Can the dining table enhance the Eucharistic experience?

Ritual must be observed carefully to enhance our spiritual health, can lead to reconciliation


by Virginia Saldanha, Mumbai, India

5 March 2018

(First published in UCAN and reproduced with permission)



On Maundy Thursday, which this year falls on March 29, Catholics commemorate how Jesus instituted the Eucharist by offering himself as the "bread of life" (Jn. 6:35).

We Catholics believe the frequent reception of the Eucharistic bread, which is transformed into the body of Christ at the altar of Mass, enhances our spiritual health. But this enhancement is subject to certain conditions, just as material food to benefit our physical health is subject to what we eat and how we eat it. Without fulfilling the essential conditions, the reception of the Eucharist alone will not provide us the "abundance of life" (Jn.10:10) that Jesus has destined for us. There are similarities between the Eucharist and the material food we eat.

As a theologically trained Catholic mother, I see the dining table as having the innate capacity to enhance the Eucharistic experience. The merging of the two tables, as Jesus did on Maundy Thursday, will help us experience wholeness. It will enhance our dining table and build us into people who are socially and spiritually healthy.


Indian Catholic Priest Susai Kannu offers The Holy Eucharist during the Mass of the Lord's Supper celebrated as Maundy Thursday service at St. Anthony's Church in Hyderabad on March 24, 2016. The ceremony commemorates the symbolic example of Jesus Christ washing the feet of his apostles at the Lord's Supper on the eve of his crucifixion. (Photo by AFP/Noah Seelam)




Jesus celebrated the first Eucharistic meal with his disciples at the dining table on the feast of the Passover, when families gather to share a meal in the Jewish tradition. It comprises certain rituals but remains at heart a family meal. Great emphasis is placed on the food and what it symbolizes.  Jesus raised the meal to a spiritual fellowship experience when he broke a single piece of bread — his body — and called his disciples to take a piece from it and eat it; and drink from the same cup of wine — his blood. As such he invited his disciples to sacrifice themselves for others, just as he did.

Eating together at home enriches relationships due to the time and care involved in both preparing and sharing a meal.  It often involves a degree of self-sacrifice. And if we include the table fellowship of Jesus as part of those special meals shared among the family or community, we are reminded of Jesus' invitation to sacrifice ourselves for others. That poses a challenge for families and communities to accept this invitation and incorporate it into their lives.

Can we begin to look at our dining table as a family "Eucharistic" table, where we share food, conversations and so much more?

The suggestion is not to replace the Eucharist in parish churches with family meals, but rather to enrich the Eucharistic experience by establishing a truly Christian life within communities. This would provide greater meaning to the dismissal "Go, the Mass is ended," which is indeed a call to "go and live the Eucharist" in the world.

Food and gatherings are synonymous in India: They cut across all religious communities and bring people together. For example, the Sikh community has its Langars while Hindus distribute "prasad" at religious functions. Moreover, during the Ramzan month of fasting, Muslims have the Iftaar, when communities share a meal to break their collective fast.

Sadly our celebrations of the Eucharist or Mass have become so ritualized that they remain exclusive and in many ways distant.

The dining table in Indian culture is generally open to all people who are willing to accept an invitation to a meal, with the sad exception of caste and class.



An Indian Catholic Christian receives the Holy Eucharist during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on Feb. 10, 2016. Catholics began the 40-day Lenten season by observing Ash Wednesday, which culminates in Holy Week. (Photo by AFP/Noah Seelam)





 However, this can be overcome when we merge the table fellowship of Jesus with the temporal meal, as Jesus gives himself to all. He challenges us to be inclusive. We take extra care to make sure that food on the family table is fresh, tasty and suitable for all those who are gathered to eat. We also take care to respect religious sentiments and the different tastes of all the parties at the table, bringing in an element of solidarity as well. These positive aspects of sharing a meal are valuable in building a sense of community.

Small Christian Community (SCC) meetings often include shared food, and combining the spiritual and material in this way generates a positive feeling. Just as we do at the Eucharist, a fellowship meal can begin by welcoming, then go on to thank those who produced the food, who are almost always inadequately compensated and forgotten — for example, the farmers, vendors, cleaners and cooks. This helps to remind us of our social responsibilities.

A fellowship meal can also bring about reconciliation in the community or family. The sharing of the word using one of various gospel-sharing methods reminds us of our moorings with Jesus' teachings. In this setting, the Word of God is better internalized and implemented when shared with others. Sitting around the dining table, members share their joys, successes, disappointments and failures — and receive support and affirmation. This kind of sharing creates a greater understanding. It helps people bond and be more sensitive to each others' needs. It can truly make the home feel like a domestic church, and this is something that can be done once a day or at least once a week within the family. At special occasions, like feasts and birthday gatherings when extended families and friends or neighbors show up, the fellowship can focus on thanksgiving.

In the Small Christian Communities, a fellowship meal can be celebrated when the neighborhood community gathers to pray and share experiences based on reflections of gospel. The dining table will effectively enhance our celebration at the Eucharistic table when the sharing of a simple meal is tempered with values that flow into us through Jesus.

Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences Office of Laity and a theologian and freelance writer based in Mumbai.

Forum of Asian Women Theologians

The Forum of Asian Women Theologians known as Ecclesia of Women in Asia is just concluding their meeting in Saigoan. Two books were released at this meeting. One is an E-book available on Amazon. The title of the book is "Liberating Power - Asian Feminist theological Perspectives". It contains the papers presented at our 6th EWA conference.

The second book edited by me and another sister from India, Metti Amirtham SC was also released. This book is an anthology of the papers presented at our 7th EWA conference.

Both books contain articles written by me. This book will also be available on Amazon. The title is "The 21st century Woman Still Claiming Her Space."

