Thich Nhat Hanh on the Meaning of the Christian Liturgy

We have been praising TNH for, among other things, practicing a very deep ecumenism, one that gets inside the bones and blood of religious traditions.  As he says,

“Jesus & Buddha- the similarities.” Image by Suzanne Olsson on Flickr.

There is no conflict at all between the Buddha and the Christ in me.  They are real brothers, they are real sisters within me…A Christian is a continuation of Jesus Christ.  He is Jesus Christ, and she is Jesus Christ.  That is how I see things, this is how I see people. 

He is so right.  He so understands the meaning of the Cosmic Christ who is present within all of us.

This works the other way around also for THN:

A Buddhist is a child of the Buddha, he is, and she is, a continuation of the Buddha, he is the Buddha. 

Clearly, TNH traveled the path of Deep Ecumenism. 

Another example of TNH’s Deep Ecumenism can be found in his insightful teachings about the Christian Mass.  He understands it more deeply, I believe, than many Christian theologians and practitioners.  His naming of the ritual is so deep that we often invoke his words during our Cosmic Masses, such as those we celebrated at the last three gatherings of World Parliaments of Religion. 

Here is what he says about the Mass: First, he tells us about the general spiritual hunger of our times:

Not many people want to become priests in our day, but everyone is hungry.  So many people are hungry for spiritual food, there are so many hungry souls.

“I am the Vine” and “I am the Bread.” Plaques by M.C. Richards in the Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Then he speaks to the meaning of the Mass:

Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood’—Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake us up?  What could Jesus have said that is better than that?

This piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos.  If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos.  Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the  bread.  Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread? The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you come alive, truly alive.

Bingo!  TNH names how the Cosmic Christ and the bread of Christ intermingle.  He knows the Eucharistic mystery from the inside out. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 56, 52.

On the Cosmic Mass, see Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 161f., 363-374, 386f., 390, 448

See also, Matthew Fox and Bishop Marc Andrus, Stations of the Cosmic Christ, pp. 77-82, 89-96, 173f.  

And Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, pp. 212-224.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Eucharist.” Image by Michael Kooiman on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh, do you now understand the mystery of the Christian Eucharist more deeply?  Do you see the world of the cosmos and earth and Cosmic Christ more fully and, in the context of the Eucharist, more intimately?  What does that do for you?  Is it a way by which you come more truly alive?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

Stations of the Cosmic Christ
By Matthew Fox and Bishop Marc Andrus.

This is a book of meditations on the Cosmic Christ, accompanying the images of 16 wonderful clay tablets by Javier Ullrrich Lemus and M.C. Richards. Together, these images and meditations go far beyond the traditional Stations of the Cross to inspire a spirit awakening and understanding of the cosmic Christ Consciousness, Buddha consciousness, and consciousness of the image of God in all beings, so needed in our times.
“A divinely inspired book that must be read by every human being devoted to spiritual and global survival. It is cosmically brilliant.” — Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

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7 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh on the Meaning of the Christian Liturgy”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh and you, I do understand the mystery of the Christian Eucharist more deeply–in terms of panentheism. For If God is in all things, God is in the bread, and if all things are in God, the bread is in God. This helps me see the world of the cosmos and the earth and the Cosmic Christ more fully in the context of panentheism, and therefore in the Eucharist. I have had problems with the idea of transubstantiation–that the bread “becomes” the body of Christ at the words of institution during the mass, and yet , as Aquinas said, the “accidents” remain–that is, that the transubstantiated bread still is just bread–at least to all appearances. The ideas of Panentheism and the Cosmic Christ have saved me on this one!

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    Another piece that can be added to what has already been so beautifully shared, within today’s DM, is Teilhard’s mystical insights, in relationship to the Cosmic Eucharist. We could also see the Eucharist, as a cosmic partaking of the energy of evolutionary LOVE. In partaking of this Cosmic Eucharist we are in reality CONNECTING on an individual and personal level, with the energy of evolutionary LOVE. Within this partaking, we ATTRACT a deeper relationship with this energy of evolutionary LOVE. Through partaking of the Cosmic Eucharist in this way, we join in union with the COMPLEXITIES, on a more social level of rightly relating to the all and the everything, with this energy of evolutionary LOVE. This then leads to experiencing an expanded spirituality of the CONSCIOUSNESS of this energy of evolutionary LOVE. Any moment then, holds the potential of becoming and being a Cosmic Eucharistic encounter with the Cosmic Christ, that energy of evolutionary LOVE, which grounds and roots us in the enfolding and unfolding movements of being and living more deeply in this reality.

  3. Avatar

    Yes, the wonderful little Buddhist monk partook of the Eucharist knowing its deepest truth in Divine LOVE and Their Cosmic, Universal Christ. Yet he too humbly accepted that much is still Great Mystery. }:- a.m.

  4. Avatar

    When I was a teenager in the Lutheran church, we were told that it was strictly forbidden to take communion in, say, a Catholic church. They were still Christians, but not “correct” Christians: they somehow polluted the body and blood of Christ or unknowingly drew from an empty spigot and passed it off as the genuine Jesus Christ (that always puzzled me). And now, some churches have advocated denying communion to those who aren’t anti-abortion: a “sin test” for receiving communion. The sacraments have long been turned into weapons and walls, rather than a partaking in God’s radical, unlimited love and sharing. The deeper meaning of the gospels, its universal mystical layer, has been suppressed and crushed under tribalism and arrogance. Humans have decided that their individual tribe’s definition of God, and ONLY that particular tribe’s, has perfect understanding of –and therefore access to — God.

    1. Avatar

      It is so sad that many “Christians” have forgotten that the communion/Eucharist table belongs to Christ, not to them. There has been too much argument over what happens during the ritual, whether transubstantiation occurs, e.g. As you say, the deeper meaning has been suppressed and crushed.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, And Catholics were forbidden to take communion at a Lutheran Churches! And the sacraments have been turned into weapons and walls and a “sin-test” as you say, for even taking communion. Maybe the idea of panentheism–the idea that God is in all things, and all things are in God, could apply to the Eucharist–the scholastic model of what happened at the Eucharist both in substance and liturgically, is something that was conceived of with 2,000-year-old-“science.” I believe that Creation Spirituality, with its understanding of panentheism, can be a more relevant form for the Eucharist to take.

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