Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Congratulations to all those boys and girls who received their First Communion yesterday! And we continue to pray for those who will receive this coming Saturday. It is certainly a special moment for all of them, but I also hope it is a powerful moment for all of us to reflect on our own First Communion. It is hard to even think back to how something so routine now, was so special back then. Something we do every week – it was a source of great excitement because it was new and it was something we needed to prepare for and, in a way, earn.
The beauty of that time though, was that receiving Communion was a great mystery. What happens when you receive? What does it taste like? (A friend of mine would tell his kids it was flavored if you weren’t a sinner). There was a mystery about the Eucharist that made it special. Of course the trouble is once you start receiving, the mystery fades away. As much as it is the greatest miracle in the world – bread becoming the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – it still looks and feels and tastes like bread. It is something we do so often that we hardly think of it anymore; it loses its mystery and becomes routine.
It might help then to ask ourselves, what is a mystery? A mystery is not something that is irrational or incomprehensible, but rather something so big that our minds cannot comprehend it completely. How could God become bread? It is something we will never “get,” but something we believe with faith. The trouble is, especially with the sacraments, the closer we are to them, the harder it is to believe in them. It is hardest for a priest to believe in the Eucharist, because he has to believe that when he says the words of consecration, through his unworthy hands, right before his eyes, that miracle happens. But the whole point of ritual – the formal gestures and genuflecting and receiving reverently – the point of the vestments and the Church and all the external things, is that they are meant to veil the reality so it can maintain its mystery. We occupy our other senses with beauty, we put incense and bells and other things between ourselves and the mystery, so that it is transfigured. Like the monstrance for adoration, we elevate the mystery and enrobe it in beauty.
This has been my intention with some aesthetic touches in the Church. While many parishioners have expressed appreciation for the beauty, I know some have found them an obstacle, particularly the six candle- sticks. Not wanting to be a source of distraction for anyone, I do plan on reducing the candlesticks to two, except for big holy days, but I hope to encourage us all to reflect on the nature of mystery and the importance of maintaining it, especially with the Eucharist which is so neglected in our times. A danger we can fall into is thinking that we need to see and understand and be involved, to the point where we actually make it harder to grasp the mystery. Rather than participating in our hearts, offering to God all that we do and are with Christ on the cross, we get caught up in the external participation, which is important, but should only be important inasmuch as it helps us with the internal.
In this beautiful season where our young Catholics are receiving the Lord for the first time, may we all renew that spirit of excitement in our hearts each and every time we receive the greatest gift in the world – the Most Holy Eucharist.
Yours in Christ,