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Document Details :
Title: An Agape of Eating
Subtitle: The Eucharist as Substitution (Levinas)
Author(s): PURCELL, Michael
Volume: 57 Issue: 3 Date: 1996
The Eucharist is food to be consumed, as Trent clearly states when it states that the sacrament was instituted ut sumatur. Emmanuel Levinas, however, reflecting on the phenomenology of eating, points to the essentially destructive character of eating, which, responding to the emptiness of need, seeks satisfaction through violent and totalising act in which the alterity of what is other is assimilated through the violence of teeth and tongue and incorporated into the same. Contrasted with eating, Levinas proposes loving as the phenomenological model of expressing the inter-human relationship, for loving contests the ego-dominating tendency to totalise for the Other, as other, is always in excess of the subjective power of appropriation. The Other maintains himself beyond the intentionality of the subject who would assign signification to the Other in terms of the Same, which is to suggest, says Levinas, that there is a 'signification where the for of the one-for-the-other, outside of any correlation and any finality, is a for of total gratuity, breaking with interest', a proximity 'which does not turn into a knowing' nor form 'an ontological conjunction of satisfaction'. Paradoxically, however, the Christian community, each time it gathers for its eucharistic agape, celebrates, in the context of a meal, a Lord who gives himself to be eaten as food.
This article attempts to show that the eucharistic significance of taking and eating only has meaning when its signification is the 'one-for-the-other' of substitution. Substitution rather than transubstantiation expresses the meaning of the eucharist. The Eucharist is that event of substitution, in which Christ, the perfect 'one-for-the-other' of substitution and expiation, draws close in the proximity and sensibility of sacrament and evokes responsibility in us such that we, sharing in his meal, are constituted no longer according to the for-itself of subjectivity, but as the one-for-the-other of responsibility.