Mystery Manifested: Toward a Phenomenology of the Eucharist in Its Liturgical Context
1. Jean-Luc Marion: Eucharist as Abundant and Abandoned Gift
2. Jean-Yves Lacoste: Eucharist as Eschatological Anticipation
3. Emmanuel Falque: Eucharist as Erotic Participation and Incorporation
4. The Phenomenality of Eucharistic Experience in Its Liturgical Context
4.1. Eucharist as Phenomenon
4.2. The Liturgical Horizon
4.3. Liturgical Intentionality
4.4. Phenomenological Implications
Conflicts of Interest
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This is true of “classical” philosophical phenomenologists like Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. Other thinkers, both philosophers like Scheler, Stein, and Walther or those in other fields like Otto, Eliade, Kristensen, and van der Leeuw, did draw on phenomenology for analyses of religious phenomena. See my brief survey of and introduction to these thinkers (Gschwandtner 2019), especially Part I. (Part II focuses on the French thinkers, some of whom are discussed in the present essay.) One should note also Robert Sokolowski’s book on eucharistic manifestation (Sokolowski 1994), which draws on Husserl’s phenomenology.
See also his essay “The Gift of a Presence” (Marion 2002a, pp. 124–52). This text analyzes the ascension narratives.
Or, in more detail: “The Word intervenes in person in the Eucharist (in person, because only then does he manifest and perform his filiation) to accomplish in this way the hermeneutic. The Eucharist alone completes the hermeneutic; the hermeneutic culminates in the Eucharist: the one assures the other its condition of possibility” (1991, p. 150). He explores this in more detail in his analysis of the story of the Emmaus disciples, which culminates in the recognition of Christ when he breaks the bread (and disappears). Here, also, Christ provides the correct interpretation and “intentionality” for what the overwhelmed intuition of the disciples cannot grasp. (Marion 2017, pp. 136–43).
Or, more succinctly: “If, first, theology as theology attempts the hermeneutic of the words in view, hence also, from the point of view of the Word, if the Eucharist offers the only correct hermeneutic site where the Word can be said in person in the blessing, if finally only the celebrant receives authority to go beyond the words as far as the Word, because he alone finds himself invested by the persona Christi, then one must conclude that only the bishop merits, in the full sense, the title of theologian” (1991, p. 153; emphasis his).
The language of unifying the subjective and the objective is employed on page 181. Interestingly, this second piece is “outside” the regular text (in an afterword called “Hors-Texte”), while the other essay on the Eucharist is the final chapter “inside” the text. Neither of the essays yet employs explicitly phenomenological language. In fact, in the second essay he says clearly that his “task here remains theological” (1991, p. 171).
Marion defends himself against some of these critiques in his interview with Richard Kearney (Kearney 2004, pp. 15–32, especially pp. 21–22). See also my analysis of Marin’s “spirituality of adoration” (Gschwandtner 2017, pp. 188–217) and the final chapter of my Degrees of Givenness (Gschwandtner 2014, pp. 170–92).
Many of the pieces included in this text (2017), as well as those in an earlier collection (Marion 2008), were originally articles in the Roman Catholic journal Communio. Marion was the first co-editor of the Francophone edition of Communio. The essays were thus originally conceived as theological pieces written for a Roman Catholic audience.
What follows in the rest of this paragraph is a brief summary of this essay. The essay was first published in 2001; it is confirmed by similar arguments in 2008 and his Gifford Lectures (albeit focused on the Trinity not on sacraments), published as Givenness and Revelation in 2016.
See also his analysis of mysterion and apokalysis in the Gifford lectures (Marion 2016, pp. 76–77). (An anonymous reviewer suggested that there might be a hidden Palamite influence in Marion’s work, such that God’s essence remains entirely transcendent and mysterious while manifestation occurs through the divine energies. It is certainly true that Marion stresses that we have no access to God as such and that the divine must always remain incomprehensible, while he also affirms that God is revealed and “effective” within phenomenality. Yet, although Marion often appeals to Dionysius the Areopagite and occasionally Gregory of Nyssa, he does not engage the later eastern patristic tradition and is occasionally quite dismissive of contemporary eastern Orthodoxy. He also rigorously rejects any language of ousia, essence, substance, or being for the divine and is critical of the Aristotelian language of energeia, especially as it relates to act and potency. Jones explores the patristic sources of Marion’s thought in detail (Jones 2011).
