Ecce Agnus Dei...
Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Beati qui ad cenam Agnivocati sunt.”
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are they who come to the supper of the Lamb.”
The above lines are the call to the faithful,within the Mass, to acknowledge the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Catholics know this from a theological standpoint, but how many truly believe it, or grasp this Holy Mystery of the faith? Hopefully most do, sadly probably half or less actually do.
I do grasp the concept, and I do have faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. From my vague, Anglican-esque,lessons about it as a child, to my deep Catholic, theological-philosophical,explanations given to me as an adult, I GET IT. And my faith in His presence has always been there, from the first time I received the Sacrament in that little Episcopal Church in Longwood, FL in the 80’s until today, I have faith in this. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my highs and lows, that I never doubt it.Let’s face it; I’m human, and just as susceptible to doubting as anyone else. But it’s not the doubts that I want to talk about here. It’s the confirmations, those “Aha!” moments when you realize that Christ is with us that I want to talk about today.
In his book, The Robins are Back, the Rev. Henry E. Roberts talks about those “mountain top” moments when we know God is really there with us. His story in this book, “I’ve Been to the Mountain” is powerful and moving. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to delve more into the concept of the presence of God in our lives, and how, especially for those of us who were raised as mainline protestants (infant baptizing) and Catholics experience God as much and as often as our evangelical brothers in the faith.
I have had lots of “Mountain top” experiences in my life, from prayer groups, to church camps, to the miracle of my own children’s birth, but none of them pales in comparison to what I experienced at my first Anglican-Use Mass. Allow me to explain…
I was raised as an Episcopalian/Anglican. In 2001, I “swam the Tiber” and joined the Catholic Church. It was a big decision,and one that has positively impacted my life every step of the way. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote his Encyclical Anglicanorum Coetibus, which proceeded to create Anglican Us Ordinariates, diocese like structures - national in scope, of former Anglicans.These groups united the liturgy and practice of former Anglicans to our now Catholic faith. We are fully Roman Catholic, in communion with the Pope, yet are allowed to use our liturgy from our Anglican heritage and the Book of Common Prayer (with minor adaptations).
In 2011 I met a man, about my age, who was an Episcopal priest and had become Catholic. He was now in formation to become a Catholic priest and be incardinated into the US Ordinariate (Diocese) of former Anglicans (titled, The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter). We worked together to form a group, begin evening prayer with the group, organize, and build a mission parish, while we waited on him to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
On June 2, 2012, my new friend was ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Catholic Church by the Archbishop of Mobile.He had waited almost a year for this. I had waited, watched, and prayed with him. It was moving, it was exciting, and it was the beginning of something destined to be incredible for our Lord’s work.
The next day, Fr. Matthew Venuti celebrated his first Mass using the Anglican Use. I had and have the distinct privilege of serving our little parish community as the Clerk. The Clerk, in Anglicanism is much the same as the Subdiaconate role in pre-Vatican II Catholicism. I assistthe priest and deacon, minister communion to the faithful, read/chant the Epistle and the prayers of the faithful, and serve at the altar as the subdeacon. Serving as the “straw”subdeacon (“straw” or “stand-in”, as I am not in Holy Orders) permits me to stand at the altar as one of the “Sacred Ministers” at the table. I turn the pages in the Missal, help the deacon or priest prepare the bread and wine,etc… It is a great privilege and one that most laity never will get the opportunity to share in. I am fortunate that I have been called to this ministry, and I am blessed by it every time I serve at the altar.
At this particular Mass, I had that “mountaintop experience” that Rev. Roberts describes. But, I had it in a way that is completely foreign to your average protestant. I had it in relation to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of Communion. The Mass went by, just as I had remembered it from my Anglican childhood, but this time, something was different. It felt complete, in a completely new way. And then it happened….
“The gifts of God for the People of God. Behold the Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world.”
I knew the words well, as I turned around with the priest (we celebrate ad orientum) to show the host to the people, but something hit me… As we turned our bodies back toward the altar table and gazed down at the Sacred Host, it hit me: “Lord, Jesus, you are here! Right here in his hands! You are present in this piece of bread and chalice of wine! Present for me. Present for us all. Present to atone for the sins of the world.” I cried. (Which is very awkward when you are trying to distribute Holy Communion to a church full of people.) It hit me. I had been Catholic for 12 years,and I knew the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and I believed it, but NEVER, EVER had I been standing right there at the Fraction Rite on the altar(at least not in a Catholic Mass). I cried. A lot. And when I finally got back to the Sacristy, I cried again. It moved me. Jesus was there, in front of me,in the form of bread and wine, but HE WAS THERE. I had always felt his presence, in some way, during communion, but not like this. I went to the Mountain! I stood at the Altar of God! HE was present before me, and is at every Mass.
I always believed, but I now believe even more so!
Have you been to the mountain? Have you met Jesus in the Eucharist? Did you recognize, truly, His presence? If not, do so the next time you go to the altar. Smile and receive the Lord who loves you.
You can’t explain the Real Presence in the Eucharist adequately with words. No one can. No one ever will. It is faith. You have to accept that and just believe. And if you don’t believe today, then ask for God’s help in your unbelief. But when you do, your life will be forever changed.
“V\: I will go unto the altar of God. R\: Even the God of my joy and gladness.”
Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Psalm 43