Approaching the Eucharist with childlike awe Print
Everyday Faith
Thursday, Aug. 03, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

Everyday Faith column by Julianne Nornberg

In awe, my five-year-old son peered over the pew during the Consecration, the most holy part of the Mass during which the host and the wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Normally my youngest can be a bit rambunctious during Mass, but we try to pull him aside and point out the miracle before us at each Consecration.

Seeing through a child’s eyes

“The priest, in persona Christi, is asking the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus right now,” I whispered into my son’s ear. “Look! He’s holding up Jesus!”

My son stared, amazed.

“Is it magic?” he asked, simply and with wonder.

My heart smiled at his childish simplicity, and then I realized how well we would all do with such childlike amazement at God’s most precious gift of the Eucharist that renews us at every Mass.

“No, it’s not magic,” I told my son. “It’s God’s grace coming through the priest to do as Jesus told us.”

I tried to explain how the Eucharist is the physical way God joins with each of us on Earth. Yet, trying to explain it to a five-year-old, I realized what a mystery it is to me, a 40-something cradle Catholic.

The best I could summon was C.S. Lewis’ simple explanation in Mere Christianity: “[God] likes matter. He invented it.” So, of course, it makes sense that He comes to us in this physical way, in this most humble form of bread that feeds us, as we are not only spiritual beings, but physical beings as well.

But how to encapsulate this mystery for a young child? Sometimes it is best to simply sit back in awe at God’s design. Let the awe envelope you, amaze you, sweep you away with the “magic” of God’s miracle, just as a five-year-old would do.

Understanding the Eucharist

There is a place for fact — and there is a place for awe. The Eucharist comprises both.

“How many of you say, ‘I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes,’” said St. John Chrysostom. “You do see Him. You touch Him. You eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.”

In John 14:23 Jesus promises, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.”

Consider this analogy by St. Josemaria Escriva in Christ Is Passing By: “Think of the human experience of two people who love each other, and yet are forced to part. They would like to stay together forever, but duty — in one form or another — forces them to separate. They are unable to fulfil their desire of remaining close to each other, so man’s love — which, great as it may be, is limited — seeks a symbolic gesture,” such as exchanging photographs.

“What we cannot do, our Lord is able to do. Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, leaves us, not a symbol, but a reality. He himself stays with us.

“He will go to the Father, but he will also remain among men. He will leave us, not simply a gift that will make us remember him, not an image that becomes blurred with time, like a photograph that soon fades and yellows, and has no meaning except for those who were contemporaries. Under the appearances of bread and wine, he is really present, with his body and blood, with his soul and divinity” (83).

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, as though all the other proofs of his mercy were insufficient, institutes the Eucharist so that he can always be close to us. We can only understand up to a point that he does so because Love moves him, who needs nothing, not to want to be separated from us” (84).

God’s gift to us

Allowing childlike awe to enter our hearts, we too can wonder and be amazed by the gift God has given us in the Eucharist. Actively battle against distractions and lukewarmness that can consume us so easily in our daily routines. Strive to approach the Eucharist with a sense of wonder and thanksgiving that we have a God who loves us so much that He humbles Himself at every single Mass.

As my daughter wrote to her brother receiving First Communion a couple years ago, “Prepare yourself for receiving Him through His flesh and blood by thinking about His great sacrifice — He gave away His life, so can’t you do some little thing for Him?”

“Jesus always has time for you,” she wrote. “The question is: do you have time for Him?”

It’s a question we can ask ourselves — and remind our children to ask themselves — every single day.

Julianne Nornberg, mother of four young children, is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Waunakee.