"Reel Presence": Movies That Can Help You Teach about the Eucharist
by Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS
"I myself am the living bread that came down from heaven" (John 6:51).
For more discussion ideas and activities, see “Using Movies to Teach about the Eucharist” at the end of this article.
“I myself am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). How will you translate something as abstract as the Eucharist into something concrete so your students will have something around which they can wrap their young minds and hearts? Try food. And movies. Better yet try food in movies.
Go ahead. Make a list of movies that come to mind and, chances are, food will be present. Thus, what better way to teach about the Bread of Life than with scenes your students have seen or will see? May I share some of the scenes I think you might be able to incorporate into your lesson on Jesus’ abiding Presence?
The Eucharist as Spiritual Food
The French are known for their love of good food, to such an extent that food and fine art can be used in the same sentence. The movie Ratouille weaves the cliché “You are what you eat” with fine art into a story about our redeemed dignity. Remy, a country rat, finds himself in Paris and—by pluck, luck, or perhaps destiny—ends up in the restaurant of his culinary hero.
While the movie is punctuated with a number of zany adventures, it is also a morality tale. One of Remy’s voiceover comments sums up what he tries to tell his family throughout the movie. “This much I knew. If you are what you eat, then I only wanna eat the good stuff.” In other words, “We don’t have to settle for garbage.”
We, too, can ask ourselves, “Do I want to eat the ‘good stuff’ spiritually?”
The Eucharist as an Invitation to Self-Knowledge
During one scene in Jurassic Park, three scientists, the park’s creator, and a lawyer sit down to eat. What ensues is no polite dinner conversation. One by one the scientists begin to question the morality of the park’s underlying science. Oddly enough, it is a mathematician who first speaks up, noting how the laws of nature have been given little respect and reverence. The discussion grows more intense and the food goes untouched—a reminder that our hunger will not be fed if we fail to approach that which is greater than ourselves with a sense of wonder and awe.
During this discussion, an implied invitation for self-discovery is directed to John Hammond, which he repeatedly refuses. Saint Teresa of Avila commented on such need for self-awareness when she wrote, “And self-knowledge with regard to sin is the bread which must be eaten with food of every kind, however dainty it may be on this road to prayer . . .” (Life, ch.13, sec. 15).
The Eucharist as Reconciliation and Community Feast
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a delightful and insightful version of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The punch line to the movie happens when the Grinch discovers that “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
After a wild ride down the mountain, the Grinch returns everything and apologizes to the entire town for stealing its Christmas items. Not only is he welcomed back into the community but he becomes the guest of honor at the annual Christmas feast.
The Eucharist as the Celebration of Forgiveness
The unexpected hit Bella shines with scenes of celebration and forgiveness and this celebration revolves around food preparation. During the movie, two meals are being prepared—one at a restaurant and another in a Hispanic household—and they are presented in stark contrast to each other. Jose’s brother who owns the restaurant is a petty tyrant, yet his family reverences not only their meal together but also its preparation.
Jose, hiding behind large glasses and a full beard, works at the restaurant which is a far cry from his almost multimillion-dollar soccer contract. That “almost” sets the stage for Jose’s need for redeeming forgiveness. During the course of the movie, Jose is not only redeemed but also becomes a Christ figure to Nina.
The Eucharist as Sacrifice
Last but not least is the first in C. S. Lewis’ series of stories for children, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Central to the plot is Edmund’s eating of Turkish Delight, a gift from the White Witch. Rather than becoming the king of Narnia as he is promised, Edmund ends up becoming a slave to the White Witch.
Due to Edmund’s transgression, atonement must be rendered and it is Aslan who will take Edmund’s place as a sacrifice. Not only is Edmund freed but all Narnia is liberated from the power of the White Witch.
In these symbols the movie echoes the fall of Adam and Eve and Jesus’ redemptive death.
Movies often tell stories of ordinary people doing ordinary things. Unfortunately, food and meals are so ordinary that we seldom give them a second thought. This has not always been the case. Since the time of Abraham, the Jews considered food and hospitality a sacred duty, with Passover the annual high point of that tradition. The Last Supper would foreshadow Jesus’ sacrifice and from that first Eucharist onward, his message has been, “This is how I want you to remember me: I am broken like bread—bread that will nourish your hearts.”
During the next movie you watch, notice how food is present. See if you can catch a glimpse of Jesus’ presence—transforming and healing broken lives. You may discover an idea for a lesson plan that can help your students better appreciate the power of the Eucharist in their lives.
Have students discuss the difference between the words “presence” and “Presence.”
Have students role-play catechists discussing a movie scene or scenes about food. Encourage students to think like catechists who are previewing the moving and considering using the scene or scenes in a lesson on Eucharist.
Select a movie scene as a parable that Jesus might use to teach his followers about his Presence to us in the Eucharist. Role-play the scene.
After watching a scene involving food in a movie, ask students how they would use that scene to explain the Eucharist to someone their age.
View a movie scene about food or a meal and consider how the scene might help us understand the Mass as both sacrifice and meal.
Help students think about making a movie about the Eucharist. What symbols would they include?
Sister Lou Ella has a master’s degree in theology from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX. She has taught at all levels for over seventeen years and has served as a part-time librarian.
Using Movies to Teach about the Eucharist
* The Mass has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. How can the Liturgy of the Word be food and Presence? What movie scene or scenes could be a symbol or type of Liturgy of the Word?
* A teenager asked, “Why did Jesus choose to remain with us in the Eucharist, in bread and wine?” Have students brainstorm answers to this question. How might a movie or a movie scene help to answer this question?
* Jesus chose bread, wine, and a meal to be the gift of himself. Why is a meal a perfect gift from Jesus to us?
* Jesus says to invite the poor and the lame to dine with us. Create a movie scene in which Jesus’ concern for those who are rejected is beautifully dramatized.
* Pray the Litany of the Blessed Sacrament with your students. Have students pray for: a) all the hungry children of the world; b) all the hungry children of America and/or the state in which you live; c) all the hungry children of your immediate vicinity. Help students organize a program to collect food for your parish St. Vincent de Paul program.
* Have students review for Eucharistic symbols in church. Students can use these images to make booklets titled “Eucharistic Symbols in our Church.” They can give the booklets to the members in the RCIA program. Be sure to include an explanation about the meaning of each symbol.
* Have students bring to class a recipe for bread from another country. Talk about the symbolic and nutritional value of bread.
* Have students research the ways different countries honor the Eucharist. Create a booklet and/or incorporate these items into the booklet about bread (see activity above).
* Read Mark 6:30-41, the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Talk about what might have happened to the boy who gives Jesus the five loaves and two fish.
* Have older students prepare holy cards with a picture or symbol of the Eucharist and a traditional Eucharistic prayer. If possible, laminate the cards. Have students give these to students making their First Communion. As an alternative, students could write their own prayers.
* Ask a Eucharistic minister to speak to your class about his or her ministry. If possible, ask the pastor to speak about what it means for him to celebrate Mass. Ideally, have your pastor bring to class vestments and sacred vessels for a simple presentation and explanation of the actions and prayers of the Mass. This would make an excellent lesson on vocations.
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