The Mass that changed my life
On a muggy Thursday in June, I was setting up microphones and readying vessels and vestments for weekday Mass in the chapel at Notre Dame University. (To call it a “chapel” is an understatement. You can see a picture of it here.) It was the summer of my freshman year in college, and I’d been invited to a Study Week on Liturgy. Room, board, and admission to the study week in exchange for all the grunt work that needed doing.
At 8:00 a.m., the musicians were in place, the presider and the servers were ready, and the readers were set to go. And then”¦nothing. Everything was beyond still. It was like the silence before the final, tie-breaking putt on the 18th hole at the Masters Golf Tournament.
Then the music started. In slow motion at first, like the golf ball starting toward the hole with just enough movement. Then gathering speed, nearing the hole, faster now, closer, right to the lip and then hanging on the edge. Everyone holding their breath. Will it fall? Will it score? Will it win the day?
The rest of the liturgy was on that edge. On the tip of wonder. Suspended in time.
The presider processed and bowed. Prayer flowed from him like heavenly trumpets announcing a new day. Ordinary people became prophets as they proclaimed the Word of God. The wafer and wine at communion tasted like honey. We sang, enraptured in thanksgiving. And the ball fell, the day was won. My heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t move.
If you would have been there, everything might have seemed very ordinary. I think it seemed that way to most of the others at that Mass. But for me, I fell into that hole and went through to a new reality. In that hour-that-was-a-millisecond, I saw all of my life unfolded from that liturgical golf ball. I saw that I was an integral part of everything that had brought us to that unique moment in time.
The body of Christ
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond 'Amen' ('yes, it is true!') and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, 'the Body of Christ and respond 'Amen.' Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true.
—(St. Augustine) Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1396
In high school, the time I spent with my evangelical classmates had given me a passion for reading Scripture. I was fascinated with Paul’s teaching that when we are baptized, we become part of the body of Christ. Growing up, I had always thought of the “body of Christ” as the wafer I ate at communion time in the Mass.
Catholics believe that during the Mass, the bread and wine are changed into the real body and blood of Jesus. For a long time, that whole idea of Christ’s presence was, in my mind, isolated to the consecrated bread and wine. So, when I was old enough to start receiving communion, I believed Jesus was “outside” of me until I swallowed the wafer. After that, he was “within” me.
As I read more of St. Paul’s writings and began to see a fuller image of Jesus through my evangelical friends, I understood that the “body” wasn’t limited to just communion.
But it wasn’t until that Mass at Notre Dame that everything clicked. All of the baptized are one with Christ and are the body of Christ—all the time. Throughout all time. And it is in the Mass, at the moment when we are hanging on the lip of time, that we are most clearly the body of Christ. It is then when we look most like Christ and act most like Christ. It is then, especially when we share in communion, when we are most one with Christ. It is not that Christ is not present outside of the Mass or outside of communion. It is that Christ is present in a way that is “par excellance” more real or more actual or more vital than at other times in our lives.
You may have noticed that in this post I’m using the word “Christ,” when in previous posts I was talking about “Jesus.” In the next post, I’ll say a word about why that is.
But first, I’d like to hear from you.
- Where do you experience the presence of Christ?
- Do you always feel like you are part of the body of Christ?
- What do you do in your everyday life to feel more one with Christ?
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