A homily at Sunday Mass drew attention to the link between sacramentality and food (a previous post has also similarly broached this link). The homily made particular reference to the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast.
In the movie the erotic dimension of French Catholicism unexpectedly visits a pious Protestant town in the form of opera and food. These seemingly carnal pursuits, far from leading to the downfall of the town, end up stirring and reviving emotions and bonds that were once deemed non-existent or irredeemably broken. One character, a playboy turned cynical military man, is even led to declare his realisation of the infinitude of mercy and a life surging with grace through eating a pie.
The homily drew attention to the name of the pie, Cailles en Sarcophage (Quail in a Sarcophagus). The sarcophagus is a tomb, a flesh eater which is, unfortunately for the quail, vividly evident in the pie. The death of the quail, and the flesh-eating properties of the pie, are in turn swallowed up by the diners.
Read in a sacramental lens, this simple act of eating a pie can be seen as an analogue for the ultimate sacramental action, namely the Eucharist. The Eucharist – which literally means thanksgiving – constantly reminds us that the Eucharistic food is given to us through the goodness of God, mediated through the earth and the vine. The sacrifice of the Mass, remembering the Passion of Jesus Christ, is then eaten by the congregation, and death is quite literally swallowed up.
In a strange twist, however, Augustine reminds us that in the Eucharist, we are consumed by what we consume. And what ultimately gets swallowed up is our death , as we become swallowed up into the body of Christ that we have previously eaten. The revivifying of emotions and bonds in Babette’s Feast is a faint echo of that Eucharistic action where, in our being swallowed up by the Christ that we have swallwed up, the words of 1 Corinthians 15:54 are enacted
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.