As I mentioned before, the experience of an entire Lent on Patmos Island without full participation in the Eucharist provided an occasion for much thought on my part. The importance of the Eucharist for daily life, and its value as a regular spiritual “exercise” for the entire community became increasingly clear.
Spiritual writers, for example, have long insisted that the “Our Father” is the perfect prayer for Christians because it contains all the elements a good prayer should have: community (“our”), recognition of God as the source of life and indeed in a personal relationship (“Father”), transcendence (“in heaven”), utter holiness (“hallowed”), recognition of God’s sovereign action in history (“Kingdom”), obedient compliance (“will”), heaven / earth continuity (“on earth as in heaven”), dependence for nourishment (“daily bread”), forgiveness (“trespasses”), reciprocity (“as we forgive”), protection from final disaster (“temptation”) and safe security from evil (“deliverance”).
Absolutely everything which should be contained in a Christian prayer is there. It is perfect. More than providing material for petitions, this prayer creates a place for relationship.
In a similar fashion, it became clear during my musings on Patmos that everything which should be an integral element in mature Catholic spirituality is found in the sacramental celebration of the Eucharist. Allow me to offer a brief list by way of example.
The fact that the liturgy begins with the sign of the Cross places the community’s prayer smack into the midst of our human relationship with the Trinity and the Redemption, but also within the dynamism of the great missionary commission to make disciples of all nations, ourselves included. A greeting makes sure that everyone is recognized as present in their individuality as well as their bonded unity.
The penitential rite acknowledges God’s mercy and our need for that mercy because of our sins. The specific type of mercy requested and granted, however, is mutually covenantal, namely hesed! The bond between God and us is affirmed joyfully and gratefully.
The initial prayer pulls everyone into the circle of the prayer of Christ and his church. Following the daily directives of the Ordo links us with the larger church.
Selected portions of the Word of God as found in the Lectionary are proclaimed with some opportunity for ritual response from the entire community as well as from the individuals who happen to be present. Those texts also connect us with the larger global church hearing the same Word. I continue to be struck by the care with which the psalms were selected with an eye toward the main point of the readings just proclaimed.
Gifts are presented to deepen our sense of dependency on God and each other, followed by praise for God’s beneficence in creation and in history! Summoned solemnly into the prayer of Christ by the preface, we share his prayer to the Father and enter the timeless action by which we are once again united with Christ and each other.
We recite the perfect prayer, the “our Father,” and receive the Bread of life for facing the realities of daily life. Mission for the future is never lost in the prayer of the moment.
A final prayer for new energy is expressed as we prepare to return to the task of transforming the world … for which a blessing is offered and a sending experienced.
Everything is there! No significant element of adult Catholic spirituality is omitted or missing. We often say that weekly attendance at the Sunday Eucharist is a concrete measurement of a practicing Catholic. For all sorts of unfortunate reasons that seems to be a fading reality in the lives of many of our Catholic families, at least as the statistics seem to indicate.
But more important than being simply a Catholic obligation or a rule of life, the regular participation in the Eucharist is an opportunity to “practice” what Catholic Christianity is really all about. Like any human habit or skill, whether it be a golf stroke or a favorite family recipe or finding the best way of conversing with teenage children, we keep practicing until we get good at it.
We even have the Holy Spirit as a personal trainer for the specific spiritual weaknesses which need to be addressed.
So, it turns out that there are several levels of meaning in the term “practicing Catholic.” It could imply some humility when we recognize from a look in the mirror that we still need a lot of practice. At least that was my sense on Patmos among all the fine Greek Orthodox living on the island, namely that I missed the spiritual life-giving rhythm of the Eucharist.
See you at Mass!