He summarizes this also in the present essay: “By givenness, one must here understand the ultimate accomplishment of phenomenality, indubitable because it is perfectly reduced to immanence, such that it makes it possible to calibrate and accommodate all the degrees of presence, evidence, reality, and actuality, yet without itself being returned to them. The phenomenon thus recovers the sovereignty of its appearance only while being phenomenalized of and by itself, in showing itself from itself. Yet it attests this self only when the appearance enters into its appearing. And it enters into the appearing and commits to appear only if it gives itself. Nothing shows itself that does not first give itself. This rule of phenomenality in general measures the legitimacy and possibility for any phenomenon to show itself according to the measure of givenness.” (2017, pp. 110–11.)
As occurs in everyday or what Marion calls “poor” phenomena, where intuition only supplies some elements (e.g., the front of a book or side of an object, where we constitute the phenomenon by supplying the “back side” or reverse that is not intuited directly or the constitution of a circle where we have no intuition of a perfectly circular phenomenon at all, at least via perception). Marion contends that in these cases intention supplies the signification that is missing via concepts, while this is impossible in the case of saturated phenomena both because they are so overwhelming that they cannot be grasped via concepts and because it is fully given to intuition and thus nothing has to be supplied for its apprehension.
This is worked out most fully in Being Given, but also pursued in several subsequent texts.
See also the section on “The Gift of Presence” (2017, pp. 176–78). The same title is employed for his essay on the ascension narratives in Prolegomena to Charity.
“The presence of Christ, and therefore also that of the Father, discloses itself by a gift: it can therefore be recognized only by a blessing. A presence, which gives itself by grace and identifies itself with this gift, can therefore be seen only in being received, and be received only in being blessed” (2002a, p. 129). This becomes the supreme task of the disciples, the church, and ultimately all of humanity (2002a, p. 130).
He also reiterates here the idea that we must see the gift from the point of view of the giver, God, thus applying “the proper hermeneutical decision,” that is, “the hermeneutics of givenness” (2017, p. 135).
He also claims this of orgasm and for the erotic phenomenon more broadly (Marion 2007, pp. 138, 144, 153).
“The reader who has seen the term [liturgy] arise in the table of contents of this work must therefore be advised: what ‘liturgy’ designates in these pages is, in fact, as convention would have it, the logic that presides over the encounter between man and God writ large. I am not denying that this encounter is also attested to in worship, or that worship has an order and that this order is rule governed. But the limits of what I understand here by ‘liturgy’ exceeds the limits of worship.” (Lacoste 2004, p. 2).
“Things in general, and those of the liturgy in particular, are such by virtue of a rupture or a separation” (2005, p. 97). Instead, like art, “they are signs and symbols” (2005, p. 97).
“And about men who want to associate liturgically with angelic praises, it must be conceded that they are a little bit more than just together” (2005, p. 99).
E.g., “where there is sacrament there is henceforth no longer any object” (2011, p. 302).
“No more than absolute knowing there is no absolute affectivity” (2011, p. 303).
“The infirmity of affections toward the infinite that it can only grasp partially certainly does not give rise to (or cannot give rise to) a disaster of the believing consciousness. All the same, it does give rise to a kind of disquietude (and we should be worried if that were not the case): we encounter here a phenomenon in its most exemplary reality” (2011, p. 304).
“Nevertheless, within the world of life, it points to the irruption of a beyond the world and, if we limit life to its world, a beyond life” (2011, p. 304).
“We can all the same do better and respect what gives itself in the sacrament to the double experience of affectivity and thought. And doing better would thus mean to admit that the sacrament and everything that participates in its logic makes it possible for us to transcend our being-in-the world and our historiality” (2011, p. 308).
The idea of nonexperience (including the non-place and non-time of liturgy) is worked out most fully in chapter 3 of Experience and the Absolute (Lacoste 2004).
Although I cannot explore this further in the present context, I would say instead that liturgy can prepare for and cultivate faith and thus may well function in primordial ways.
His most explicit response to a variety of phenomenological thinkers is found in his Loving Struggle (Falque 2018).
In a sense this is the central thesis of the entire book.
