Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Daily Bread Addendum

Do you recall that favorite professor of mine, alluded to in yesterday's post?

He wrote a powerful and inspiring response to my reflections about daily Mass, which I would like to share with all of you:

The theologian Nicholas Lash once wrote that the word "and" is often the most important word in Catholic theology. I find him correct on that account. In my favorite modern work on the Eucharist, "The Sacrament of Charity," Pope Benedict XVI explains how the Conciliar emphasis on full and active participation in the Eucharist by the laity "must be understood in more substantial terms." It must be founded "on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated AND its relationship to daily life" [article 52]. 

The first part of that statement reminds me that the Eucharist is first and foremost a "mystery to be celebrated," not primarily a dogma to be understood. It remains a dogma whether or not I understand it or even if I'm inattentive. Some mornings I'm not even sure how I got there. But it's never about me; it is about the mystery, the sacrifice, the meal. Somehow, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ is made available to me. Do I understand that? I never have; but the rest of my life, with all its beauty, is poor without it. 

The second part of Benedict's teaching is one I often overlook or trivialize: "AND its relationship to daily life." This is why what you and Kathleen [a teacher who brings her second grade class to Mass] have said is awesome in the true meaning of that word. For some reason the Lord wants us to bring OUR daily life to the Eucharist, not just vice-versa. Our daily lives are, in some fundamental way, related to the enactment of the Eucharist. Don't know how. That blows me away. It is Mary with her clanking pail and Peter with his interrupted nap that both perfect perfection. 

I am certainly no authority on how others view their need for forgiveness (my confessor calls me "over scrupulous," so what do I know?), but I see Kathleen's very presence with those 19 children as INTEGRAL to that particular Eucharistic celebration. Mozart shrugged off Protestantism because he thought it was "All in the head." Mystery strikes us everywhere in Catholicism; it assaults our senses in a joyful way. I believe God is delighted by the presence of 19 children simply there at Mass. He made them; I think He likes it when they swing by the house. 

It was Flannery O'Connor who said that Catholics should be taught to distrust their feelings in relation to sacraments. Ex opere operato is not just a dictum that allows us to flatter bad priests, it has another side that we don't often consider: sacraments do not work because of the righteousness of the RECIPIENTS either (CCC, 1128). 

When I walk through that door each morning, I am taking a huge risk. I may find myself looking into the eyes of that extraordinary minister who REALLY believes she is offering me Christ. When I place myself in the mystery simply by putting my shoulder to the door, sometimes unkempt, often half conscious, always kind of suspicious that His grace is sure to catch me off guard again, I am exactly where He wants me. Nobody should ever deprive oneself of that chance. Bring them all, every time. It's His house, not ours. We're just fortunate enough to have been given the gift of knowing we're on the guest list. When we seriously consider it in relationship to our daily lives, we know he wants us to be the ones who give others the chance of learning that staggering fact for themselves.

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