At the end of each Mass, view the priest lifts the newly consecrated Eucharist high in the air; shortly thereafter, the people stream forward to receive it. It’s the culmination of the Mass — really, the culmination of our whole faith.
Most of the time, I act like it’s just Boring Wafer Bread, as if I don’t know what — or who — the Eucharist is. Because to know and act on that knowledge means admitting my hunger, my particular version of the infinite ache that takes a different form within each person. My particular hunger largely takes the shape of communion.
I hunger for connection, for community; for belonging in a seamless cloth, effortlessly, not torn-between. For a gushing stream of infinite-bandwidth, full-spectrum, multi-chorus union flooding in all directions — no struggle, no holes. No dropped packets, no anxious clutching for syllables; no straining for words across distance or in the foggy memory of unfamiliar languages. No gulf. No gap.
No loneliness. I’ve been so powerfully formed by loneliness for all my life.
And yet I have communion, if I will reach out and take it. Holy communion. In the midst of what so often looks like banality and dead ritual; in the midst of what looks like apathy and grudging obligation. Can I believe that God is there, in the form of a tiny white host? Can I believe that Christ is there, and the Mystical Body of Christ is there, and all of Heaven itself is somehow in the Eucharist — and then, as I receive it — in me?
Can I believe that when I receive Christ in the Eucharist, I am closer to the stranger in the pew beside me than husbands are to their wives? That I am flooded by a grace that perforates through all of time and space (like a Portal gun on steroids!), so that we touch forever and the whole world in that moment? It doesn’t feel like enough. Through the veil of my senses, it seems entirely inadequate and logically ludicrous.
And yet I go to be with Him. And with myself, each past and future Mel drawn into the Eternal Now at Mass — the sleeping baby and the restless child (the 12-year gap where Young Agnostic Mel vanishes), the bewildered grad student — the older self I have not yet become, but stride to meet.
And in the Mass and in the Eucharist, I stride to meet the people I have known who are now gone; the people I have yet to meet (my husband and my children, if I have them) — all the people who have come before me, all the people who will come after. And for each of these people, all of them in time and space — their crawling, squirming baby selves, the men and women that those babies grow up to become, the babies they will hold in turn within their wrinkled arms. All their infinite and glorious complexity at every moment, drawn also into the Eternal Now.
Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
– Gerald Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”
At a few Masses, I have had glimpses of a shadow of a fragment of this streaming; I try to remember those, and how they point me towards what I have. I have communion. And I ache for it. And the ache is something that rips my heart open — when I let it, because I constantly fight it — rips it and scours my heart with scalding light, a love I don’t deserve and cannot understand.
I am still learning to believe that this is true. If the Eucharist is real, then my hunger is as well. And that hunger is just as infinite as God is. And it hurts. Too much. I cannot hold the infinite within me.
But God can. And I can hold God, through the grace of God.