“It is therefore advisable to question the entirety of human experience, everything involved in the Eucharist, in order to be transformed by God: animality (Eucharistic heritage [the figure of the lamb]), the body (Eucharistic content [this is my body]), eros (Eucharistic modality [a body given]), and finally abiding (Eucharistic aim [remain in me and I in you])” (Falque 2015a, p. 280).
One should note that eros as it occurs within marriage and only via a traditional heterosexual union is central to his analysis of such nuptials. This entails for him a particular account of sexual difference as complementarity that allows women to be more fully “feminine” and men more fully “masculine.”
“In making his body a this, the Christ given for us, in his humility or as his humus (earth), borrows the path of the thing, just as the bread given to us serves as nourishment to fortify us” (2015b, p. 202; trans. lightly modified).
“Nobody simply eats God, but we are always in some respect eaten by him” (2015b, p. 205). “That which is assimilated by us, in the unique case of the body of Christ, is what assimilates us; or rather, paradoxically, it incorporates us even into Christ-there whom we eat” (2015b, p. 206).
“We can say that what goes for phenomenological intentionality applies also to eucharistic incorporation” (2015b, p. 207).
“The eucharistic memory cannot then remain indifferent to the body, to its weight and its wounds that are endlessly reactualized; otherwise, it risks being held and kept simply by the consciousness, as the memory of a past that has been superseded. Everything is inscribed in our bodies, and nothing has been forgotten of the body of the Resurrected One in the total of the eucharisticized bodies. By eating his body and drinking his blood, we don’t simply celebrate the memory of an event, even if that event was foundational for all humanity. We drink the blood of his life that flows as far as our veins, and we eat the flesh of his body that feeds us even in our inmost organs” (2015b, p. 212).
“It is not enough to eat him to participate in this mode of incorruptibility. We can still, and we should still, lead ourselves to see him and to love him as the power of transformation” (2015b, p. 213).
These superimpositions or conflations also return in an essay on palliative care: (Falque 2019, pp. 91–116).
At the same time, it is worth noting that in most Christian traditions, the eucharistic liturgy itself undergoes the fewest changes and thus has the most stable signification. For example, vespers and matins (or vigil) in the Orthodox tradition have far more “moveable” elements that differ depending on the occasion than the eucharistic “divine liturgy.” And although even the more scripted Western rites (e.g., Roman Catholic or Anglican) have now adopted a variety of eucharistic anaphoras and cycle between them, these are still fairly stable. Yet, the experience of Eucharist is clearly not wholly identical on every occasion but influenced by the temporality of the church year and even its spatiality (e.g., in a ceremony held outside).
Indeed, theologically speaking, this would be Manichean and deny that the world is created good.
Again, that is not to say that a particular person might feel out of sorts or even excluded during a rite, but to describe how the experience manifests structurally, i.e. through the parameters assumed, organized, and conveyed by the rite.
I have attempted to give a fuller account of how liturgical experience manifests specifically in the Eastern Orthodox tradition (Gschwandtner 2020).
Indeed, that is probably a caricature even of what Descartes proposes, as Marion has shown in various places.
Rather than praying for a transformation of the elements into body and blood of Christ, as does the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and many Western eucharistic rites.
Cyril of Jerusalem already stresses this sensory element in an oft-quoted injunction for the eucharistic participants to touch their lips still wet from the Eucharist and anoint their other senses (Cyril of Jerusalem 2017, V. 22, p. 135).
To speak of “usually” or “general” here and above does not imply, phenomenologically, some sort of “least common denominator” or “average” of empirical experience, but instead tries to get at the character (or Wesen) of the phenomenon, the kind of phenomenon it manifests as, even when a particular empirical instance may go astray. That does not, however, turn it immediately into a normative claim about how Eucharist (or a religious phenomenon) “ought” to appear or how a rite should be structured or organized, but remains a descriptive claim.
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Gschwandtner, C.M. Mystery Manifested: Toward a Phenomenology of the Eucharist in Its Liturgical Context. Religions 2019, 10, 315. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050315
Gschwandtner CM. Mystery Manifested: Toward a Phenomenology of the Eucharist in Its Liturgical Context. Religions. 2019; 10(5):315. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050315Chicago/Turabian Style
Gschwandtner, Christina M. 2019. "Mystery Manifested: Toward a Phenomenology of the Eucharist in Its Liturgical Context" Religions 10, no. 5: 315. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050315