in the Gospels needs to be acknowledged in the confession of the
great deeds of God in the Lord Jesus, and the Christian people need to see this essential
dimension of Eucharistic peace in the prayer which they confirm and ratify with their AMEN.
The most renowned moral theologian of the Catholic Church in the 20th Century,
Rev. Bernard Häring, states emphatically that, “It is not possible to speak of Christ’s
sacrifice while ignoring the role of nonviolence.” Yet, this is precisely what most
Christian Churches have been doing in their Eucharistic Prayers since Constantine
first employed the cross as an ensign to lead people into the enmity and homicide
FACT: Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all believe they have authentic Eucharistic communion
within their own Churches and often the same belief holds for communion between
different Churches. This, however, has not prevented them from sojourning into slaying their
own and other Christians on a grand scale and then exonerating themselves by some fantastic
contortion of the Gospel.
The Key to Eucharistic Unity and Christian Unity
Now what I am about to suggest I am sure could sound more than farfetched, but
I believe it is the pivotal decision for Christic Truth on which a future of Christian
unity and Eucharistic unity wait. At this time in history, the key to Eucharistic
unity and Christian unity is for Churches— each by whatever process of authority
is internal to it—to compose new Eucharistic Prayers which vividly call to mind
the new commandment, and the actual details of the historic confrontation between
homicidal violence and Jesus’ Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies that took
place at the moment being remembered.
This is not one among many things the Churches can do for peace and unity—it is
what they must do. The present meagerness of Scriptural and historical memory,
while it does not render the Eucharistic Prayers invalid, does make them pastorally
deceptive by omission. Harnessed by nationalisms around the world, Christians do
not hear the broad terms “suffered” and “death” as they were engaged in AD 33 Pastoral
responsibility before God and pastoral integrity before the community insist
that the fitting and right textual adjustments be instituted because there is a radical
spiritual danger that the paucis verbis of the present remembrance in the Eucharistic
Prayers of all the mainline Churches is unwittingly serving those forces which the
Eucharistic Jesus comes to conquer.
It is Archimedes who states that there is a point outside the world that if he could
locate it, he could move the world from it. The “institution narrative-anamnesis”
of the Eucharistic Prayer of the Churches is that spiritual Archimedian point—if the
truth of Christ’s Sacrifice is allowed the fullness of its historical revelatory reality
there. It is not magic I speak of here.
It is the hidden power of the cross that is released when those who are in Christ
respond to the offer of grace through Christ—an offer made through a unique and
unequaled “salvation device” when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
For the leadership of each Church to authorize text clarifications in its Eucharistic
Prayer would not be magic. For said leadership to explain the changes to the community
would not be magic. For each community to consciously stand or kneel daily,
weekly, or monthly in the presence of such a Nonviolent Eucharistic Lord would
not be magic. All would necessitate human choice, but choice aimed at cooperating
more faithfully with the incalculably powerful and mysterious reality of the Divine
Design for salvation in Jesus—choice on behalf of a more authentic expression, experience
and encounter with the Saving Presence of Divine Love as revealed through,
with and in the Nonviolent Eucharistic Christ.
New Time of Christian Agapé
A more truthful Eucharistic Prayer is the starting point of “the fair beginning of a
nobler time.” For certain this is the point from which to move the world into a New
Time of Christic Agapé because, from this point on, the Christian and the Church
will derive their Life from the Bread of Life of an Agapé Meal that is reverently respectful
of the “last wish” of Jesus—that the love (agapé) which He showed His disciples
be remembered and lived in the community as the unbreachable standard of
all Christian interaction. This is the spiritual Archimedian point because there is
infinitely more Power in that Mysterious Meal in the Upper Room than meets the
eye—if the choice is but made to embrace it.
What is equally true is this: there is infinitely more to the new commandment than
meets the mind. As each Church Eucharistically remembers more lucidly the truth
of Jesus’ life of Nonviolent Love, His death in Nonviolent Love, and His resurrection
through Nonviolent Love, Jesus’ new commandment will disclose its depth of
meaning, purpose, and power to the Churches of Christianity in a manner that will
gift them with an experience of new reality. Out of this new reality will come new
insight and new spirit—and from this new reality and new insight and new spirit
will come new words, new phraseology, new language, new thoughts that will resolve
aged and serious problems of truth. Rising from this new level of Eucharistic
fidelity will come a new convergence of Christic Love and Truth that will engender
an existential unity beyond present imagination. It is not magic I speak of
here. Prayer changes people, and people change things, but the “Yes” for a more
pastorally accurate remembrance narrative in the Eucharistic Prayer must first
be given by pastors. As at Nazareth of old, God, who desires to renew the face of the earth,
holds His breath and awaits His chosen servant’s fiat.
Betrayal of Baptismal and Eucharistic Unity
In a 1969 article for the Notre Dame Alumnus, I wrote: “To paraphrase a student slogan,
‘Suppose someone gave a war and the Christians refused to kill or harm one another’…
It would be a giant step forward for humanity if the Church would preach as
a minimum standard of morality, the absolute immorality of one follower of Christ
killing another follower of Christ.”
