I wish at times that I could string words together that might effectively communicate what it is that I've come to experience as I receive communion. Alas, I'm unable.
But I can find them:
“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.”
The priest spoke those words—he spoke them as he lifted the Eucharist for us all to see—and then I watched as people, called to the “supper of the Lamb,” came to receive Him. There was a crippled man. A single mom and her two kids. A mentally-retarded man. A businessman. My brother. They all walked to the front of this tiny chapel and were given “the body of Christ.”
I started crying as I realized that not only were the “lame, the crippled, and the blind” all called to receive the Lamb, but that they could. It seemed like this was at least part of the answer to my question about the universality of the Church. I had wondered, if a church’s Sunday worship service is primarily a sermon and singing songs, what place is there for children, non-academics, mentally or severely physically handicapped persons? How can it that the grace of God truly extends equally to the mental-athlete and the mentally impaired? At least, in any way that affects this present life?
If the primary means of receiving God’s grace is via “faith alone,” which in our day and age is practically translated into receiving information via a sermon or Scripture reading which produces an intellectual response that somehow affects our lives, then these two men can never receive God equally. Even if worship is expressed through sacrament, but the sacrament is merely a symbol whose real efficacy relies on the subject’s ability to “remember” the meaning of the sacrament (another intellectual task), then hope is lost for this life.
But if God gives himself to man in the form of an efficacious sacrament, as I was watching that day at Mass, then truly his grace is available to all people—from the infant who is sprinkled with the waters of baptism (obviously through no intellectual or moral effort of her own), to the mentally-ill man from the streets of Chicago who is able to swallow the Eucharist as it is placed on his tongue.
Of course, God does give himself to his people through the Word, through the hearing of faith. I in no way mean to belittle or diminish the import or efficacy of the Word of God. I merely mean to emphasize, as it was pointed out to me, that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. And the Word of God promised to remain with us until the end of the age.
The Word of God, who is the Bread of Heaven, said in his own words: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
It wasn’t that I had been totally misled about God’s grace up until this point, but that it was bigger than I had previously known. His grace meant that he not only gave his body for us on the cross 2000 years ago so that all who hear and believe may be saved, but that he continually gives his body to us every day so that all who eat his flesh may abide in him and live.
And this struck me as achingly and overwhelmingly beautiful.
I'm aware that my non-Catholic readers, especially you loyal ones (you know who you are), will have some problems with this. I post it not to cause heartburn, but to simply communicate, or more particularly, link to something that communicates for me, a little of what this sinner is experiencing regularly during Mass of late.
And to also perhaps communicate to you Catholics who aren't quite so regular at Mass what it is you might be missing. Yes, you probably know who you are too.