Catholic Girl Journey

The first Eucharist

Oh the smell of freshly baked bread; it makes one feel at home. In ancient times, one did not go to the store to buy bread, it would have been made at home. I wonder who made the bread for the first Eucharist?

I love receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and I equally enjoy spending time with Him in adoration, but the perfect round host is vastly different from what was used at the Last Supper. It was an unleavened bread, but was it round or oval/rectangular? Did it have any flavoring to it, like some olive oil or honey? Was it large, like pie-sized, or small, like a dessert plate? While the details may not matter in terms of belief, thinking about them can draw us closer to Jesus, especially to His human nature.

The month of May seems to be popular for children receiving their first Holy Communion and is synonymous with Mary, as she is often crowned during May processions. These two ideas collided in my head and made me wonder if Mary made the bread for the first Eucharist? We know she was in Jerusalem, since she was at the foot of the cross. And being Jesus’s mom, I’m sure she helped His earthly ministry in whatever ways she could. It almost seems like a logical progression: she gave birth to Jesus, and thus provided Him with His human body, so who else would be the one to make the bread that would become the first Eucharist, the transubstantiated presentation of Jesus Himself? And did she continue making the bread that was used for the Eucharistic celebrations after Jesus ascended into heaven?

Picture the scene at that Last Supper when Jesus picked up the bread made by Mary with a mother’s love, and blessed it, performing the first consecration, and then shared it with the people He loved the most, the men he called to follow Him. Now wrap that all up into the host the next time you receive Communion or are in adoration. It’s food for thought and prayer.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Empty and full

On Good Friday, the church is filled with people who come to commemorate the Passion and Death of Jesus. The tabernacle door is open wide and it is empty. The sanctuary candle next to it: extinguished. The familiar visible signs of the presence of God are absent.

We read the Passion from John’s Gospel. The leaders of the Jewish community are filled with hate for Jesus. Full of pride for their position as respected officials, these learned men seek the utter destruction of Jesus. The Roman soldiers are filled with violence, finding and outlet in the abuse of Jesus; mocking him as the King of the insignificant local community. Jesus empties Himself completely, not just by dying on the cross, but in the spilling of the precious Blood and water which flowed from His side. In a surprising fullness of courage, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus claim Jesus’ body and where it fills the void of the tomb that awaited a body.

The tomb could not hold Jesus. He would rise and leave it empty for his disciples to find. The tabernacle cannot stay empty for long, as the Easter Vigil Mass fills it with the newly consecrated hosts. The church is filled with Easter decor of flowers and incense as she welcomes new members to God’s flock. And the song of Alleluia fills the building and echoes off the walls.

The starkness of the Good Friday liturgy heightens our awareness of the Eucharistic presence of God. In the emptiness and fullness it exemplifies the destruction of sin in our lives when we choose our will over God’s will for us. The fullness of Easter fills the empty places, even that of the tomb, with joy of God’s presence among us. The light of Jesus’ example is not merely like that of a candle, but rather like that of the sun on a cloudless day. It reminds us that even if we have to suffer to do God’s will, we can rejoice because Jesus rose from the dead and in the fullness of time, He will come to take us home to heaven with Him.

Catholic Girl Journey

Just Him and me

My eyes closed. My head bowed. I was still. It was just Him and me.

During the homily, the priest mentioned that the founder of the Community of St. John wrote we are most ourselves when we are in adoration of God. That was a rather powerful statement; it resonated with me throughout the rest of the Mass.  The Community of St. John has been an inspiration to many, even aiding in conversions. The humility of all the members is evident in  the way they don’t just kneel, but bow down, even to the point of lying prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament. They know they are the created and He is their Creator.

While I do make an effort to concentrate when I attend Mass, it is very easy to get distracted. This time, I just kept thinking that I was there to adore God. It was the one and only reason to be there. Going up to receive communion, the choir was singing, “Lead me to the cross.” As I was waiting to receive, I was thinking the song was more of a Lenten song than one for a communion procession.  After receiving, I came back to the pew with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes knowing I was a vessel containing Jesus. I do often close my eyes when praying after communion; it helps to block out the distractions. This time was different; closing my eyes heightened my hearing to listen to the song. Now, it seemed very appropriate, as Jesus offered his Body for us on the cross. This same Jesus was present to me in the host as I recited the Anima Christi prayer, “…Water flowing from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me.” It was like I was there at the foot of the cross, praying. It was just Jesus and me.

