I figured it out. I have been a Catholic for 312 Sundays. Between vacations and RCIA at our mission parish, I’ve been at my home parish probably 70% of the time. That means, before this Sunday, I have experienced the liturgy there 218 times, give or take.
And I still messed up on my first day as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. I forgot to retrieve the ciborium from the tabernacle.
Fortunately, neither God nor the pastor seemed to take great exception to that particular lapse. I doubt anyone in the parish (except my groom) even noticed. I would have preferred to get it all correct (still looking for the 105% on my exam, after all) but the reality that I didn’t was neither a surprise nor a distress to me. Real progress in my journey.
What was a surprise to me was the overwhelming emotion of giving the Body of Christ to others for the first time. It wasn’t holding Christ in my hands that did it, so much as it was the eyes. There were so many eyes!
Years ago, when I entered the Episcopal Church, the rector who instructed us said, ”Look at the person who gives you the host--you are looking into the eyes of Christ.” I’ve since made it a habit to do so. I was unprepared for the fact that--at least in my parish--everyone else does so too. As a communicant, I look only into one set of eyes. As an Extraordinary Minister, I looked into dozens.
I realized in that brief span of time how little we connect with each other’s gaze these days. Even in conversation, glances are often brief, or looks are over the shoulder and beyond the person. Rarely do we really connect with intentional glances, and it is not often that we hold each other’s eyes with our own.
Not today. Person after person looked right at me, into me, through me. Blue eyes, brown, wide, young, old, and all of them expectant and hungry. I suppose there were those who might have been nonchalant among the communicants in my line, but you couldn’t prove it by me. I was suddenly aware of the great gravity of what I was doing, the enormous gift that passed between us as I gave each the Eucharistic Lord.
And those eyes. The roles were reversed, and suddenly as I held my Lord in my hands, I saw Him in each of those eyes. I am thankful I was not at that moment gifted with tears, and I only lost my voice once.
A priest friend admonished me, when I expressed hesitation about taking on this new vocation, that I was not to view this as an honor. “Don’t go getting all skittish about this. You are one of the baptized faithful “ he reminded me. “It is your duty to take Christ to the world. This is just another way.”
Indeed. And another lesson in the fact that when I truly move past myself to bring Christ to others, I myself see Him, clearly, intimately, and unexpectedly.