Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, can be linked to the environmental crisis…. It stands out among other sacraments and brings human beings, nature and the Creator in close contact that abhors neglect and cruelty.
For Alexander Schmemann, “Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.” This can be from the point of view of the material elements that are used as well as its transformative nature. With regard to the former, we learn that “[t]he eucharistic symbols are rooted in matter: bread made from wheat, and wine made from grapes. The eucharist symbolizes concern with the flesh and blood of the Lord. In light of this, Christian orthodoxy rejects the disparagement of material things.”
Sacraments transform recipients in such a way that they no longer become abusers but preservers of cosmos and nature by working towards their preservation. Thus, Hill argues: “Eucharist symbolizes the transformation of created elements into the risen Lord. Eucharist also signifies the transformation of the community as it repents its complicity in harming creation and examines its responsibilities toward the earth.”
Since sacramental materials are products of the earth, it behooves human beings (who receive them) to take good care of the earth by desisting from any form of cruelty against it and ensuring its preservation which will give rise (though not exclusively) to an increased productivity. This may be difficult to come by unless there is a change in the life style and attitude of human beings towards other creatures.
One of the functions of liturgy is to charge participants to embrace a new way of relationship while living in their communities…. By celebrating/receiving the Eucharist, the worshipping community is challenged to live in such a way that what they experience in the liturgy can be carried into the larger world.
One of the ways of doing this is to ensure, by their lives, that the fruitfulness of the earth and the lives of other creatures will be safeguarded…. Benedict XVI puts it better in these words: “The environment is God’s gift to every-one, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.” However, this is very difficult to realize if there is disconnection between liturgy/worship and the real life situation.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council call this a severe misconception: “The split between the faith which they [Christians] profess and the daily lives of many people is to be counted as among the more serious misconceptions of our day.” The words of Scripture and the reflection by the celebrant in a Eucharistic gathering constantly call the worshipping community to model their lives according to what they have heard and seen….
It is in the liturgy, more than elsewhere, that this harmony is realized, because liturgy “brings into the midst of the community the risen Lord, the Lord of creation, with all his compassion and self-giving.” As such, worship can in no way be alienated from the concrete life of the people; otherwise environmental damages already inflicted on nature by technological advancement will not be remedied.
When humans come to the Eucharist, they bring the fruits of creation, and in some way the whole creation, to the eucharistic table. In the Eucharist, creation is lifted up to God in offering and thanksgiving. In the East, the central eucharistic prayer is known as the anaphora, a word which means the lifting-up. The gifts of creation are lifted up to God and the Spirit is invoked to transform the gifts of creation, and the assembled community, into the Body of Christ.
The exercise of this priesthood is not confined to the ordained but is the God-given role of all the faithful. It is not restricted to liturgical celebrations but is meant to happen in the whole of life. It is meant to involve all human interactions with the rest of creation. The “lifting up” of creation is meant to be played out around the planet continually by every human being.
Fundamentally this priestly task is nothing other than an authentic personal love for other creatures in all their specificity, a fully human feeling for them and celebration of them in God. Our stance towards the rest of creation, our personal engagement with it as fully relational beings, is a central dimension of our life before God and salvation in Christ.