The gifts of the Holy Spirit include wonder and awe — words I prefer to “fear of the Lord,” because that phrase is so easily misunderstood. And I hope always to enjoy some sense of wonder and awe as I ponder and discover and rediscover how God works in our world and in our lives.
If there is a single experience for which I hope I never lose the sense of wonder and awe, it is the Consecration during Mass — that moment in which ordinary bread and ordinary wine become, in their very substance, the Body and Blood of Jesus. I think it was in learning about this profound mystery of faith that I first experienced some understanding of how faith works — that in the face of very complicated, complex events and questions, faith is so very simple. Faith just believes. Faith doesn’t look for elaborate explanations and expositions. Faith doesn’t dig for fancy answers.
Like all moments of great significance that are repeated often throughout our days, however, that wonderful moment of Consecration can become a routine. The eyes and ears and body are so vulnerable to distractions. Those amazing words and actions happen before us, and before we know it we’re on our feet to go and receive Him. And we’ve barely been aware of the greatest of miracles that has just taken place — yes, again! — right in front of us.
I don’t have a magic bullet for keeping the entire ritual of the Mass, and Consecration in particular, fresh and exciting every time. But sometimes if I can just keep my focus on what is really happening, and be still and listen, I am led into reflection that brings deeper meaning to this wonderful and awesome Moment when Jesus makes Himself present among us.
A few weeks back, I was at a weekday Mass. I go to an early morning Mass, and the chapel is usually very quiet (unless my 2-year-old granddaughter comes along and chooses this time to sing her “hallelulahs”). On this particular day, as that Moment approached and the priest began saying the sacred words of Consecration, I imagined myself as one of the disciples at table with Jesus at the Last Supper. As I put myself in the scene, I remembered that for the disciples, it didn’t start out as “the Last Supper.” It was simply their Passover meal and celebration, with all the rituals and ceremonies that they expected in a traditional Seder.
It occurred to me to wonder at what point those disciples — the Twelve who were closest to Him and who joined Him for this meal — began to realize that something quite different from the traditional Passover meal was taking shape.
Certainly, when Jesus departed from the usual rituals and gave them His Body and Blood to eat and drink (Matt. 26:26-28), I would have had more questions than answers. I found myself in the moment, receiving what looked like bread and wine from His hands, and thinking back to what he had said earlier — that unless we ate His flesh and drank His blood we would not have life within us! Now in this moment, He is making that statement a stark reality — just when the world outside this upper room is getting very, very frightening.
In the midst of all the mystery of the connection between His earlier words and His actions during this meal, I might have found myself — even as I consumed the Bread and Wine He gave me — filing these strange ideas away in my head, letting them mull about in my mind even as the terrifying, and then awesome, events of the next few days unfolded.
What did He mean? “Do this in memory of me…” How are we supposed to have His body and His blood? He’s dying on a cross, the worst and most humiliating of death sentences for a criminal. Does any of what happened mean anything?
What are we supposed to do? I imagine myself asking that question again and again as I protect myself (I think) from the crowds and from falling victim to the same fate as my Teacher is suffering.
And once the terror is past and the first day of the week dawns, I imagine how the Twelve and those close to them began to reshape those questions once they knew that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Now He is alive once more. He appears here, shows up there — and we recognize Him “in the breaking of the bread.” The imagery of Jesus, cooking breakfast for the Twelve on the shore after they had gone — deeply confused about events and still missing the biggest message of Jesus’ resurrection — back to their fishing boats, grabs my mind and won’t let go. I imagine being in that group, seeing Him but not quite recognizing Him (oh, the grip of doubt!) — and then He begins to break off pieces of bread and hand them to us, and the connection is instant and visceral and undeniable.
Imagine being on the road to Emmaus with those two disciples, feeling the stirring of truth within as our new companion teaches us, and then realizing in the very moment of breaking bread that it really is Jesus Who was walking and talking with us….
But no one really knew what to do with all of it just yet. All they had at this point was a collection of experiences and moments and glimmerings of recognition; possibly there were moments of clarity when the connections would stand out, albeit briefly, and then a moment later be beyond their grasp. And yet, during these weeks following the amazing discovery that Jesus was once more alive, during all the times that He appeared to them and spoke with them and continued to promise His promises to them, in all that time there is no real understanding of what is next. I imagine myself in that group, thinking, “OK, fine. This is pretty good. We still see Jesus and He still teaches us. We can go on like this. It’s really pretty good.”
But Jesus, when we see Him, is talking about leaving again. And so there is a stirring of doubt and fear in our hearts, because we don’t really know how any of this works without Him, and we don’t have a very solid connection between what He said about His Body and Blood before that awful last night of His life, and what He said and did during the Passover Meal that turned into something else, and the way He died, and what it means that He came back from the dead.
And then, one day, just when we were getting used to this new way of living, He leaves. It’s a glorious leaving, a powerful and amazing experience, but to our minds it is, nonetheless, a leaving. We saw Jesus ascend to heaven, and without Him showing up every now and then to remind us of His teaching, we feel pretty frightened and we don’t understand how we are supposed to do anything He taught us.
So, in this new level of fear and doubt, we go into hiding. We are sure — at least we think we are sure — that Jesus is going to keep His promises, but we have no clear idea as to how He is going to do that.
And then: Pentecost! “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (John 3:34). I kneel in wonder at the Consecration during Mass, some 2,000 years later, because Jesus sent the Paraclete that He had promised — the Holy Spirit Who is the love of the Father and the Son, unstoppable and untamable and incredibly powerful — and in that moment of flames resting on the heads of the Twelve, all the things that they could not think through or reason out or even conceive of, all those things become crystal clear.
They know who they are.
They know Who has called them and for what.
They know what those words at the Last Supper mean, and they know what to do.
And there it is: the depth of wonder and awe at the love of a God who cares so much for His redeemed people that He keeps coming back to them. He pursues them until they catch Him, and then He stays with them so long as they open their hearts.
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