The call came in at 1:20p.m. on a Tuesday.
My professional association had run a nice “member spotlight” on me in its magazine. It wasn’t much, just a few pictures of me and my family and a nice questionnaire about my career and personal interests.
So, when a colleague called and mentioned it, I figured it was little more than a formality, a nice outreach. A few minutes into the conversation, however, I realized that there was more to the call.
In the article, I mentioned being passionate and actively involved in my faith. The colleague asked me some questions about my faith, obviously trying to avoid asking, “so, what are you?” For a moment or two, we did a strange verbal dance in which each of us tried to discern where the other was coming from. I finally decided to cut to the chase, offering a truncated edition of my faith journey: “I grew up in the Catholic church,” I explained, “but I left the Church and eventually became a Baptist minister. After six years there, however, God led me back home to Catholicism.”
There was a long silence on the line.
“Well,” my colleague said, “I’m sorry to hear that you found the truth and turned away from it.”
There was a longer silence on my end. How is someone supposed to respond to that?
For the next twenty minutes, the man on the other end of the phone attempted to explain every theological objection he had to Catholicism. He made many of the arguments that, at a certain time in my life, I would have made. I did my best to return fire reasonably, respectfully and charitably.
At one point, we were in a back and forth on the Eucharist, talking about what Jesus said or didn’t really mean to say, according to my colleague. “The blood that Jesus shed on the cross was a one time atonement for all sins,” he finally said, “so why do you Catholics believe that you have to ‘redo’ the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist every day?”
I’ll admit that, in the moment, I didn’t really know how to respond to the question. Honestly, I’d never really thought that’s what we’re doing in the celebration of the Eucharist. I dodged the question and, mercifully, wrapped up the conversation shortly thereafter. But the question lingered in my mind, “are we re-crucifying Jesus every time we participate in the Eucharist?” We are, after all, inviting God to miraculously turn bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ and then we’re breaking the bread/body, holding it up for the world to see and echoing the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
I dug into the Catechism in search of an explanation. This is what I found:
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same…
Maybe I’m slow and everyone else in the pews is already in on this reality but as I read those words the Mass at once became deeper and more mysterious to me. Just as the bread and wine serve as more than symbols of the body and blood, the Mass is not just a representation or reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus. We, as participants, do more than stand in a church thousands of miles away from Jerusalem. In the celebration of the Mass, the sacrifice of Christ becomes present to us, we are taken out of time and connected to that day on Calvary’s hill. Further, in the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we are connected with the choruses of the church in heaven, calling out praise to God for all eternity. The Mass is more than “church.” The Mass is, effectively, a portal through time to eternity.
I thought about calling the guy back and explaining, but figured that it might only lead to more “arguments,” for which I wasn’t prepared.
Plus, my mind was a little bit overwhelmed by what I’d just realized. As Catholics, we don’t need Marty McFly’s Delorean or Doctor Who’s phone booth to traverse the span of time. We only need the Mass to be time travelers.
The next time you’re kneeling at the consecration, close your eyes and meditate on that reality.