The Solemnity of the Ascension, May 13, 2018
The Archdiocese of Portland has instituted a few new rules for giving and receiving communion, effective the feast of Corpus Christi, next month.
I’ve been reflecting on these changes lately, and I want to suggest that they are a call to holiness, for all of us, even those of us who think they’re unnecessary and problematic—and especially for us.
Let me just list a few ideas.
–The call is to decide to think of these changes in their best light, as motivated by a real desire to deepen reverence for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist–without at the same time abandoning our doubts or our critical thinking.
–The call is to enter into these changes with an attitude of joy and inclusiveness and with the hope that this generous attitude will spread. To try to transform these changes from the inside out.
–The call is to keep remembering that the theology behind these changes isn’t based on the idea that the priest is holier than we are but on the idea that whoever the priest is he is a sacrament, a conduit, a broken vessel as we are all broken vessels. It’s to not be literal: to insist on seeing the renewed emphasis on the actions of the priest (and the deacon) at mass as a re-emphasis on Christ, on his astonishing gift, his overflowing grace.
–The call is to take our uneasiness with these changes as an invitation to give up our own fastidiousness about liturgy, our own rigorism, because we can all be inflexible about style and method, whatever our tastes and preferences.
–The call is to not be distracted. To get to the center. To see through the clutter, including our own clutter, to the light at the heart of things, to the love at the heart of things, to Christ blessed, broken, and given every mass and every moment, however many obstacles we put in the way–and we are always putting obstacles in the way, not just in liturgy but in our own daily lives.
–The call is not to sweat the small stuff.
–Even if the mass were perfect by our own standards, even if it fit our style exactly, we’d still have to get up in the morning and look at ourselves in the mirror and face our own sinfulness, our own limitations. In fact, maybe that’s the problem, that thinking about these changes and resisting them is a lot easier than sitting with our own emptiness, or our own need.
–Augustine used the image of the finger pointing at the moon. It’s the moon we should be looking at.
–At the heart of the teaching of the Church is a belief in the dignity of each human person and the sanctity of individual conscience. We have to think. We have to enter in. The Church is us and the Church is the hierarchy, back and forth over time, in conversation. We take turns correcting each other.
–But that means that those of us who tend to emphasize the role of the people in the mass, sacramentally and theologically, need to be corrected now and then, too.
–Maybe some of these changes can help us counter any inner laziness that may have settled in as we’ve been going through the mass in our usual ways.
In the end, I think, all of these issues and problems–how many Eucharistic ministers there are, or whether or not we should dip our fingers in a little bowl of water after we give communion, or what the inside of a pyx should be made of–all of these things and the feelings they invoke in us are a great gift, really, because whenever something in the liturgy or in the Church bothers and irritates and disappoints us, Christ is trying to get our attention. He’s saying: no,I’m right here. I’m standing right next to you.
Or to use the imagery of today’s feast, of the Ascension: Why do we have our heads in the clouds?
Jesus has ascended into heaven, he has gone away, but he’s coming back and he’s already here, this has already happened and is always happening, Jesus is always leaving and he is always coming, and the Spirit is coming, too, Pentecost is near, the Spirit is about to whoosh in and fill us with language and hope, and that Spirit is inside of us, is always inside, and that Spirit is Christ, too, in all his reality, and so he is in us, wherever else he is, he is in all of us.
So we need to stop looking at the wrong things. We need to stop trying to rise into heaven ourselves, above the messiness of our everyday lives in the world and in the Church.
We have to get back to work.
With joy. Always with joy. With humility and joy.