Dorothy Day and Eucharist

In the American Catholic scene there is perhaps one name that stands above all when thinking about social justice: Dorothy Day. In the course of time we have all heard many stories about this remarkable woman. Today I heard one with which I was not familiar.The time was the mid-1960s in the years following Vatican II. Looking back on that period I think it is fair to say that Vatican II promised liturgical reform, the bishops were careful in the reforms, and went at a pace too slow for many, and so we entered a period of ad hoc liturgical innovation. I was beginning high school, had been an altar boy for the Latin Mass, and enjoyed some of the innovations but was a bit confused about some of the others.  I offer that as context for an American Catholic Church with many hands trying to steer the ship in a many directions all at once.

Dorothy Day was attending a home Mass being celebrated by one of the innovating priests. The priest decided to use a ceramic coffee cup and saucer for the chalice and patent. Others present saw Dorothy grimace at the action, but participated in the Mass. At the end of the Mass she thanked the priest for his service. When he was gone, Dorothy took the cup and saucer, broke them and buried them in the yard. When asked why, she responded that the cup and saucer had held the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus and were no longer suitable for common use in the everyday. Nor were they proper for use in the liturgy. So, it is best that they be reverently laid to rest.

What is remarkable about that story is that Dorothy Day stands forth as an exemplar of the false dichotomy that seems to exist in some parts of our Catholic Church.  One camp that comments too many priests are fussing about with cassocks and ceremony when there are the poor to be served, social ills to be protested, and action to be taken. The other camp commenting that Liturgy and Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives and “social justice” is just a cover for a church slowly giving in to secular society and a “woke” agenda.

Dorothy Day showed that there was no tension between the two. That one flowed into and out of the other. Maybe one way to express it might be: social justice without the Eucharist is just social action. Eucharist without social justice is a church with the narrowest of visions of the Body of Christ, a club of insiders without a sense of mission.

Along this same line of thought, I offer some far superior thoughts from Bishop Barron. In this 35 minute video, he shows that the tension between those concerned with the liturgy and those concerned with social justice is a dichotomy not in harmony with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

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