For the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to observe something so beautiful that I was moved to tears while sitting in the pew at Mass. Although I love our parish and the ways we celebrate the Liturgy, this observation had nothing to do with any formal Rite or ritual specific for this Sunday. And yet, the sacrament I observed has had a lasting impact and its memory has lingered into the weeks that have followed.
Something about the way that it happened, I suppose.
On retreat this past spring with the women from my small church community, I confided that (at my best) I have experienced this deep appreciation for my participation in the Communion of Saints—particularly as the gathered community approaches the Eucharist. That there is something so compelling and intimate in the way we physically sign onto this belief by way of approaching the Eucharistic table, all together. It is to say, “Yes!,” “Amen,” and getting onto my feet to walk with the aged, the young, those who seem to have it all together and those who wear their lives on their bodies and faces; all to approach the God that loves and created each of us. A priest friend of mine might remind me that I am appreciating the many ‘unique expressions of God’s creative love.’
The first experience I can recall of this deep love for Christ’s Body in-the-pews was at a Good Friday service in my home parish in high school. I remember staring as everyone in our gathered community, approached the altar and tenderly kissed the cross. Simultaneously, such an intimate and public expression of the love for the Savior and a glimpse into the relationship between humanity and God.
Years later, in a small parish in the rural Midwest, I began assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion. This time it was the hands of Christ’s Body that moved me. As each member approached the Eucharist, hands extended, I gleaned a small bit of their story. From very practiced grade-schoolers, hands folded across their chests; men whose hands so clearly indicated the effects that toiling the land had had on them; young manicured hands; arthritic hands, soft and frail from a lifetime of nourishing and nurturing others. All of these stories offered up and reaching for the source of strength before heading back into daily life. And so it is with this vision that I hope to participate in the Mystical Body.
Years of working with a boy with Cerebral Palsy and reading the insights of Jean Vanier have helped me to recognize the sacred vulnerability and realness in individuals with physical limitations whose journey necessitates a companion. This interdependence cuts to the core of who we are and who God calls us to be for others. So I know myself well enough to acknowledge my awareness of those in our parish with physical disabilities, especially as of late.
There is one man in our parish who I have recently noticed. He appears to be my own father’s age. He sits in the back of church with his family in a reclining wheel chair, under a Broncos blanket. He is assisted by a young man—a senior in high school or college maybe. I suspect he may be this man’s son.
It is the tenderness with which this young man accompanies his charge that, I have realized, elicits such an emotional response in me. As the man appears to be unable to receive the host, each week his companion lovingly and carefully becomes his Eucharistic minister—in a physical and spiritual sense—creatively and reverently assisting in his reception from the cup. I cannot but be reminded of the Transubstantiation—the act that took place minutes earlier when we believe that the bread and wine becomes Jesus.
Take. Eat. And become what you have received.
Companionship is unscripted work. It can be awkward, and it always means getting involved in the lived experience of another person. Each Gospel writer includes a description of the first Eucharist, though John’s description stands out as a bit more direct—and a perfect metaphor in this instance. Rather than any formal instruction on the meaning of bread and wine, John’s Jesus takes off his outer garments, kneels and takes the worn and dirty feet of the disciples into his hands and washes them—lovingly and creatively leading by example (John 13:4-15).
To the young man who sits behind me at Mass—I want you to know that I see your lived participation in the Eucharist. You are a sacrament in my life. An outward sign of an inward grace. Your lived example inspires me and I am honored to approach our Lord at table with you in this Communion of Saints.