By Jill Mraz
Upon my return to the Catholic Church four years ago, I was struck by how little I understood the liturgy of the Eucharist. Although I was baptized Catholic, I was raised Episcopalian from age 8 onward. I have only a faint memory of the Catholic Mass from my very early childhood and, of course, the consecration of the host was not done in our Episcopal church. At the summit of the Catholic Mass, when the priest exuberantly lifts up the body and blood of Christ and proclaims the ancient words which foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice and victory “Behold the Lamb of God….” it was initially difficult for me to see the triumph of that moment, so caught up was I in the fact that, clearly, the host was now broken. How I pondered the mysterious and contradictory juxtaposition of the whole and living Christ whom I loved and knew to be risen from the dead, and this brokenness I saw lifted high before me. I have since come to understand that the broken host is wholly Christ. Broken on the cross, he nevertheless remained whole, entered into our sin, our brokenness, in order to rise victorious, transforming and saving us from death into eternal life. This beautiful excerpt from the Laude Sion says it so well ~
When the sacrament is broken,
Doubt not, but believe ’tis spoken,
That each sever’d outward token
doth the very whole contain.
Nought the precious gift divides,
Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides,
still unbroken does remain.
More recently, familiar phrases which I had previously skimmed in my daily meditation readings have begun to jump out at me. By his wounds we are healed. In Your cross is our cure. Grace always enters through our wounds. More questions arose.
God is the master of the unexpected. You would think we would be onto his method of surprise by now, but we are creatures of habit. And our primary habit, it seems, is to stubbornly follow ourselves most of the time whilst quickly losing sight of this most primary fact—that we are NOT God. Here’s another saying which is easy to gloss over. God’s ways are not our ways. That being a profound truth, it stands to reason then that by his wounds we are healed. Naturally, in his cross, an instrument of excruciating torture, lies our cure. And who could ever question again that grace enters through our wounds? Of course. According to God and his ways, which are anything but what we are expecting, this all makes perfect sense. But if Jesus is God and God needs nothing from us and is all powerful, how is it that we are even capable of wounding him at all in the first place? I confess, the answer came almost before I asked.
In a word, Love. It is precisely because of his immense love for us that we have the capacity to wound Jesus. If he didn’t love us, he would brush us and our sins off without a care, leaving us lonely in our misery. Christ allowed us to wound him, scourge him, kill him, in order to enter into our brokenness, to shower us with his healing Love, pouring forth from the side of his body. In his wounds, we are sheltered. By his wounds, truly, we are healed. It can’t possibly get any more intimate than that. And still we tend to hold our hearts back from entering fully into communion with God; skipping Mass, avoiding confession, etc. Does this hurt him? Yes. Us, too. In our self obsession we seek to create God in our image, seeing only his humanity in the crucifixion and death. As if Jesus’s suffering on the cross was somehow simply a magnification of our suffering, our human condition, or merely a display of the humanness of Christ, of his attempt to come down to our level and relate to us. No. Jesus died to give us life. To raise us up victorious from our human death into full communion with his divine life. Let us run, not walk, to the confessional, the altar, open our wounds and with grateful hearts accept God’s healing mercy and forgiveness. Let us amend our lives.
At today’s Feast of Corpus Christi Mass, and every Mass, we must remember always that the priest lifts up bread and wine, but it is Christ who descends. He descends in humility to us, that with Him we might ascend in glory. In the doxology we hear:
Through him, and with him, and in him,
O God, almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
for ever and ever.
It is Christ being lifted high on the cross, not re-crucified, but proclaimed triumphant on that necessary cross. A broken host may be all we often see, but through, and with, and in the Mystery of our faith we are being made whole. I remember how I cried when I first learned that God became man that we might become God. In that, we can surely be assured of the magnitude of His overwhelming love for us. For even in our pathetically oft-lofty view of ourselves as gods unto ourselves, in this small worldly arena where we both perform and patronize, Jesus Christ quietly enters and abounds. Deeply interested in us, his dual role as victim and priest perfected, God can gently show us that if we are willing to yield the director’s seat, he will transform our self-promoted little one-act play into his magnum opus, for all time.
About the Author:
Jill Mraz is a Catholic mother to one wonderful daughter. Residing in Minnesota they enjoy summer road trips to either coast, marveling at the stunning beauty of God’s natural world. Jill writes poems and essays which reflect upon motherhood and her beloved Catholic faith. She is a contributor for WINE: Women in the New Evangelization.