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It’s Not “Just” A Symbol


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Catholics bristle when the Eucharist is referred to as a symbol not simply because we believe in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament but also because we have come to think a symbol is merely “like” what it represents, standing for something that is absent, not present.

But a deeper understanding of this word shows that a true symbol catches up in itself more than it could possibly be imagined to contain. Infinitely more than the sum of its parts, a symbol holds and reveals more than it appears to be: a universe of meaning, experience and reality. A symbol does not stand alone. Ritual activity functions as the context in which a symbol is proclaimed, celebrated and entered into by those who revere it.

While not in the least attempting to put the Eucharist and graduation ceremonies on equal footing, let me suggest that a university commencement is a ritual of symbol-making in just the sense I have described.

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