By Holly Gustafson
Well, our family finally went to Mass. After twelve Sundays of watching Mass online from the confines of our living room, we finally walked into a real live church to receive the Eucharist.
And I really wish I could say it was marvellous and miraculous and the most profound experience of the Eucharist that I’ve ever had, after being away from Him for so long.
But it wasn’t.
It started out great. When I walked into the church and saw the familiar faces of my priests and deacon waiting for our family, I burst into tears. It felt so good to be back, even as we were sprayed down with sanitizer and seated in a silent and near-empty church.
But our first Mass back as a family wasn’t as remarkable as I thought it would be. I expected the kids to at least be aware of this monumental moment – we’re back, after so long! – and be extraordinarily reverent and reserved. They were not. They whispered amongst themselves as if it were any ordinary Sunday Mass, which they were only somewhat willingly attending. The youngest fell asleep during the homily (sorry, Father Parker). I continually had to shush them in the otherwise silent church, disappointed in their lack of wonder and awe.
And in reality, I was no better. The moment I sat in my pew, I had the unfounded and irrational fear that I would most certainly, definitely, uncontrollably, have an enormous coughing fit right here in the middle of Mass, and Father Steve himself would have to haul me out and toss me into the church parking lot. I spent the entire time distracted by the fear of coughing, getting thrown out of Mass, and missing the Eucharist (sorry again, Father Parker).
And when it finally came time to receive communion, I was so preoccupied by the protocol (stand here, do this, go there) that I missed it. I missed the moment when I finally got to receive the Eucharist after twelve Sundays away. I went through the motions, I performed the procedure the best I could (although I entirely forgot to say “Amen,” so preoccupied was I with getting everything else right), but my heart missed the moment.
But it’s ok. It’s ok if our first time back was not the ecstasy-inducing experience I thought it would be (alas, not one of us levitated). It’s ok if it wasn’t perfect. “The Holy Eucharist is a fire that purifies and consumes all our miseries and imperfections,” says St. Hyacinth of Mariscotti, a seventeenth century Italian nun. “Do everything in your power to make yourself worthy of the Eucharist, and this Divine Fire will take care of the rest.”
St. Hyacinth certainly wasn’t perfect herself, at least not in the beginning. The only reason she joined the convent was because the man she had her heart set on marrying decided to marry her younger sister instead; she sulked off to the monastery, where she moped and nursed her hurt feelings. She also created herself quite the life of luxury there in her little cell: she kept a stock of fine food (convent food is notoriously underwhelming), wore a habit of the finest material, and even received paid visits.
This life of lavishness – so contrary to the spirit of her Franciscan vows – might have continued had St. Hyacinth not fallen ill. When the priest came into her cell to bring her communion, he was scandalized by her extravagance, and immediately reproached her, urging her to abandon the frivolity to which she clung, and instead, cleave more closely to the vows and way of life to which she had committed herself.
So she did. Chastened, St. Hyacinth completely changed her life: she traded her fancy habit for an old tunic, went barefoot, and fasted on bread and water. During the Italian Plague that swept through her region, killing 25% of the population, St. Hyacinth dedicated herself to nursing and caring for the sick. By the time she died, St. Hyacinth, who entered the convent a scorned and pouty woman, had become so pious that her old worn tunic had to be replaced three times – people kept snipping off pieces to be kept as relics of a woman they knew would soon be named a saint.
This gives me hope. The Eucharist is a fire onto which I can toss all my miseries and imperfections – my distraction, my preoccupation, my irreverence, my all-round unworthiness – and know that He will consume it all, and purify me.
Jesus deserves more than to be set out on a table, or plucked off a tray, or dropped into a hand. He deserves more than for my children to be chit-chatting during Mass, or for me to be preoccupied or fretting, or whatever I might be doing that takes my focus off of the sacrifice of the altar. But no matter what, pandemic or not, Jesus always deserves more than we can give him. Even my most heroic and reverent efforts will be a measly pittance towards what the Eucharist is worth.
This, too, gives me hope: that Jesus never asks to be worshipped to perfection, but that, in our imperfection (the distraction, the preoccupation, the prohibitive protocol), we worship Him anyways. Not because we’re perfect, or even despite the fact that we are imperfect, but because we know that we are.
This isn’t good enough, Jesus. I’m not good enough. But I’ll do everything I can anyways, and let the Divine Fire of the Eucharist take care of the rest.
EUCHARISTIC CHALLENGE OF THE MONTH
Join me in a 12-month challenge to grow closer to the Eucharist this year. This month, take stock. Is there something in your life that you’re clinging to that makes you less available to truly appreciating the Eucharist? Let it go, do your best, and let God do the rest.
Holly Gustafson lives with her husband, James, and their five children, in Regina, where they attend Christ the King Parish. Holly received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba, and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, "Always ask Love. It advises best."
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