Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic life. We cannot be Catholic if we do not take in this teaching as the heart of our faith, any more than we can have life within us if we do not partake of this divine feast. We need Jesus even more than we need food. The fifth luminous mystery is one a person of faith must encounter and continue to rediscover each time he or she partakes of the feast. We must always be approaching the Eucharist with the enthusiasm we held at the first, and the gratitude of one for whom it was the final feast on this Earth.
Teaching CCD to students with special needs, I’m spending a lot of time talking about the Eucharist and pondering how much of the mystery of this sacrament must be understood to be properly received. The mother who attends with her son and I share this worry. We both see our sons as having reverent spirits and a desire to be part of the Mass. We both love our sons fiercely. We also both see our sons as having this condition of Down syndrome which, in many cases, limits their understanding.
I also have a 7-year-old daughter who will receive for the first time next year. Knowing how she thinks about life helps throw into perspective what needs to be known to prepare for the sacrament. They must know this is not merely bread, not merely wine. This is Jesus. They need to know who they receive even more than why. We still talk about why. We talk about the Eucharist being special, sacred. We practice bowing our heads, walking up, receiving. We read the Scripture. We talk about receiving this most precious gift, Jesus in us.
At some point, we get to concerns about the how and when. He doesn’t like crowds. We talk about different places to sit, which Masses are less crowded. Sometimes, he’s loud. We talk about ways to help him with the stress, quiet strategies. What if my son doesn’t like the taste and spits out the host? We consider practicing with an unconsecrated host before deciding to ask Father’s guidance. We plan to let time, modeling and repetition work its magic on our sons’ expectations and behavior. We’re going to keep emphasizing being reverent, rather than put ideas in their heads about what they could do, even as we’re trying to minimize potential problems.
The emphasis is the sacred, the sacred, the sacred and I realize that I need it too. How often do we forget how sacred this is? Often enough to know that I need reminders. My daughter bounces on her heels thinking about wearing the white dress and receiving. My son and his friend want to be part of what we’ve received each Mass for ourselves, the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven, the one True God — sometimes without thinking, sometimes without allowing ourselves to think. In giving instruction about how to receive, I’m left with the very same questions of my own soul. Am I approaching the Eucharist figuratively bouncing on my heels in anticipation? Am I approaching God in awe? The only proper answer is, “Lord I am unworthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Going back to the class, I’m searching for a way to explain the deeper reality and it hits me. They are the deeper reality. Just as the closest thing to the Eucharist outside the Eucharist is another person, so our sons remain a breathing example of the deeper reality of their being, the reality beyond the accident of their forms. People see our sons and see the real — kids with Down syndrome — but not always the actual, our sons who are funny and kind, affectionate and surprisingly adaptable and inventive about getting what they think they need. Our sons interact with countless people each day, smiling, high fiving, and not everyone recognizes the greater gifts being offered in those moments, but they’re still offered each day to each person again and again. Sometimes, people who encounter our sons, are shocked into seeing, how much more they are than their labels and first glances reveal. Sometimes, encountering our sons challenges and changes how people see people who have Down syndrome. They enter into relationship, and now see more fully.
The Eucharist is the actual, though we sometimes fail to see more than the real (the consecrated bread and wine), in our business and distraction. Jesus told us that unless we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, we have no life within us. We should be shocked to the core by this sentence, changed by the challenge of reality to our perception of what is real, and what is actual. Let us enter into relationship with Jesus and see more fully.