Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 2004
Celebrate the mystery of the Mass
The Eucharist is the sacrament of sacraments
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
The town where I live is built on a hill that is its namesake: Beaumont. At the crest of that hill stands a towering brick church, built in a fine French Catholic tradition: St. Vital Parish. The red brick church is plainly visible for miles around, its bell tower pointing toward the heavens.
Generations of farmers have called St. Vital their parish; their children were baptized there; its bell pealed to announce their weddings and tolled for family funerals. The graveyard at the back of the church bears markers dating back more than 100 years. Each night, large floodlights illuminate the exterior of the grand old building. St. Vital is, well, vital to the spiritual and community life of my town.
Summer night meditationOne stifling hot summer night, I awoke to a familiar but dreaded sizzling sensation in my legs. My old nemesis multiple sclerosis was visiting. Unable to go back to sleep, I eventually transferred from bed to wheelchair and went outside and stopped under some large boughs of Manitoba maples in my backyard.
I looked up the hill to the reassuring, steady sight of the illuminated church. Everything was peaceful, barring that horrible sizzling sensation. I gazed up through the branches of the trees into the dark serenity of a starry sky. It is my sacred little place in the world where I've spent countless hours throughout many years contemplating, praying, searching, looking to understand rather than to see. What more could any man desire?
A sudden gust of warm wind swayed the branches above me. Leaves rustled as though whispering, "Do not be afraid. I am here." My soul expanded in ecstasy then contracted in shame: ecstasy to know He was near and shame knowing my life was deeply stained by a litany of sin. Confession. Forgiveness. Divine embrace.
Leaves rustled again but carried no further whisper. My momentary joy vanished as quickly as it had come. All that remained was a yard bathed in moonlight and the great old church on the hill bathed by floodlights. The sizzling sensation in my legs remained but ceased to matter. I was left with a sense of awe that somehow he visited me; tears of joy streamed down my face.
Why should I find an encounter with Christ peculiar? Every day the church bell at the top of the hill announces daily Mass - a Mass that climaxes with the Holy Eucharist. Christ is actually present in the holy sacrament of Communion. He told us, "This is my body."
The Church Fathers taught the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the bread and wine. The Church is emphatic about this teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in the sacrament" (nos.1375-1377).
Real presence of ChristThese daily encounters with the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or its adoration, should be profoundly more moving than some man's vague romance about a divine encounter under maple trees.
Of the seven sacraments of the Church the Eucharist is unique; it is the sacrament of sacraments. But what do I know - I'm not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. I wait with great anticipation for the Eucharistic feast.
What a joyous anticipation! No more will I fumble clumsily trying to celebrate Communion or gloss over its significance in the economy of salvation. It will be framed as the summit in the Sacrifice of the Mass - a mystery I will never fully comprehend in this life. I can merely bask in its beauty and Christ's love. For now, I can only celebrate the mystery of the Mass, in part, and forego the Eucharist. The prayer the Blessed Sacrament Beads must suffice:
"As I cannot now receive thee, my Jesus, in Holy Communion, come spiritually into my heart and make it thine own forever. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament have mercy on us."
When it is my time to enter the summit of the Mass, I must be steadfast in holding the Holy Eucharist with the highest reverence. It is the body of Christ. And I must never take the sacrament lightly or in an unworthy manner with unconfessed sin. It would make a mockery of our Lord's sacrifice.
I must remember always, everywhere and in all circumstances, the holiness of the Eucharist and act accordingly. Jesus said, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:56).
I pray that as every Mass concludes, I (and all celebrants) will be stirred to the core of our humanity by a sense of awe - awe that somehow we have encountered Jesus in the Eucharist. With great anticipation I look forward to full participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass. I pray it never ceases to lift me (and all celebrants) into heavenly realms, culminating with a Eucharistic banquet at which our Lord abides.
Listen! Can you hear a gentle wind blowing (see John 3:8), rustling the leaves of the vine (John 15:1)? I think I can hear a whisper: "I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53).
Letter to the Editor - 07/26/04
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