Culinary Theology.

Food, at least among the Middle Classes, is something of national obsession. Celebrity chefs have come a long way since Fanny Craddock!

Master Chef, The Great British Bake Off, River Cottage et are for many ‘foodies’ compulsive viewing. Chefs are in many ways our ‘secular saints.’ The latest of chef to be ‘beatified’ is, perhaps, St. Mary Berry; she of Aga fame.

Perhaps as we leave ordinary time and approach Advent we ought to transfer our attention to St. Mary the Mother of Jesus. But, what has the Blessed Virgin got to do with food, how can she be regarded as a ‘culinary theologian,’ I hear you ask. Well quite easily I think, although I suspect her role is more of the commis or sous chef, than celebratory or master chef. Her humility would automatically bar her from the more prestigious role. She isn’t angry enough to mimic St. Gordon!

Food and theology are inextricably linked. Think of all the feast parables. Think of the metaphor of the heavenly banquet. But we need to regard Jesus as the Master Chef, it is He who prepares the banquet. Our responsibility is to provide the hors d’oeuvres, the foretaste which excites the tasted buds, for what is to come. Mary knew this, so did John the Baptist and the early disciples – the ones who met in each others houses to share bread and wine and sing songs of praise (see Acts 2, 46).

 What happened next is intriguing’: ‘Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved,’ (Acts 2, 47). Meeting together to share the hors d’oeuvres resulted in the growth of Christianity! Oh, how we like to complicate things! We frequently seem to  want to ‘create’ the heavenly entree, bake the most exquisite of deserts, provide the finest wines and top it all off with coffee and cigars (alright no cigars!). But, this is not our calling, we need to start off from a far humbler base. Our focus should be on providing the foretaste and not the banquet itself.

So how can this be achieved? Well, one way is through the transformative power of the Eucharist; the earthly feast where we join in praise with ‘the angles, archangels and all the company of heaven.’ The one meal where we all get the same amount of ‘bread’ and where we all drink from a common cup. The Eucharist represents many things to many people but for me its sacramental power lies not so much in what it is but, in what it is designed to do. The Eucharist is the great act of sharing, designed by our Lord to show his equal love for all, to provide a liturgical act which requires no special skills or merits in order to fully participate. All we need to do is to extend our hand and receive the foretaste praying that it will in some way transform us into living sacraments; commis chefs pointing the way to the greatest banquet of all; the eternal banquet. 

Now I am not arguing in favor of imposing a High Mass on every believer and all newcomers. But what I am arguing for is a Eucharistic Theology which testifies to God’s equal love for each and every person, a culinary theology which points the way to the banquet. This will require us to adopt the humility of Mary and to regard ourselves as Jesus’ commis chefs, both in our worship and through the way we live our lives. The two are inextricably linked. Worship should be a dress rehearsal for life?


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