Oh, yes. Yes it is. What can I say? We work in a church, and spend a lot of time around Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. And it can only be a good sign that my love for the Eucharist is increasing the more time I spend here. Here are just two brief stories from the past fortnight about experiences that have filled me with wonder and awe at the Sacred Mystery of Jesus’s presence in the forms of bread and wine.
During the Tuesday evenings in Lent, I get to co-lead meditations on the Stations of the Cross, with one of the two priests in the parish. Following the Stations, there is a benediction, and the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar and stays there for another hour or so for adoration. It is similar to the guided Holy Hours of Eucharistic Adoration that replaced the evening mass last year during Advent, giving the people of Clonard Parish a chance for a different way of praying together once a week.
Last Tuesday, however, both of the priests were tied up with other obligations, and they asked if I could lead it alone. I said that was fine, for I had already asked one of our daily mass lectors, Elizabeth, if she would so kindly help do the readings for each station. So instead of having her share the readings with the priest, I just divided them up between herself and me. So, all was okay, and I felt good and ready for Stations. But then, I remembered that we normally have benediction afterwards, and so I thought I’d better call Fr. James and ask how we should go about exposing the Eucharist in the absence of a priest.
No, don’t do the benediction or the divine praises, he said. Just quietly bring the Blessed Sacrament out from the tabernacle and put it on display in the monstrance on the altar.
And shall l just ask whichever sacristan is around to do that? I asked.
No, you can do that, Father James replied simply.
Okay. I swallowed hard.
He was right. I can do that, now that I have been trained as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. Still, I had never reached into the tabernacle of a church before, never entered into that place which corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple… the dwelling place of God, where only the highest order of priests could enter. And that was back when it was merely the house for God’s word written on two stone tablets, not yet God’s Word, his only Son, totally incarnate in flesh and blood.
Bye, Cameron, he ended the conversation abruptly.
Well we prayed through the Way of the Cross, and I think that the nervousness, fear, and trembling with which I approached my task brought me close to the wonder and amazement that I’ve been hoping will fill the hearts of all of Clonard’s little Irish students that are preparing to receive communion for the first time. And I certainly did a lot more stumbling and fumbling than most of those children will after their many rehearsals over at Clonard Church. It was a moment of my human clumsiness meeting Divine perfection, and not knowing what to do with itself.
But even while this experience humbled me, it also was a powerful confirmation of just how much my soul desires to be close to the Eucharist for the rest of my life, and if God wills it, to do so as one of His priestly ministers. My terror at exposing the Sacrament exposed in me a profound sense of unworthiness, but just as profound a sense of longing to be made worthy by God. Worthy to reach my trembling hands into that small box where He allows Himself to be contained, and to touch Him, in order to show Him to the world. Worthy to stand behind that Holy table holding aloft the bread and cup, and trying not to stammer the words of Christ that make themselves true: “This is my body…This is my blood.”
And will I ever be so worthy? Probably not in this lifetime. But as Thomas Merton said to his Creator, I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You, Lord. So I thank God for that night, and the renewed strength and hope that it has given to that desire of mine.
The second episode I’ll describe took place during a teaching mass for the First Communion candidates from Scoil Mhuire on Sunday, in the small group session I was leading. I was maybe getting carried away with my ‘let the kids ask questions if they’re curious’ approach, as I was barely getting through a third of the lesson plan I’d written out for myself. But it was all worth it for the precious query that came from one young man in the group in the midst of this extended (and somewhat chaotic) Q&A:
Is it true that when you take Communion, a bit of Jesus’s soul goes into your soul?
For a fleeting moment, my mind was tempted to consider the problematic metaphysical assumptions that are suggested by imagining that one can talk about ‘bits’ of a soul. But thank God I didn’t jump on that train of thought. Instead, I tried to see what the child was really asking, and when I did, my heart melted.
Yes. Yes, that is entirely true, Kid.*
He hit the nail on the head. What’s happening here goes deeper than what our bodies are doing to Christ’s Body. He grasped that the Mystery of the Eucharist goes beyond transubstantiation even, if we allow it too, because Christ’s spirit enters into our hearts. And not perfectly either, but in ‘bits,’ as it were—that is, only insofar as our wills accept Him and His new life. I can never seem to find the words to explain this to 8-year-olds, but this youngster did. So thanks be to God for him.
Peace and many blessings to you all!
* I didn’t actually call him ‘Kid,’ but rather addressed him by his forename. Please excuse the dramatic license, as well as the awkwardly apologetic footnote.