As I read and sweat my way through Church teachings, referencing and verifying as I considered what She taught and why, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was surprisingly simple to accept (such hubris, but I wasn’t quite sure that the Church was a truth-teaching institution.). The Bread of Life Discourse (John 6: 22-71) and the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-20, among others) are proof texts, and when read with other pertinent Scriptures, as one must do for true interpretation (manna – Exodus 16:15, the feeding of the five thousand – Matthew 14:13-21, the road to Emmaus – Luke 24:13-35, and Paul’s exhortations about dishonoring the Body and Blood – I Corinthians 11:27), the evidence is overwhelming.
Some disciples left Jesus after He reiterated the importance of eating His Body and drinking His Blood because it was “too hard” and He turned to ask the Twelve if they too would leave. Peter threw up his hands (my mental picture), saying, “Where else do we go? We believe You have the words of eternal life” (I don’t think he really grasped it.). When Christ held up the bread in the upper room and said, “This is My Body,” it all made sense. Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, is present in the blessed bread. That is why those saddened followers travelling to Emmaus, whose hearts “burned within them as He opened the Scriptures,” recognized Jesus only “in the breaking of the bread.” That is why Saint Paul chastised the Corinthians for their abuses and warned them that they would have to “answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord.” The additional stories of manna and the feeding of the five thousand are types, or pre-pictures, of the Eucharist: perfect food from heaven, available every single day, enough for every single person with Jesus, miraculous once the Lord’s Hands blessed and broke the gifts. His words, His blessing, His Body nourish our spirit and life ~ overwhelming, indeed!
When I received Jesus in the Eucharist at the 2004 Easter Vigil, after converting from fundamental, Pentecostal-style Protestantism, I was expecting some sort of emotional, physical response. But there was no burst of light and no angels heard singing; I did not tremble and my eyes remained dry. Soberly and steadily, I went through the proper postures. Then it was over. Holy Communion continued that way for many months: attentive listening, participating, receiving, praying, and singing without the waves of emotion with which I’d been accustomed. Intellectually, I understood that feelings are not what my faith is based on, that dignified liturgy as the expression of our ancient, ever-new Holy Faith is deeply satisfying. The Catholic Mass is always a “great service” because of the Eucharist, not because of the musical selections or sermon. On some level, however, I missed the fervor. I figured I needed to learn how to worship God in spirit and in truth, not in dancing and tears. I figured I needed to learn how to worship God the way the Israelites did: doing the right duties for hundred of years without necessarily experiencing exciting miracles or emotional highs. This was good for me. In those quiet Sunday mornings, I was quiet, too. Like the Israelites of old, I was part of something that, while not taking my breath away, gave me deep breath.
But the Holy Spirit did speak to Moses, as He did to Nehemiah, and to Mary. And He came to me. Leaving the service to nurse our wiggly infant one Sunday, my return proved too late for Holy Communion. The extraordinary ministers had turned their backs to the congregation and were lovingly folding, stacking, and returning the sacred vessels to their places at the side table. I had missed it. Missed bowing before Jesus, reaching for Him, assenting my Amen, receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of my Lord and Love. Without warning, I burst into tears. This response surprised me, as there was no logical lead up in my thoughts, no emotional exertion in my heart. It was quick; it was powerful; it shook me. I stood outside the sanctuary, overwrought, weeping for Jesus and waiting for the rest of my family to join me.
I have missed Holy Communion several times since that day, feeding hungry babies or removing naughty toddlers (sometimes both) and have never again had such an impassioned reaction, but I will always remember it as how I feel that I know that I believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Once again, the facts of the Faith touched deeply within me and settled in love.
Thanks be to God for such a personal message, a special gift, an unspeakable blessing.