As the Eucharistic revival moves into its parish phase, I wonder how everyday Catholics will experience it. Having been raised in the Episcopal Church, our weekly liturgy alternated between holy Communion and morning prayer, and kids like me were confirmed by the local bishop around age 11 or 12, then given their first Communion a week or two later. There were no white suits, dresses or veils, and no parties to attend. Nor was there any extended catechesis about it. Looking back, I think that practice was to accommodate the full spectrum of whatever people believed: that holy communion was, in fact, the body and blood of Christ, or that it was simply a symbol or scriptural command.
I loved how we received Communion in the Episcopal church, though. Kneeling at the rail, the wafer was placed into our hands and the wine was offered to us from the chalice. As he distributed Communion, the priest said a rather long formula from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer: “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” I listened carefully for which words were being said when it was my turn to receive. I was convinced it was significant and that God himself would speak to me through it.
Liturgy and ritual were something I missed when Mom and I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade and joined a fast-growing church called the Evangelical Free congregation. But even though it is so evident in the Scriptures that were the center of everything there, the sacramental worldview was entirely absent. The altar — emblazoned with the words “Do this in remembrance of me” — was used just a few times a year, when broken pieces of matzah and tiny plastic cups of grape juice were passed from pew to pew. Jesus was certainly present in that church but in a less real, intimate and personal way. Everyone there believed that a personal relationship with him was the essence of Christian discipleship, but personally encountering the Word-Made-Flesh in the flesh wasn’t an option.
Attending that church on Sundays and then a Catholic high school during the week was an exercise in radical flexibility. I struggled to find a place in both communities. A child of divorce, from a family with no college graduates, didn’t really fit the evangelical mold. But at school things weren’t much better. I memorized the Hail Mary the night before I started freshman year because I wanted to belong. But my first lesson was that I didn’t. Although required to attend Masses and religion classes all four years, I would never be allowed to receive the Eucharist.
I once found the words of an elderly priest offering Mass in our school chapel to be particularly off-putting. After the consecration he announced, “Say hello to Jesus, girls, he’s on our altar.”
As it turns out, the real presence of Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist is what eventually drew me to Catholicism. It is also what keeps me here. Despite the shortfalls, scandals and sins (the church’s and my own), despite poor catechesis and even poorer evangelization, despite discord and division, prevalent incompetence and rampant mismanagement, Jesus Christ is yet truly alive in the Catholic Church and truly present. This church is not merely Christ’s home, but his bride and his body. And that is why I could never leave her.
Because God has given us Christ’s body and blood in the Most Blessed Sacrament, every one of us can say, “I am my beloved’s, and he is mine” (Song 6:3). Debates will rage, love will swell and recede, and in \’the years ahead the faithful may well be pushed out of the mainstream and into the margins of our world. In many places, our numbers will continue to wane. But around the world, the sanctuary candle is lit, the monstrance is full and the altar is ready. The Eucharist gathered the church around it in the apostolic age and the Eucharist will continue to gather and form the church, as it has in every era. Jesus is, as he promised, with us always. If we are his, we have nothing to fear.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a sinner, Catholic convert, freelance writer and editor, musician, speaker, pet-aholic, wife and mom of eight grown children, loving life in New Orleans.
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