Women take initiative to wash the feet of women and other marginalized sections

by Kochurani Abraham

The foot washing ritual of women and other marginalized sections organized by the ecumenical feminist women's fellowship 'Women's Lives Matter' ( a local unit of ICWM), at Santwanam  Center for battered women and children, Kottayam,  was a meaningful, joyful and liberative experience for the  women and children who participated in this event and  the  women who conducted it.  The inmates of Santhwanam participated wholeheartedly in this celebration irrespective of their  age,  religion or caste factors. The children joyfully joined in the singing and then competed to wash the feet of the elders.   Even the tiny tots  between the age of two and three sat on the chairs and stretched their feet saying they also want to be washed. No wonder Jesus Christ made them the pillars of the Reign of God!

For the members of' ‘Women's Lives Matter' who conducted this ritual, this celebration served a two-fold purpose.  First and foremost, enacting this ritual  meant  sharing  the grace of  this gesture of Jesus Christ  with a public who are broken and marginalized, drawing inspiration from the initiatives taken by Pope Francis.  Since the mainstream churches in Kerala are bound by the so called ‘eastern tradition’ that restricts foot-washing only to men and boys,  for us  women, it was an occasion to  channelize the Spirit beyond the confines of the Church through this ritual. Secondly, this celebration also gave an opportunity for women and others who are excluded, not just to remain recipients of grace,  but also to  become mediators of this grace. Outside the official liturgy and its politics of exclusion,  this  was an inclusive gesture to realize  the 'politics of the Reign of God' . It was an occasion for women to affirm ‘we are the Church’ with prophetic commitment and a  liberative thrust !

Letter: Including Women and Girls in the Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday.

31 March 2017


Cardinal Oswald Gracias,
President, Conference of Catholic Bishops of India,

Cardinal George Alencherry,
President Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod (SMBS)

Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos
President, Holy Episcopal Synod - Syro-Malankara Church

Your Eminences,

Re: Including Women and Girls in the Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday.

The Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) together with other organizations/individuals who are co-signatories of this letter come to you with an earnest appeal which has arisen out of our collective endeavour to discern the will of God for the Catholic Church in India in order that we may keep growing as an inclusive community of equal disciples in the Lord.

One of the most encouraging signs in the Church in recent times of such inclusiveness and equality has been the initiative of Pope Francis to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday falls on 13 April this year and we come to you with his humble and urgent appeal so that the example set by Pope Francis may become a reality in every parish in India this year.

For this to happen, the initiative needs to come from you, dear bishop in the form of a clear instruction/guideline to be given to the parish priests in your communication to them, preferably on the occasion of the Chrism Mass so that they may be inspired to catechise the laity and implement this practice in their parishes.

We would like to put on record our appreciation for the dioceses and parishes which have already implemented this practice last year (2016). It is our prayer that this year more dioceses and parishes may take this cue and implement this single-most inclusive liturgical practice pioneered by Pope Francis.

The Decree on Holy Thursday’s Foot Washing Ceremony dated 06 January 2016 made public the significant change introduced by Holy Father Francis. The relevant portion of the text reads thus:

In order that the full meaning of this rite might be expressed to those who participate it seemed good to the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis to vary the norm which is found in the rubrics of the Missale Romanum (p. 300 n. 11):«The men who have been chosen are led by the ministers…», which therefore must be changed as follows:«Those who are chosen from amongst the people of God are led by the ministers…»(and consequently in the Caeremoniali Episcoporum n. 301 and n. 299b: «seats for those chosen»), so that pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God. Such small groups can be made up of men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women and laity [retrieved from on 31/03/2017]

We are of the opinion that the directives given by Holy Father as well as the example that he himself has set (by including representatives from all walks of life, both men and women in the ceremony of washing of the feet during Holy Thursday since the year 2013) are powerful interventions for making the Church visibly and symbolically more inclusive. We as women and men committed to the vision of equal discipleship in the Church are inspired under the prompting of

the Divine Spirit in our collective and personal discernment to present before you, and other leaders of the Church in India our humble request that clear instructions may be issued to all the parish priests and pastors in the respective dioceses exhorting them to implement the exemplary practice of Pope Francis in the spirit of the above-mentioned directive from the Holy See.

We believe that such a symbolic representation of inclusion liturgically celebrated in parishes and mass centres across India will have a healing effect especially in the light of the recent instances of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church.

We have noted with a sense of concern a news item that appeared in the national press on 29 March

2017 regarding the decision of the Syro Malabar Church regarding this issue. We understand that the modification suggested by Pope Francis is applicable to the provisions in the Roman Missal and hence not applicable to the non-Latin Churches. A report in The Hindu Newspaper quoted George Cardinal Alenchery as giving a clear instruction to the Syro Malabar Church to the effect that in the Eastern tradition the washing of the feet was reserved for men and boys and therefore the whole of Syro Malabar Church will continue the practice of including only men and boys for the ceremony of washing the feet. [ retried on 31/03/2017]

We would like to request the Syro Malabar Synod of Bishops to revisit this directive and look afresh at the possibility of emulating the esteemed example shown by Pope Francis for the whole universal Church and include all members of the people of God in the ceremony of washing the feet on Holy Thursday.

Similarly, we appeal to the Synod of the Syro Malankara Church to kindly issue clear directives to the pastors and parish priests to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet of Holy Thursday, so that in words and spirit we celebrate the all inclusive love of Christ as demonstrated by our Spiritual leader Pope Francis.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Noella D’Souza, MCJ
Convenor, ICWM
Streevani, Pune.

Indian Women Theologians Forum, Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad Forum of Religious for Justice & Peace Satyashodak, Mumbai,
Dr. M.T. Joseph SVD