We have chosen a modern classic as our recommended reading book this Lent. Five years ago, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe wrote this book for the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is a thoroughly catholic and spiritual reflection on being Church, centred on the Eucharist.
Our recommended reading this Lent is “Why go to Church?” by Fr Timothy Radcliffe. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says this book gives us a reason to “get us out of bed on Sunday mornings”.
We should go to Church, Radcliffe explains, to participate in the Eucharist – a moment we remember whenever Christians gather together. He includes readers who may be at the fringes of the Church, and adds, even if you don’t attend Mass or you find yourself in church alone, then you may discover a hint, pointing towards the Eucharist.
Just as we are orientated toward the Eucharist, so at Lent we prepare for Easter – our focus is drawn to Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection. Our anticipation is exemplified in the drama of the last Supper and re-enacted in our participation in Holy Communion. Always a rich source of reflection, the Eucharist is a central theme of the Church upon which preachers and writers have drawn deeply, and so with this book Timothy Radcliffe picks up, and leads us down, a well-trodden path.
Whereas Thomas Merton gives us a meditative exposition of the central truth of the Eucharist in “The Living Bread” it is by his own admission not one of his better books. Timothy Radcliffe however is easy to read, while retaining Merton’s reflective tone. Radcliffe’s books entertain us and this is no exception; with his typical blend of delicious anecdotes with a liberal scattering of quotations from contemporary theology and popular culture. His style suits the dramatisation of Holy Communion, the greatest of all sacraments, and this book is structured into three acts told in fifteen stages, echoing the liturgical shape of the Mass.
This isn’t a set of daily readings but it is a spiritual reflection that we may read through Lent. In Why go to Church? Radcliffe shows how Jesus’ self-giving is also a discovery of who we are and who we might become in Christ. In Lent we are encouraged to give something up – chocolate and alcohol are common choices – a small suggestion of sacrifice; a challenge to life for forty days a life more simple that we may focus on Christ.
“…Finally we celebrated the Eucharist with our sisters in their bullet-scarred house which had been at the centre of the fighting just a day or two before. The moment came for me to preach and I was lost for words. In the face of so much suffering, what was there to say? But I was given something to do. We re-enacted what Jesus did on the night before he died, as he commanded us, and repeated his prayer. When there was nothing of my own that I could offer, I was given words and gestures, to speak a faith, hope and love which are a gift…”
The Eucharist transforms our appreciation of the food we eat – our daily bread. The Eucharist is both a sacrifice and a feast because it is the living body and blood of the resurrected Christ. As Fr Henry Whisenant (Our Lady and the English Martyrs) says, “fasting leads us to a greater hunger”, so we should want, rather than be content with our own self-sufficiency. In John’s gospel when Jesus offers the crowd bread that ‘gives life to the world’ (6.33) they reply wholeheartedly, ‘give us this bread always’ (6.34). It is something we should passionately desire more rightly, as Andrew Davison in “Why Sacraments?” explains, ‘Placing the Eucharist at the centre of the Church’s life, Christ opened the way for it to discipline and reform our attitude to food and drink.’
We hear the word of God, and in the Eucharist we see, touch, taste and smell the sacrament. As the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac recognised, the Eucharist is both spiritual and physical – as such its is concerned with practical needs of our fellow men and women. It is the act by which Jesus formed his disciples into the body of his Church. Its is God’s best gift, the gift of his own very self. In joining in Holy Communion with Christ we are nourished, and Radcliffe says, “we are called to witness to a deeper freedom, which is to give our lives away, as Christ did: ‘This is my body given for you’.”
As well as reading Timothy Radcliffe’s excellent book, you may find this Lent reflection on the Eucharist useful. It includes questions you can use either for group discussion or personal meditation. Digging deep into the roots of our faith (111 kB)