Tomorrow, we experience our first Sunday without the public celebration of the Mass. There is inevitably apprehension as to how far into the future these constrains may extend.
Within the Church, we recognise the celebration of the Eucharist as both the sacrament of unity and the unifying sacrament. It is, for us, the summit of sacramental participation in the communal life of the Church. It is right that we afford primacy to the Eucharist. The Eucharist, of course, represents the occasion when we participate in full sacramental communion with the Real Presence. The Liturgy undoubtedly presupposes a journey of preparation and the attainment of a conscious disposition suitable for reception of this sacrament. Nonetheless, one is bound to ask whether we have in our participation neglected this Truth? That is, whether our approach to, and participation in the sacrament has succumbed to the dangers of familiarity?
Familiarity has the potential to generate numerous difficulties. At worst, it can fuel a disrespect verging upon contempt. However, it also has the potential to give rise to a far more insidious mindset; one in which lack of consideration and complacency are allowed to hold sway. When such attitudes take hold, gone are the symbols of respect and consideration. Long since fallen into disuse are the courtesies of communication. Where there is a lack of consideration, a lack of respect is not far behind. Conscious, measured, deliberate and meaningful participation has given way to a mechanistic form of observance.
It is perhaps stating the obvious to note that this is all far removed from the etiquette which informed our initiation to the Sacraments. Rules concerning admission to, and reception of, the Blessed Sacrament were clearly communicated and universally observed. So too, was the boundary of the sanctuary and the outward demonstrations of reverence as basic as the genuflection. This etiquette was not borne of notions of social politeness. It was instead the consequence of a profound realization. A realization that the Holy Eucharist is no mere human encounter or symbolic re-enactment of the paschal mystery. It is a participation in the Eternal.
In his "Spirit of the Liturgy" Guardini observes:
"The first and most important lesson which the liturgy has to teach is that the prayer of a corporate body must be sustained by thought…"
"In any form of prayer, therefore, which is intended for the ultimate use of a corporate body, the whole fullness of religious truth must be included… If prayer is ultimately to be fruitful and beneficial to a corporate body, it must be intense and profound…"
"The requirements of the liturgy may be summed up in one word: humility. Humility by renunciation; that is to say by the abdication of self-rule and self-sufficiency."
Perhaps in these times of Eucharistic famine, we might consider the quality of our participation in the liturgy and look to realign ourselves to the demands of profound participation. In these present days, we are provided with the opportunity to make a choice. One which is simple but nonetheless of real spiritual importance. It finds expression in an act of self-dedication.
It calls for an act which by which we relinquish our former habits and the complacencies which may have found their way in to our approach to, or participation, in the Eucharist. It is the means by which we resolve to place our entire being at the disposal and service of the Holy Spirit. With such a conscious act, we are likely discover the force of the Centurion's words which are so easily uttered without due consideration:
“Oh Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”
No matter how painful or challenging, this may be, we may in consciously embracing these words, come to see our Eucharist famine not as a punishment or deprivation, but a grace. A grace which enables us to reconfigure ourselves to Christ in an authentic heartfelt humility.
In the month of March, we are presented with the icon of humility: St Joseph. Amongst his many titles, we find encounter the "Terror of Demons". His ability to strike fear in those forces which seek to separate us from our Saviour emanates from his unqualified and sustained humility as "the Mirror of Patience". Let us ask him to intercede for us so that when our famine turns to feast, we may participate in a manner worthy of the Eternal Truth which is the Eucharist.
St Joseph, Mirror of Patience, pray for us
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, pray for us