Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

O sacrum convivium...

O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius; mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.

"O SACRED banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory given to us."

These words by St Thomas Aquinas and so often set to music by composers (one of my favourite settings being the one by Messiaen) are a concise summation of Eucharistic theology. What drew my attention was that word 'convivium' which is translated as 'banquet'. The notion of banquet is intrinsic to the Eucharist and even to Paradise. Jesus often uses images of a banquet to depict the Kingdom of Heaven (cf Matt 22, Lk 14 et al) and again, the wedding banquet image is found in the Revelations of St John (cf Rev 19). And again, in this Eastertide, the Vespers hymn: Ad cenam Agni providi begins with an evocation of the banquet of the Lamb in the new Jerusalem. This idea of the Lamb's Supper is reiterated at every Mass: Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt. (Cf Rev 19:9)

Here in Asia, banquets, food and feasting is a vital part of the social fabric. When I was in the Philippines, even our poor parish frequently had 'banquets' and food is essential to the celebration of life and its milestones. Unlike the Western penchant for wine and drink, the Asian obsession (so evident in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) is for food. But to make up a banquet, both food and drink is necessary. In fact, the account of Jesus at the wedding banquet in Cana makes no mention of food but mentions the great quantities of wine consumed, apparently at the Lord's bequest!

But there is another, more important aspect of the banquet I wish to ponder: the people at that banquet. Given the right dispositions, a banquet or a party is a sacramental sign of what awaits us in heaven. Just as the Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy and banquet, so too I believe, a dinner celebration can be a dim foretaste of the divine reality. The word that strikes me is 'convivium' which is echoed in the English word 'convivial'. I may be wrong, but I think its Latin roots, can be traced to mean "to live with". As such, convivial means "merry, festive or lively". In short it is equated with having a good time with good friends. The song by Henry VIII, 'Pastime with Good Company' is a fitting description of being 'convivial' and having a 'banquet'. Incidentally, I named the wine tasting club I formed in the UK after this song...

What this suggests is that a banquet is not just food and drink. One may have a bounty of both and the richest feast but if there is not a convivial atmosphere, if one is not having a good time, then it is not a banquet. As such, I feel it is not the food and drink that matters as much as the company at the banqueting table. As Christians, the imagery of heaven as a banquet (and I recognise this is not exclusively Christian in conception) is replete with the ideas of communio, communion of persons, friendship, laughter and joy, unity and closeness. No doubt, John Paul II is now at table with the many saints he canonized and beatified!

Why this protracted commentary on the banquet? Well, I miss the dinners I shared in the Philippines with the Dominican fathers... I also miss the banquets we had as a parish, full of laughter, song and dance, truly convivial. For indeed these were the people I lived with (as 'convivial' literally means) and I miss the conviviality of the meals we shared daily in the Priests' House in Dagat-dagatan. Our fare was humble and sometimes even un-palatable but the company was always lively and fun. Our discussions at table were enriching, our debates were broadening and our laughter was genuine. I wonder how many of us are able to say that our family meals at home have this same conviviality... I miss that and long for what God has blessed me with these past 12 months.

I caught a glimpse of that same conviviality at dinner with the Dominicans in England and I hope to take my place at that banqueting table soon and to join the Pope at his in time to come!


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