August 30, 2009

Humble Sublimity

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of my first Holy Communion. As I did my best this morning to follow the rubric Et reverenter sumit Corpus Christi and received the Sacrifice, the moment came back to me: Fr. Sutula calling me forward after the communion procession of the faithful, announcing that I had been baptized the afternoon before, and putting into my hand a whole half of the priest's host--that last detail was unexpected and such a big deal to me at the time.

At least in my experience, priesthood changes one's relationship to the Eucharist in unexpected ways. There are things I miss, and other, unexpected graces for which I am grateful.

I miss being given the host, that brief but profound interaction of two members of the Body of Christ, becoming the Mystery they receive. There are certain spiritual lonelinesses that come with the priesthood, and this is one of them.

On the other hand, to be privileged to offer the Sacrifice to God, or within God, is almost overwhelming at times. This aspect of the change in my sense of the Eucharist is one I didn't expect. I think I was more or less raised to look at the Mass as a kind a communal prayer, a fraternal gathering in praise of God, and of course it is certainly those things. But I never thought much about the Mass as sacrifice until I was a priest. Then it forced itself on me--the intertwining of the Mass with the Lord's Passion, the humility of the Son of God breaking himself into our hands and shedding his blood into our mouths--these sorts of spiritual senses began to appear for me when I started myself to the offer the Mass.

Also, there is an increased familiarity with the Blessed Sacrament that comes with the priesthood; you deal with It in other contexts apart from Holy Communion. You re-arrange hosts in ciboria and pyxes, and fill and replace hosts in the luna, for example. You gain the random skill of knowing if a bunch of altar breads in a ciborium is 50, 100, or 200. This daily familiarity only makes the sacramental mystery more amazing, though, because it leads the heart to awe of the God who chooses to be revealed in this almost unimaginably humble way, cutting right through all of our worldly ideas of what the almightiness of God should look like.

O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally” --Francis of Assisi, Letter to the Entire Order.


timh said...

I did consider, in your words, the "profound interaction of two members of the Body of Christ, becoming the Mystery they receive" watching Cardinal Sean O'Malley RECEIVE Communion at TK's funeral...

Your comment about receiving part of the priest's Host brought to mind an experience I have wondered about: while visiting my sister and her parish, a small community, the pastor, a very good friend of hers, held up the Communion line when I was about to receive - after a brief time of his moving the hosts in the paten around, he kind of whispered something to me about not being able to find 'IT' and I HAD to ask if 'IT' had my name on 'IT' - he said that in a way, 'IT' did; it turned out he was searching for the last peace of his Host! As this was at his mission church and he had to return immediately to the parish, and I flew home the next day, I never had the chance to ask him about this. I have asked my pastor and he said it really didn't mean anything. Does it?
I do strive to humble myself; I am awed by the mystery!

Qualis Rex said...

Tim - interesting story. I think the priest was doing that in a personal gesture type of way. The consecrated host held by the priest holds no more or less "holiness" than any other consecrated hosts; all are the body of Christ. IMHO to ascribe any other attributes to a consecrated host (i.e. this one is more holy because person "x" held it at the moment of consecration) comes dangerously close to idolatry, since nothing can be more holy than the body of Our Lord itself. I'm absolutely not accusing you of this. Just underscoring the fact that the priest in question was most likely doing this for sentimental reasons, but not religious ones.

Brother Charles said...

It's a sentimental thing, for sure, but no doubt the priest meant very well.

pennyante said...

Sometimes the broken pieces of the consecrated Host are larger than the normal individual host. I think a priest would also be conscious to not give a such a piece to an elderly or sick person who might have a difficult time eating it. ("take and eat") Also a small child who might not realize that the broken host might break even more before he could consume it.

Thank you for the beautiful reflection...

ben in denver said...

My first communion was ilicit.

I was visiting, and I had no concept of the gravity of recieving communion when not properly disposed.

Thankfully this fault was absolved in confession prior to my second communion.

Happy annaversary Father!