I went to a college preparatory high school in northern New Jersey that used to be a high school seminary. I was in the second class of girls to graduate from the school. When I went there, we had nearly 300 students and only 30 of us were female. Needless to say, the culture within the school had to morph to accept female students. By the time I graduated, girls comprised about one half of the school population.
When I was a junior, we had our first-ever field day. Classes were suspended, and the day began with a field mass. The principal, who was a priest, set up a portable altar and a microphone system and the music department provided music for the liturgy. The weather was perfect to spend the entire day outside.
I don’t remember what we sang or even the words of the homily. But, as we gathered on the knoll of the back yard, birds chirped, squirrels scampered and even a deer came by to check us out! I had a sense of being involved in something greater. It was not just “a Mass” but a celebration of life that was far greater than just my high school. Yes, I was sitting on a knoll of a hill in Wayne, New Jersey, but I was present to something or Someone greater than I. It was at that moment, I believe, that I fell in love with the Church as well as the Mass.
I am reminded of this experience as I continue my series on the Eucharist. In the book, Eucharist: Celebrating Its Rhythms in Our Lives, by Father Paul Bernier, SSS, we read, “There is no need to be boosted to some higher level to be virtuous. We need only actualize the potentialities of our humanness. Everything we hear about Jesus becomes a challenge for our own self-understanding and growth. To be sinful is not to be human, it is to abdicate what humanity is all about and lower us to the level of the animals. This understanding of Christ draws us beyond our present vistas to a future vision of what can be, and what God desires. He often speaks of the Eucharist as a foretaste of the messianic banquet in the heavenly kingdom. This is simply a way of saying that the Eucharist is not the ultimate reality. Rather, it points to a yet unfulfilled future when God will be all in all. So, in the liturgy, we gather, we preach, and we break bread. But by trying to understand the larger picture of God’s dealing with his universe, each celebration is a prayer that we might be faithful to what God has already accomplished in history and everything that the Eucharist points to and claims to celebrate.”1
Every single liturgy in which we participate has another dimension that only a few of us can sense or even appreciate. That dimension points to “heaven on earth.” Every Eucharist is an instance of what awaits us in heaven; a sharing of Trinitarian unity and love. Even if we don’t feel anything, this reality remains. Each and every time we participate in the Eucharist, we are closer to our friends and relatives who have died than when they were alive. In short, we are one with all in heaven and on earth!
It is my prayer that all of us deepen our experience of this reality just like I did so many years ago!
1 Bernier, P. Eucharist: Celebrating its rhythms in our lives. Ave Maria Press. 1993. P. 83.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness