Eucharist and Ecology  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

The ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan provokes, among other things, reflection on the relationship between Christian theology and ecological concerns. Is the material world a kind of metaphysical waiting room we inhabit until it's time to go to heaven, or is there a deeper connection between heaven and earth? A decisive no to this question is provided by Denis Edwards, an Australian Roman Catholic theologian, in Ecology at the Heart of Faith (Orbis Books 2006). Edwards engages with environmental issues from a standpoint of firm creedal orthodoxy. On pp 103-104 he integrates the material cosmos with that most distinctive mark of Christian identity, the celebration of the Eucharist.


The Christ we encounter in the Eucharist is the risen one, the one in whom all things were created and in whom all are reconciled (Col 1: 15-20). God's eternal wisdom and plan for the fullness of time is "to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1: 10). Even when, in the Eucharist, the focus of the memorial is on Christ's death and resurrection, this is not a memory that takes us away from creation. On the contrary, it involves us directly with creation. It connects us to Earth and all its creatures.

When we remember Christ's death, we remember a creature of our universe, part of the interconnected evolutionary history of our planet, freely handing his whole bodily and personal existence into the mystery of a loving God. When we remember the resurrection, we remember part of our universe and part of our evolutionary history being taken up in the Spirit into
god. This is the beginning of the transformation of the whole creation in Christ. As Rahner [German Jesuit theologian] says, this resurrection of Jesus is not only the promise but the beginning of the glorification and divinization of the whole of reality.

The Eucharist is the symbol and the sacrament of the risen Christ who is the beginning of the transfiguration of all creatures in God. In eating and drinking at this table we participate in the risen Christ (1 Cor 10: 16-17). Bread and wine are the sacraments of the Christ who is at work in creation. According to Christian faith, what is symbolized is wonderfully made present. And what is made present is Christ in the power of resurrection, as not only the promise but also the beginning of the transformation of all things. Every Eucharist is both sign and agent of the transforming work of the risen Christ in the whole of creation.

...Because the Word is made flesh, no part of the physical universe is untouched. All matter is transformed in Christ: "Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate". Because of this, Earth, the solar system, and the whole universe become the place for encounter with the risen Christ: "Now, Lord, through the consecration of the world the luminosity and fragrance which suffuse the universe can take on for me the liniaments of a body and a face--in you" (quoting Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe).

The Eucharist is an effective prayer for the transformation of the universe in Christ. It p;oints toward and anticipates the divinization of the universe in Christ. The one we encounter sacramentally in the Eucharist is the one in whom all things were created and in whom all will be transfigured. Human action, which is an expression of love and respect for the living creatures, the atmosphere, the seas, and the land of our planet, can be seen as not only in continuity with, but also in some way part of, the work of the Eucharistic Christ. Willfully contributing to the destruction of species, or to pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, must be seen as a denial of Christ. It is a denial of the meaning of all that we celebrate when we gather for the Eucharist.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 at Monday, March 21, 2011 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



St. John of Damascus says, “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.” This means nothing is neutral, nothing lacks sacredness. Wherever we go we stand on holy ground.

The entrusting of creation’s destiny to humanity is at the core of what it means for humankind to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26). Dominion begins with our own relationship to the created world, how we see it, and our openness to learning from it. Humanity’s dominion over all the earth is one of care and responsibility not domination.

We can, if we choose, act as the priest of creation, taking and offering creation to God and bringing God’s blessing to what we have offered. Our role as the priest of creation is absolutely necessary for creation. Without this offering of creation to God the created universe will die because it is a finite universe. The only way to protect the world from its inherent finitude is to bring it into relation with God who alone is infinite and immortal.


March 22, 2011 at 7:40 PM

Many thanks for this, Mike.

March 22, 2011 at 9:33 PM

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