In 1969 I lost on all fronts with this. For the conservatives it was “just ridiculous”; for
the liberals, it was too absolutist; and for the radicals, it was Christianist and anti-humanist.
But, I know more surely today than I did thirty-five years ago that this is the
truth of the matter. Homicide-justifying Christianity cannot dialogue itself out of
the snare into which it has fallen. It must first unreservedly desire to be obedient
to Jesus’ new commandment; then from this wholehearted desire will issue the
grace, insight and power to do the other tasks committed to the Christian and the
Church. Now, this desire to be faithful to the new commandment would at least seem
to mean that as a dimension of Baptism and Eucharist, the Christian would always
say “No!” if called upon to kill other Christians. He or she would do this in order
not to be reduced to a ‘Judas-Christian’—a betrayer of one’s gift of Baptismal unity in
Christ and a betrayer of one’s task of Eucharistic unity in His new commandment.
How could this not be what Jesus intended for His disciples by His new commandment
at the Last Supper? How could this not be what Jesus intended His followers
to teach, nurture, encourage, foster, energize, and command when bringing people
into Baptismal and Eucharistic unity with Him and through Him with each other
and God? The Church will be the servant it is meant to be to God and to humanity
only to the extent that it is faithful to what it has been commanded to do internally,
namely to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love
one another.” Absent an unswerving commitment to Jesus’ new commandment, the
Church will become a body tearing itself limb from limb—and anti-sacrament of
disunity, the public incarnational denial of its own truth.
Disunity Emanates from Separation of Divine Mandates
A commandment that is consigned century after century to the doorsteps of oblivion
is a non-thought in a community. Obedience to a non-thought is a patent impossibility.
Yet, it is at the very same Supper that the Lord commands for all time “Do this
in memory of me” that He pronounces for all time His new commandment. How can
these Divine Mandates be honestly separated? How can one be obeyed religiously
while the other is religiously ignored?
It is this separation between the two great Eucharistic Commands that is the source
of and the sustaining power for separation within Christianity—ecclesiastically and
Eucharistically. It is this separation in Christianity between the two great Eucharistic
Commands, whose mutually complementary purpose is to unite, that has reduced
the Church in confrontation with the horrid reality of evil to a coping dinosaur
rather than a conquering Spirit. Disunity disempowers to the detriment of all—except
For mercy’s sake, the pastors of Christianity must relinquish their stance of calculated
inattentiveness to the unbreakable unity of Word and Sacrament. They must
simply stop managing the Eucharistic Prayer in a manner that spiritually short circuits
the process of repentance—and hence unification—by perpetually camouflaging
the unwanted truth of Jesus’ nonviolent love of friends and enemies and
His command to follow His example of love. There are not two Jesus Christs: the
Eucharistic Christ of faith on one hand, and the historical Jesus on the other. John
Paul II states in his Encyclical, Redemptoris Missio (1990), “One cannot separate Jesus
from the Christ or speak of a ‘Jesus of history’ who would differ from the ‘Christ of
faith’…Christ is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.” The only Jesus Christ present at
the Eucharist, the only Jesus Christ to remember and receive in the Eucharist is the
Jesus Christ who taught and lived unto death a Way of nonviolent love of friends
and enemies and who commanded His disciples to “Love one another as I have
loved you”—and to “Do this in memory of me.”
A Pastorally Truth-Filled Eucharist
Having recently concluded a Century in which more people have been killed by rationally-
justified, religiously-legitimized war, revolution, abortion, and capital punishment
than all the centuries of humanity combined; having recently concluded
a Century that has by the billions mercilessly murdered “the least” (mt 25:14-46)
by squandering on the technology of violence and homicide the most lavish gifts
of intelligence and learning ever granted a century of humanity; having recently
concluded a Century that has brought a planet of humanity to the lip of a cauldron
bubbling with the brew of nuclear plagues and war-generated diseases; having recently
concluded a Century where Christianity has been a major player in all these
evils—it is a moral imperative for Christian pastors to begin to lead their Churches
away from evasive Eucharistic Prayers and into remembering the Way God committed
to them for salvific and revelatory remembrance on Holy Thursday-Good
Friday, 33 A.D.
A pastorally truth-filled Eucharistic institution narrative, as enunciated above, initiated
in the beginning by the authority of each of the Churches for its own community,
is the key not only to the resolution of Church divisions and Eucharistic
disunity, but also the key to that New Pentecost which is the only Power that can
transfigure the relentless agonia humanity has made of history. From a New Holy
Thursday shall shine a New Pentecost because Eucharistic prayer is the most
powerful prayer to which humanity will ever have access. This means that, entered
into with an honest, humble and contrite heart, Eucharistic prayer in all its
forms—adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication—is the supreme instrumentality
available to the human being and to the human community for their
sanctification—which can only express itself in time and space as deeds of Christ-like
love of God, friends, and enemies.
To love the Eucharist is to live the Eucharist. A Nonviolent Eucharistic Prayer is a
mandatum of Truth, a mandatum of Peace, a mandatum of Love.
(Rev.) Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
Center for Christian Nonviolence
167 Fairhill Drive • Wilmington, DE 19808-4312
phone: 302-235-2925 • fax: 302-235-2926