The importance of feasting in the Christian tradition

Posted by Bridgid Smith on Apr 24, 2019 7:00:00 AM
Bridgid Smith

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“Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Scripture tells me to “eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks” and rejoice with those around me? Sign me up! For someone who doesn’t require much convincing to call a feast, this reading is a welcome invitation.

While I generally commit enthusiastically to any invitation to feast, this passage from Nehemiah caused me to think more deeply about the concept of feasting. I wondered: What is the place and importance of feasting in the Christian life? Why is it emphasized and how might we begin to cultivate such feasting in our own lives?

Mass and the Eucharistic Feast

To think about the importance of feasting, we can think first of the Mass and how, as the source and summit of the entire Christian life (Lumen Gentium, 11), the Eucharistic Feast is at the very center of liturgical life in the Church. Every Sunday, we gather to partake in the supper of the Lamb and celebrate the joy of the Resurrection. We participate in a sacramental banquet to be nourished by the Lord’s body and blood and worship him in community. We share in a sacred meal with the faithful as a way of offering thanksgiving and praise to God. We proclaim with the Psalmist, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!” (Psalm 118:24).

Although the Mass can sometimes feel like an ordinary part of our day or weekend, we must not forget that the Eucharist is ultimately a feast, a call to rest and rejoice as we offer ourselves to the Lord.

Other feasts in the Church

In addition to the Mass, the Church emphasizes feasting in myriad other ways. We celebrate the feast days of saints, events that mark salvation history, and the dedication of churches all to commemorate the ways the Lord has been and continues to be at work in the world. This rhythm of feasting reminds us of our duty to put God at the heart of everything we do.

Our regular feasting also calls us back to the order of creation where God himself institutes rest on the seventh day as the culmination of his work and commands us to do the same. By his own example, God invites us to see the Eucharistic Feast of the sabbath (and the other feasts that stem from it) not just as an addendum if we have time but as the source, center and culmination of our existence.

St. John Paul II furthers the Christian reason for feasting when he writes, “God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us.” By reminding us of the order, meaning and purpose of our lives, feasting is a way to experience and participate in God’s divine joy. It also gives us an incredible opportunity to extend Christ’s hospitality and generosity to others, to “give allotted portions to those who have nothing prepared” and to invite them to experience the joy of Jesus and community as well.

A small way to practice feasting as a family

My family's special plate for celebrations and feasts.Ever since I can remember, my family has had a feasting tradition, the special plate. For feast days, birthdays—you could even do baptismal days, anniversaries or particular family celebrations you like to commemorate—we bring out the special plate. It’s a beautiful red plate that was a wedding gift to my parents, and it instantly sets the meal apart.

Simply but tangibly, this tradition taught me that taking time to celebrate—in community and in thanksgiving for what the Lord has done—matters. I wasn’t able to articulate the reasons for feasting as a child but I knew it was important! Without extensive planning or preparation, the special plate also serves as one of our family’s gestures of hospitality and love to visitors. We always look forward to celebrations and guests just so someone can come to our house and use the plate!

This is just one simple example of how feasting has been present in my life and served as a joyful reminder of God’s love and an occasion of community that strengthens us and helps us to rejoice in the Lord. I encourage you to think about ways feasting can become part of your rhythm of life, too. If you have any ideas or experiences of feasting, please share them in the comments below.

Topics: Practice, liturgy, traditions, feast days

Living and Handing on the Faith

The McGrath Institute Blog helps Catholics live and hand on their faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the family, home and parish, and cultivates and inspires everyday leaders to live out the fullness and richness of their faith in the simple, little ways that make up Church life.

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