Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ex Opere Operato

I have almost memorized the entire Second Eucharistic Prayer.  I am nearing the same proficiency with the First Eucharistic Prayer, or as it is sometimes called, the Roman Canon.  It pleases me to have achieved both of these things.  Having memorized them, I am not bound to the missal, but rather, am freer to lift my eyes to Heaven and address the Church's prayer to God the Father as opposed to speaking them to the pages upon which the text of the prayers are written.  The words of the prayers possess additional layers of meaning when I can speak them from the heart as opposed to reading them.  Such an accomplishment is not, however, altogether without danger.  It is also possible, and at times I must admit, my practice, to recite the words as though I were reciting the alphabet.  In the end, the sacrament is confected, ex opere operato, but this is no excuse for negligence on my own part.  One must, nevertheless, concede that the practice of speaking the same words over and over, day after day, lends itself to the possibility of regarding even something so extraordinary as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as something rather ordinary, or perhaps more accurately, something usual.  After all, it happens every day at a scheduled time.

Every so often, the Holy Spirit comes crashing through the "ordinaryness" of what I am doing as I celebrate the Mass, reminding me that though celebrating the Mass is not unusual, it remains the most profound moment of my life.  Such an intervention occurred a number of weeks ago.

Everything had proceeded as normal through the majority of Mass.  Along with the regular number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, I had descended from the sanctuary to the floor to distribute the Body and Blood of Our Lord to the faithful.  As the procession made its way forward, it suddenly occurred to me, "I know everyone in this line!"  Each person who bowed to Our Lord and spoke their amen, I knew by name.  I was astonished.  While I have been deeply in love with this parish for a long time, in a very real way these people were suddenly my people.  I knew them.  I belonged to them.  Just as suddenly, I also realized that not only did I know them, I also knew the individual burden each of them bore to the altar.  "The Body of Christ." She is a recent widow.  "The Body of Christ." He lost his life savings to gambling.  "The Body of Christ." This one is receiving chemotherapy.  "The Body of Christ." That one weeps for her children who have left the faith.  "The Body of Christ."  Her husband despises her faith.  "The Body of Christ." He can't forgive himself for how he raised his children.

Then the Holy Spirit spoke.

"You bear these burdens to the altar for them, Father." (Curiously, the Holy Spirit calls me "Father".)

Ex opere operato indeed.  There is nothing ordinary about what I do.