17 September 2013

Hands. And the Eucharist.

The notes that I will be using at a talk for the Eucharistic Ministers at a Boston parish this evening.  The Capuchin administrator of the parish asked me to make a brief presentation on this particular ministry.

One of the enduring memories in my life – one of those images forever burned into my memory – is that of my grandmother’s hands.  I can remember walking into her kitchen to visit during Advent and seeing her hands busy at work, turning over dough in her hands to make pierogi, the potato dumplings upon which my family would feast on Christmas Eve.

And, again, her hands: sowing a pair of homemade pajamas for one of her grandchildren as we sat at her feet listening to her gentle wisdom and thoughtful encouragement.

And, again, her hands turning over her rosary beads after mass, her lips slowly moving and the gentle clinking signifying Hail Mary’s passing from her lips to the ears of God.

And, as I got older, I came to realize that these hands had raised five children, worked at the phone company, made countless meals and changed innumerable diapers.  As she got older, the hands were worn smooth by these countless tasks and then, in her even later years, they were bent by arthritis, moving a little bit slower and with a little more difficulty, yet all the while, these hands still carried love to those she met.

Hands.  What an image.

And that is what you are as Eucharistic ministers.  Your hands are hands that heal others by giving others the very Body and Blood Christ – the Living and True God who came into our world and has, because of that same Eucharist, never left. 

And so, for just a few minutes, I ask you to consider with me just the task that we are undertaking when we pass Holy Communion from our hands to the hands or mouth of another – because we are engaged in the most humbling of all tasks, that is, being a part of the Body of Christ and giving a part of ourselves to another person, making them a part of the Body of Christ.

As Catholics, the Eucharist is what we do: it is what, really, makes us “us.”  And so I want to use another image, taken from a Benedictine Monk named Gregory Dix.  He once wrote this in reflecting about Jesus’ instruction “Do this in memory of me” has stretched through the ages:

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men [and women] have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.  (Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy)

When the Lord asked us to do this in memory of him, it wasn’t just to attend mass, but also to make available His very self in the Eucharist.  This is why your ministry is important: it makes this possible.  We are not called to keep the gifts of the Lord to ourselves, but to share them.  In this way, when you are a Eucharistic minister, you model the way that Jesus himself acts: giving himself freely to those who approach him for healing, strength and nourishment.

As Eucharistic Ministers, you are a vital part of this process: when we distribute communion we are not just “doing a job,” but rather making it possible for others to receive the Body of Christ. 

In this world, we are often taught that it is our job to get what we want: we need to earn it or take what is rightfully ours.  Yet, receive Communion is completely different: we are given it.  It passes from one person to another.  We do not take the Eucharist, but rather, we are given it.  We receive. 

As Eucharistic ministers, you play a vital role in this.  Of course, I don’t just mean the mechanics: you are not Eucharistic ministers because there is no one else to distribute communion.  No, what you have is a privileged position to allow people not to take communion but to receive it as a great gift.

So, next time we serve as ministers of Holy Communion let us remember the great gift that we are sharing: the gifts of God – and the gift of ourselves.  From the hands of God, to ours, to another’s.  What a gift indeed.

1 comment:

Judy Kallmeyer said...

You spoke of being the Body of Christ. When I was an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, in the early years of my service, I recall having the thought come to me, "I am the Body of Christ giving the Body of Christ to the Body of Christ." I wonder how often we think of ourselves as the Body of Christ. Somehow the Body of Christ has come to mean an almost amorphous aggregate of beings. We tend not to think of each individual person in that body. But it becomes ever so much more intimate, personal, when I realize that the person to whom I am giving the Eucharist is truly "the Body of Christ." And I should hold that person as an object of reverence and respect because of his/her identification as Body of Christ. And if we took that realization with us as we move through the rest of our lives--our home life, social relationships, business contacts, how much more respect, understanding, compassion, connectedness we would experience for each individual.