As close as it gets

At Mass yesterday, it was the First Holy Communion for the kids in the parish CCD program.   The priest invited them to stand around the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and it was so sweet to see the girls in their white dresses and the boys in their dark suits and little ties, their chins barely clearing the altar, watching with such rapt attention.  They were amazingly well-behaved; the beautiful mystery of what they were seeing seemed to be resonating with them.

I thought about the times that I’ve stood close to the altar myself during Mass, at retreats and at my own wedding.  And there’s no doubt about it, it’s a moving experience.  I’m currently at a period of my life where we’re usually about as far away from the altar as you can get, a function of 1) having a very restless three-year-old and 2) habitually coming into Mass a few minutes late, in spite of our strenuous efforts to be on time.    And I have to admit that I do miss being close to the action, so to speak.

I wasn’t at all close today; we were, unsurprisingly, in the very back row of the church.  But as I watched those little children all gathered in hushed silence around Father, and later, as I saw their parents come up and join the children for the Our Father, I thought about how that will be me one of these years.  I looked at Lukey, who was lying on his stomach on the kneeler as if it were a surfboard, and in my mind I fast-forwarded to the time when we’d be celebrating his First Communion, and he’d be entering into the mystery of it all himself.  And I know that when my boys prepare for their First Communion, I’ll get to be close to the experience in a totally new way.   I’ll get to see it all from their perspective, and answer their questions, and watch their faces as they process the mystery of it all for the very first time.

And I love thinking about how this ritual is, by its very nature, all about closeness and intimacy.  Even when we’re sitting  in the very back row of the church, even when we totally miss the words of the consecration because we are trying to keep a small child from foraging through a stranger’s purse, we still get to walk down that aisle and hold the body of Christ in our hands.  We get to take Christ into our very selves, our very body and blood …and you simply can’t get any closer than that.

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