Half a dozen youngsters are presently going to the First Holy Communion class at church. They’ve learned how you make the Sign of the Cross. They’ve had a chance to flip through the Book of Common Prayer, to see what mommy and daddy are looking at Sunday mornings in church.
The other day they were introduced to the (unblessed) elements of Holy Communion. Everyone had a chance to see what a communion host tasted like (not exciting). They tasted a tiny sip of communion wine (make your faces now, not later!).
The teachers also let the children see and hold the silver paten and chalice from which the ministers distribute Holy Communion at the altar rail. This inspection was interesting.
That image of the children flipping the chalice upside down to make a THOROUGH inspection stayed with me. You don’t do this later, usually. But I guess it has to be done at least once, at the beginning. After all, just what is the big deal?
Ah, yes. I remember. It’s not immediately clear what the big deal is. That sinks in kinda slowly. Sometimes it can take years. And an element of mystery always remains, no matter how well you think you understand what is being held out to you.
This is one of those boundary zones where we get the hint there is something more going on than what we can feel and touch. Jesus talked about the wind, invisible, moving all around. Nicodemus still shook his head. “How can this be?” Indeed.
Why is the chalice so fancy and different? What makes the drink within so special? On our own, we would never figure this out. As Jesus explained to Peter, there are things that flesh and blood just don’t reveal to us. Some things become known to us only because God chooses to reveal them. That still doesn’t mean we understand them, in the usual sense. But we become aware of a reality beyond our natural ability to discover. We start to walk by faith, not by sight.
On our own, we flip that chalice upside down and puzzle at the intricate detail of the design. Once the Holy Spirit reveals the mystery unfolding through the sacrament – the inward grace carried by the outward sign – then we can begin to cross the border from natural to supernatural. From that point on, we hold that chalice reverently, carefully, with a deeper sense of wonder.
“The Body of Christ.” “The Blood of Christ.”