The brightness of the lights as I opened my eyes brought me back to church. A precious moment with such intensity is a rare occasion. I wish everyone could, at least just once in their lifetime, have a similar experience, feeling Jesus’ presence, not just physically in the host, but spiritually in the soul.

Catholic Girl Journey

Open hands

Little hands are open, palms facing up. There is a fading blue marker stain in the middle of the palm looking like it is slowly being washed and worn off. The young girl looks up at me, her face solemn as she says her “Amen.” Her fingers are long for such a young one, and more importantly, unstained. I instinctively  place the host on top of her fingers rather than in the marked palm. Some might object: she should receive in the mouth if her hands were stained, but she is a youngster and probably figured if she washed her hands, they are clean. Others might object: a communicant has the right to decide how to receive; it’s not my place to judge the cleanliness of her hands any more than I would want her to judge the cleanliness of mine.

It is always a privilege to distribute Holy Communion to my fellow congregants. But the thought of this little girl with the stained hands stayed with me long after Mass ended. The more I pondered it and my reaction to her, the more it made me think of my relationship with God. Specifically during the Mass when we say, “we lift them [our hearts] up to the Lord,” I have often felt something lacking. It’s as though I wish I could brush off the imperfections from my heart before I lift it up. I do lift it up anyway, as is, with hope in God’s mercy. Why do we lift up our hearts to the Lord? It is right and just. We render, or give back, to God what God has given to us. Although we should not expect any payback, God gives us His Son in the Eucharist. And so we open wide, either our hands or mouths, taking in the most holy of sacraments. And God accepts us with stained hands, hearts and all.

Catholic Girl Journey

The Same but Different

It was the same order of Mass, the Eucharist was consecrated and distributed, yet it was different. While in Washington DC, I attended Saint Luke’s at the Immaculate Conception. It is a parish of Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. Basically it is an Anglican parish that has been received into the Catholic Church, but it retains elements of the Anglican heritage. It was a beautiful Mass and I was very glad to be part of the congregation, since it was my first Catholic Mass that was not of the Roman rite.

The first thing I noticed was that five deacons were assisting the priest and the priest was wearing a hat as he processed to the altar. The hat may have a special name and have Anglican roots. I believe in previous years priests of the Roman rite may have also worn one, but that was a bit before my time (or memory). The priest faced the altar for many of the prayers. While for some that may hearken back to the Latin Mass, again for me, this was new since I am only familiar with the Mass as it is today.

After  the procession, everyone kneels. I was glad they had booklets for me to follow that included the required postures, as this was a new one for me. We knelt from the sign of the cross until the Gloria. The penitential rite began with a set of responses between the priest and the people from Psalm 43. The priest then said the prayer “I confess to Almighty God…” by himself, which was a twist for me. The people responded to that prayer with, “May Almighty God have mercy on thee, forgive thee thy sins, and bring thee to everlasting life.” What an incredible moment to pray for the priest before he consecrates the sacrament! All too often we forget that the priests are human too, and need our prayers just as much as we need his. The people then said the “I confess to Almighty God…” prayer and then stood for the Gloria.

The liturgy of the Word was very similar to the Roman rite, as was the liturgy of the Eucharist, with the exception of some different prayers and definitely more singing by the choir (which alone would have made my attendance there a joy!). There was one prayer in particular that  was recited by all after the Lamb of God/Agnus Dei, but before Communion:

“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”

I found it such a beautiful prayer to say before receiving Communion, that I took a picture of it so as to remember the words. One of the added blessings in attending this Mass, is that it increased my awareness of the routines of our own Mass.  We sometimes  lack the appreciation and attention this special encounter with our Lord deserves. This particular prayer really focused my attention on the gift I was about to receive.

