Feb. 25, 2013
A Roman Meal
Teaching the Eucharist Takes on Special Meaning
A huge crowd fills St. Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict XVI’s final Sunday Angelus blessing.
When I teach about the Eucharist one of the “models” I use is that it is a meal, of a sacred and sacrificial kind, but still a meal. But I am also very aware that in America the family meal is disappearing. We all have so many commitments and we are often on such different schedules that dining together at dinner is sometimes just impossible. In fact, in a major history of food and dining published last year the author dedicated the last chapter to “sink dining” — to dining alone standing at the kitchen sink.
When I spoke to my class here in Rome two weeks ago about the Italian notion and experience of a meal many offered comments about what they are experiencing living with “host families.” One student commented about the fact that the Romans go food shopping almost daily. Another commented that sometime during his lunch hour the father of her host family would go shopping for the food the wife asked him to buy for dinner. (Who cooked dinner was not divulged.) Another commented admiringly about how the mother of her host family worked and yet every night fixed a three-course meal for the family.
I recounted my first day in graduate studies when I first entered the dining room of the North American College (NAC) and saw that at each table there was a basket with bread in it, a carafe of water, and a carafe of wine. I realized that lunch in Rome would be a whole new experience. I realized then that my understanding of the Eucharist would never be the same. I also recounted that I do a lot of cooking for myself here and that I have been recommended to a butcher, a produce market, and a bakery. I am a regular “client” and welcomed with a smile when I enter. Rome is a city of relationships!
I returned to the North American College for lunch last week. I had served on the faculty there from 1977 to 1980 and therefore was in Rome for “the year of the three Popes” (1978) — Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, and Pope John Paul II. I arrived early and stopped by the office of the rector, Monsignor Jim Checchio of Camden, N.J. He was as welcoming and gracious as ever. We compared notes about “my time” at the college during the conclaves and current events.
It looks as though all the American Cardinals will be staying at NAC. In 1978, half stayed there and half stayed at the Villa Stritch, a residence in Rome for American priests serving in the Vatican. Monsignor Checchio said that the cardinals will start arriving on Feb. 25, and that even some of those over the age of 80 who cannot vote will be coming. This includes my own former archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York. (I am, in fact, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York who has been given permission to work at CUA. But New York is my home — something I rarely hide!). Three other American cardinal electors live in Rome, Cardinals Raymond Burke, James Harvey, and Edwin O’Brien (a fellow New Yorker).
Because of the number of cardinals and clergy visitors to NAC, including some of the staff of the Washington, D.C.-based United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, the faculty will be giving over their dining room to them. I suspect that, like any Italian meal, the conversations will not just be “about the food.”
The seminarians I spoke with were all shocked at Pope Benedict’s announcement. I was relieved to learn that they, like me, had more questions than answers. In fact, some of the seminarians and priest students at the NAC assist our CUAbroad students with a spiritual program of talks, visits, and Masses.
On the first Sunday after the students arrived, the other staff and I took them to St. Peter’s Basilica for the solemnity of the Epiphany, where Pope Benedict XVI presided at Mass and ordained four archbishops. The next week many students went with the seminarians to the Basilica of Santa Sabina (on the Aventine Hill), where the Dominican fathers have their headquarters. The students participated in Mass in the very rooms where St. Dominic lived. Next Sunday the students are invited to attend Mass at the Basilica of the Four Crowned Martyrs (the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati) located behind the Coliseum on the Caelian Hill and after Mass will visit with some of the cloistered Augustinian nuns who live there.
Monsignor Irwin on a terrace that overlooks the square.
On Feb. 24, I attended the last Sunday Angelus blessing that Pope Benedict XVI would ever give. I was privileged to view it from the terrace overlooking St. Peter’s, where Cardinal William Levada lives (I know, name dropping!). Cardinal Levada is a friend from when he worked on the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and I was on the NAC faculty. After Benedict XVI was elected Pope, the first appointment he made was to have then Archbishop Levada replace him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
I was on the terrace with Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., a friend who teaches half the year here at Sant’Anselmo, my alma mater. After the blessing, we walked to my apartment for lunch. I had the sauce on the stove simmering — tomato and meat with bits of sausage. The second course was veal cutlet with a lemon sauce and mushrooms. Of course we also ate a bit of bread and drank red wine. I do my best to avoid sink dining!
A Roman meal is a privileged time. A Sunday Roman meal is a time for the whole family to gather and enjoy one another’s company and the food. Placing such a priority on sharing food together reminds us, literally, of meals Jesus shared with friends in the gospels. No wonder that he chose the Last Supper as his farewell. From a meal that would lead us to share in the sacred, sacrificial meal of the Eucharist. Some things are easier to teach about the Eucharist here — based on a Roman meal.