Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." John 6:35, 41-51
Adam Kraft, self portrait as supporting figure, Sacrament House (above right) 1493
I’ve sat inside a monastery rotunda contemplating a golden starburst monstrance enclosing a pale host, in a way that profited in my soul.
Sacramental objects teach me to see sacramentally. Sacristans, altar guild members, priests, handle chalices and fair linens as an almost remedial lesson in caring for ordinary things. Architects create beautiful orderly spaces of worship to open people's hearts to beauty in an unorderly world. Devout men and women eat the bread of Holy Communion in order to help awaken their consciousness to recognizing the bread of life everywhere.
If God lived in a tabernacle in a church only, I would never leave church. Liturgy lets me linger with the thought of Presence, then pushes me out the door with the insistent dismissal to seek and serve God elsewhere, that is, in the places most difficult to perceive Divine Love. When I'm weary, I come back to renew the process, each Eucharist giving me, hopefully, a deeper and wider insight into the next adventure.
The Eucharistic host, so small, pale, a mere wafer of lightness, contains the universe (Meditation One). A worshipper becomes One with the universe, consuming this wonder within the body, a mystery angels dare not look upon (Meditation Two). But we’re mistaken if we think we can contain the Holy in a tabernacle. The bread of life lives inside the least desired and least loved of humanity. Here is Christ's True Presence. (Meditation Three and Last Word).
Ever wandering toward wonder, - Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) Hidden in a thing so small
O Thou Treasure of the poor!How marvellously Thou sustainest souls, showing to them, not all at once, but by little and little, the abundance of Thy riches!When I behold Thy great Majesty hidden beneath that which is so slight as the host is, I am filled with wonder …
-Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) The Autobiography
Humbly I adore thee, verity unseen who thy glory hidest 'neath these shadows mean; lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.
O memorial wondrous of the Lord's own death; living Bread that givest all thy creatures breath, grant my spirit ever by thy life may live, to my taste thy sweetness never failing give.
Tabernacle, Santa Cecelia in Trastevere, Rome, 1293 (Evangelists, details)
Young people say, “What good can one person do?” They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our heart that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know God will take them and multiply them as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.
–Dorothy Day 1897-1980 Loaves and Fishes
I don’t partake because I’m a good Catholic, holy and pious and sleek. I partake because I’m a bad Catholic, riddled by doubt and anxiety and anger: fainting from severe hypoglycemia of the soul. I need food.
Traditional "Sunburst" Monstrance, wikipedia
Sacrament House, Adam Kraft, 1493-96, St. Lorenz, Nuremberg
Meditation Two (insight)
In the holy Eucharist the Son of God, in his overflowing mercy, not content with having made himself the Son of Man, a sharer in our humanity and our brother, has invented a wondrous way of communicating himself to each one of us in particular. By this he incorporates himself in us, and us in him. He dwells in us, and makes us dwell in him, becoming our food and support, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, by a grace which surpasses every other grace, since it contains in itself the author of all grace! Truly, we possess in this divine mystery, though veiled and hidden under the sacramental species, him whom the angels desire to see, even while they see him continually.
- Jean-Pierre Camus (1584-1652) The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, pp 390-1, Quoted from The Dazzling Darkness, Patrick Grant, ed.
Meditation Three (integration) outside the box
Once upon a time we captured God and we put God in a box and we put a beautiful velvet curtain around the box.We placed candles and flowers around the box and we said to the poor and the dispossessed, "Come!Come and see what we have!Come and see God!" And they knelt before the God in the box. One day, very long ago, the Spirit in the box turned the key from inside and she pushed it open.She looked around in the church and saw that there was nobody there!They had all gone.Not a soul was in the place.She said to herself, "I'm getting out!"The Spirit shot out of the box.She escaped and she has been sighted a few times since then.She was last seen with a bag lady in McDonald's.…
-Edwina Gateley Quoted from Mystics, Visionaries, and Prophets: A Historical Anthology of Women's Spiritual WritingsShawn Madigan, C.S.J., Ed.
The Last Word
In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread.In our work we find him under the appearance of flesh and blood.It is the same Christ. “I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.”
-Mother Teresa of Calcutta 1910-1997
If we knew how to listen to God If only we knew how to look at life All life would become a sign All of life would become a prayer.
-Michel Quiost 1918-1997
In my religious tradition, if there is leftover bread after communion, it is carefully placed in a ciborium ( a round cup with a cover) which in turn is placed within a tabernacle. The tabernacle is near the altar – in a wall maybe or carved into the reredos. If there is a tabernacle (or ark, sometimes it is called) in the church, a perpetual lamp is lit nearby. I remember this lamp from my childhood, a gentle glowing presence, a candle in a red glass cylinder hanging from the ceiling. Silent. Comforting.
The tabernacle evokes the tent of the presence far far back in our history when the children of Israel lived in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. The tabernacle was surrounded by a cloth fence, and a courtyard in which there was a golden laver and an altar for sacrifices. Inside, the tent had two sections – the larger contained an altar for incense, a candelabra, and a table for the showbread – an offering to God.
A veil separated the square inner room from the outer. Behind the veil was the Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies the Israelites kept the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets of the law given to Moses on Sinai, Aaron's rod which had once flowered with almond blossoms, and a jar of manna, to always remind them that God provided bread in the wilderness.
Centuries later, after the Israelites had conquered and settled in Canaan, King David, musing on his roof, (presumably his lovely neighbor was not bathing that day) thought: I live in a cedar palace – but the Holy One still lives in a tent. He sought advice from Nathan the Prophet. The Holy One was not pleased at the thought of a temple fixed in one place. Nevertheless David's son Solomon built a very fine temple (despoiling the remaining cedars of Lebanon).
The structure of the tabernacle, architecturally and symbolically in terms of degrees in which you could approach the divine, was the template for the Temple of Solomon and later, the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great. The destruction of the temple in 70 c.e.sent Jews and Christians alike into a diaspora where God again moved with the people. (The Ark of the Covenant had long disappeared when the first temple had been destroyed.)
When Jesus died, Mark tells us, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. That image not only suggests grief, but a freedom – an unveiling – a letting out. Not that God was stuck in the Holy of Holies – but that in our minds, God dwelt there. (This is always a danger, isn't it?)
And this happened. Two people were walking to Emmaus. A stranger came and talked with them – about the scriptures - on the road. When they reached Emmaus, they urged the stranger to come inside, for evening was at hand. There, at table, the stranger took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. They recognized him. And he disappeared.
From then on, the community had to remember carefully and meditate upon what had happened at the last supper with Jesus.
In the franticness of church life, it is hard to slow down enough to remember the Holy of Holies. If I do not reverence the Divine with all my being, how then, can I partake of the Holy and carry the Divine within myself, and then bear it out again into the broken, dangerous, suffering world? And while I know the Temple veil is ultimately torn, if I do not embrace the sense of Presence in the sacred space, how will I recognize it in the hubbub of life outside?