My most recent booksneeze revealed a slightly pinkish mucus with an astounding outer shell. “The Sacred Meal” by Nora Gallagher has my favorite cover of the Ancient Practices Series (edited by Phyllis Tickle). A nice dusty rose background punctuated by the antique image of an old chalice and bread. The wine in the cup is dark. Strikingly so. There is no doubt what this episode in an excellent series will describe.
Evidently, I do judge books by their covers.
Originally, i was going to go with “The Liturgical Year”, as it is the topic I am least familiar with. Then, I recognized the author of “The Sacred Meal”. Nora Gallagher is one of my favorite writers. She does not author books, but writes well. Anything she writes is worth reading simply for her skill. This book is excellently written, a series of stories about how communion has affected the writer. Nora brings the reader with her through her journeys into the sacred meal. That part of church which is so significant, so misunderstood, and yet so plain. Like Christianity’s founder, the plainness of communion is only skin deep. Inside that skin lies a mystery more complex than the recipient can imagine. No wonder people accused Jesus of teaching with authority.
The content itself is light on Scripture (which speaks infrequently of communion), heavy on story, and mixed in application. Unlike “The Sacred Journey”, which I adored for its challenges and inconsistencies, Gallagher chooses to view communion from a pluralistic view. That is, search traditions, find what is good, ignore the differences, and hope to speak to every reader in agreeable terms. I preferred “The Sacred Journey”.
Here are some quotes that describe the book’s main emphases:
“More than any other practice, taking Communion forces us to be with others, to stand with them in a circle or kneel at the altar rail or pass a tray of grape juice and cubes of bread. We are forced to be with strangers and people we don’t like, persons of different colors and those with bad breath or breathing cheap alcohol. It forces “them” to be with “us” and us to be with them. (p12)”
“Do this to remember me. Do this to remember who you were with me. Do this to remember who you are (p. 24)”
“A practice is meant to connect you with what is deeply alive, to stir in you the same kind of aliveness that the disciples of Jesus must have felt around Him (25).”
“The first time I served, I felt as if I were walking on quicksand. I lived in fear of spilling. And once, I served a young man in a nice tan T-shirt and I poured the blood of CHrist all down his front. We stared at each other for a second, and then I had to move on. In the sacristy afterward I whispered to a priest, “I spilled wine all over this guy.” He paused while wiping off a paten, looked thoughtful, and replied, “That’s too bad. I guess we’ll have to burn him (63-64).”
“While any ritual can be reduced to magic, just about all of them contain an element of something that is deeply meaningful and human: the element of thanksgiving (77)”.
The last quote is derived from a masterful chapter, #7- Eating and Thanksgiving. However, the rest of the book is good, not great. Perhaps I approached it with too great of an expectation. My fascination with communion has lasted my entire life, and is one of the only things I remember from the Catholic church. This book may be helpful to the neophyte, but for most is just a reminder of what happens when we feast together. 3 of 5 stars.