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.