Earlier this week, we published an essay titled A Gathering of Different Lights by Mary Lane Potter about the importance of making room in our religious practices for others to be fully present and welcomed. Yesterday, we published a response by Collegeville Institute board member and former Resident Scholar Mary Farrell Bednarowski. The following essay is the second, and final, response by Victoria Ries, who appears as a character in the original essay.
When Mary Lane Potter first sent me her essay, the subject line was “please don’t blush.” In it, she describes a visit to the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the campus of Seattle University. She attended on a day on which I was preaching the Novena of Grace.
She attributed to me the generous invitation to come to the table. I corrected her memory that I had not made the invitation to come to the table. I said that in my experience, that invitation just before communion was made by the presider. It is usually in the form of inviting those who will not receive communion to come forward with the community and receive, not the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, but a blessing.
But, upon further thought, I realized that I had likely concluded my reflection with words very similar to her recollection: Having been fed at the table of the Word, we come soon to the table of the Lord to be fed by the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
So, no, I did not make the invitation at the time of communion to come forward with the community to be fed by the body and blood of Christ or to receive a blessing. But, yes, I did plant the seed with my customary concluding homiletic words of invitation to come to the table to be fed with the gift of Christ’s body and blood as food for our life just as we have been fed at the table of God’s word.
My understanding of Eucharist is that we are fed – not only with the Body and Blood of Christ, but with God’s word. And, further, that we are fed throughout the whole celebration of the Eucharist – with forgiveness, with the word of God, with transformation, with healing, with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, with hope, with mission.
When visitors come to our homes, we feed them. We do not limit our sharing to those who are somehow worthy to eat our food. We feed all who come. In this day and age, we make accommodations for those with food allergies or intolerances and even preferences. We invite and provide, but we do not force. Our guests will make the choice of what to eat and what not to eat–depending upon their preferences, limits, and desires.
Perhaps it is possible to view the offering of food at the Eucharist in the same light. God offers much to feed us at every Eucharist. At times we are more in need of a particular strengthening food and at other times of another of the offerings. But God always offers all the gifts to all who come to celebrate.
Each made the decision to receive or not to receive of the many gifts of nourishment that Jesus had offered.
I wonder if it is not possible to trust that those in attendance will make the right choice for themselves and to worry less about whether someone who is “not worthy or eligible” has received the Body and Blood of Christ. I do not believe that this is God’s concern. After all, Jesus fed everyone, including those who were deemed unclean and not worthy – the outcasts of his society, and also including the very people who resisted him and even the one who betrayed him and the one who denied him. He offered his words, his healings, and his body to all. And each made the decision to receive or not to receive of the many gifts of nourishment that Jesus had offered. And that is a decision that is made again and again in our lives and at each Eucharist.
In attending the Novena, Mary knew her own limits. She did not receive communion because to do so was not consistent with her beliefs. But she did come forward for a blessing because that was a nourishing gift that she could receive – as well as the gift of mercy and healing and transformation and mission. She wrote this essay, after all, as a testament to the way she had been fed and in response to a call to share what she had received from the service and from the environment.
We have all been fed and nourished by her sharing of her experience. May we continue to receive God’s nourishing gifts however they are given. May we be generous in sharing what we have received, as Mary has so generously done with us.