Another first for me was receiving Communion at the altar rail. After Communion the priest and people all recited a prayer of thanksgiving for receiving the sacrament. Although I don’t include the words here, it  was of equal beauty to the one before Communion. While the concluding rite seemed to be the same, the curve ball came when the last Gospel was read, after the sign of the cross. The passage is the beginning of John’s Gospel. How appropriate now that we had received Communion to be reminded before we left that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It was truly a blessing to receive the same Jesus and participate in a Sunday worship just a bit different from what is familiar to me.

Catholic Girl Journey

One Step on the Journey

Image at Nashville CathedralIt was a very special occasion. Besides his attire, he looked no different than you or I. But he has been marked by God. As for me, it was all chance (or God’s design) that I happen to be there. If it hadn’t been for the announcement prior to the celebration, I would have never known.

Work had brought me to Tennessee, so I extended my trip to see a bit of Nashville, scheduling in Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. I was excited to see what would be different. That’s one of the fun things about going to Mass when traveling, each church does things just a bit differently. Sometimes it’s the music and sometimes it’s the way you’re greeted or a special prayer that is said before Mass starts. I had no idea it would be such a special celebration. It was the first Sunday Mass of Father Andrew Bulso and only  the second in his ministry. He had been ordained just the Friday before.

Beautiful. Both the Mass and cathedral. I think what amazed me most, is that just three days prior, Fr. Bulso did not possess the ability that he had that day, to say Mass and to consecrate bread and wine into the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus. Through the imposition of hands and the anointing by the bishop, Fr. Bulso had become a priest marked by God. The priesthood is a gift Jesus gave the Church to continue His mission of bringing the kingdom of God to us. Although it was not my parish, it reminded me that tomorrow’s priests come from our church family of today. We may not know who they will be, but they are among us.

Holy Orders confers an indelible mark on the soul; it cannot be seen, but it changes the individual. While the preparation for the ordination does take years of study, it is a moment in time that changes the person. Much like the Last Supper for the Apostles, the time spent learning at the feet of Jesus prepared them for that night when He instituted both the Eucharist and Holy Orders. Jesus gave his priests  the ability to feed His Church, both in Word and deed. It continues down to our day, as each bishop ordains the priests, who may one day become bishops and repeat the process.

There are men in our parishes and dioceses who are called to this most unique vocation. So say a prayer they will be open to God’s call. Say a prayer for those who have answered and are in formation for the priesthood. And say a prayer of thanksgiving for priests  who celebrate Mass, from their first to their 20,000th and beyond; for each one is just one step on the journey of faith.

Catholic Girl Journey

Believe

Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity … all in one, little, white wafer. This is what I believe.

As a Catholic, one of the most important beliefs is the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated host. He is truly present in both his human and divine natures. There are lots of books that can describe the belief in much greater detail, but no matter how much one learns about it, the one question remains. Do you believe?

As a college student I took a class called “Jesus: History or Myth,” and it was my first real experience where I had to ask myself what I believed. Hearing other students scoff at the notion of Jesus was shocking for a girl who spent 12 years in Catholic education. But almost more troubling were those who believed Jesus as a prophet or some sort of great person, but not as the Son of God. It was during those college years that I first began to own what I had learned as a child—Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior who died for our sins and rose again.

At Easter, we celebrate the three events that make the real presence of Jesus possible: the Last Supper, Good Friday and the Resurrection. When Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples to eat, He asked them to repeat those actions (Lk 22:19). But they would have had little meaning if He continued amongst them as He was. Those actions would have been a memorial if Jesus had only died on the cross. But Jesus rose from the dead, transforming the meaning of those actions into the bread of life. In a way, Jesus at the Last Supper took what He was going to do in the future and brought it to the disciples in that moment. At every consecration of the Eucharist since then, both the crucified and resurrected Jesus are present. Jesus, the Son of God, is the master of all time and space. How can I not trust Him to be able to perform such a miracle? Each day that miracle occurs at each Mass all around the world.

I cannot claim that I understand how it is possible. It is a mystery and defies logic. But that is what faith is about. It is believing that God so loves me, that He wants to very much be a part of me, so that by consuming the consecrated host, we are one. No, it does not make me divine, but it does bring me closer to God. It opens me up to trust in Him more each time I receive. But first, I have to believe.

Note: While this was written only speaking about the bread, the same is true for the wine at consecration. Each is considered to be fully Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus.