A Personal Reflection: Encountering Christ in the purification process
By Deacon Michael P. Forbes
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (278-280) asserts that only a priest, deacon or acolyte may purify the sacred vessels used during Mass. Initially as acolyte and now, as deacon, it is a most hallowed duty for me to purify the same ciboria and chalices that carry Jesus’ precious Body and Blood to God’s people at Mass.
I am overwhelmed each time with an imposing sense of his True Presence and a piercingly humble reverence. Some light-heartedly, but mistakenly, refer to the purification of the sacred vessels as “doing the dishes.” But purification is much more than the proper disposing of what remains of the sacrificial offering of Jesus’ precious Body and Blood. It is much more than simply cleansing the sacred vessels.
Through purification, as in the Eucharistic celebration and at Holy Communion, I experience the transcendent Christ present in my very midst. It is as if I meet him and his Holy Family at the presentation in the temple; or join Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the mountaintop at the Transfiguration; or encounter him with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; or witness his ascension into Heaven. Purification is an act of reverence and the act of consuming and worshipping every fiber of Christ.
The priest consecrates the bread and wine and, through transubstantiation, makes present the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. He creates an unbroken continuity between the first worshipping community at the Last Supper, when Jesus gave all of humanity this sign of his presence, including the worshipping community of the current day. At communion, not only do we receive the Lord, but he receives us.
At a retreat with university students in the 1960s, the future Pope John Paul II (then the Archbishop of Cracow) spoke of Holy Communion as a “marvelous exchange.”
“We give our humanity to him who wants to give us his divinity in sacramental communion, that mystery of faith,” he said.
Certainly, the two most sacred moments at Mass are the consecration and the reception of the Eucharist for each individual. Therefore, it is most compelling, too, for the priest, deacon or acolyte to be entrusted with the unconsumed portions of the Body and Blood of our Lord. He is sacredly charged to safeguard and properly administer that which sanctifies and elevates the spiritual essence of the children of God. He is obligated in his actions to exalt the most Holy Eucharist through which each one of us is united to God and to one another in community.
Purification elicits great humility, joy and love. I suggest there exists, as well, an innate sadness for those in our community absent from the table of the Lord, evidenced by that which is visible in the vessels and in Holy Eucharist not consumed, but reserved in the tabernacle.
The most sacred heart of Jesus surely must be filled with sorrow for those missing from his sacrificial offering, be it because of illness or outright rejection of his love. When we partake of the Eucharist, we are immersed in the infinite love Christ has for us. As described by Blessed John Paul II, the Eucharist is both sacrament of his presence and sacrament of our expectation, in which we “draw nearer to the key moments of our salvation.”
Pope Francis reminds us that the first disciples, after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully. The Samaritan woman became a missionary after speaking with Jesus. St. Paul, who heard the voice of the Lord and was converted, immediately proclaimed Jesus. Just as the people in the Bible encountered Jesus, we experience him firsthand in the Eucharist.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis tells us every Christian is a missionary disciple, that we are all called to mission. Where better to commence our need for mission than with those absent from our Eucharistic community?
As St. Peter Julian Eymard said, “[b]e the apostle of the divine Eucharist, like a flame which enlightens and warms, like the angel of his heart who will go to proclaim him to those who don’t know him and will encourage those who love him and are suffering.”
May we all work on purifying ourselves so that we can go forth and bring Christ to all we meet, especially those who are lost. May we help them find their way back to the loving presence of Our Lord and Savior.
Deacon Michael P. Forbes works in the diocesan Office of Canonical and Tribunal Services. He serves at St. William Parish in Round Rock.