Lent and Easter Unite, As Do All Things, in the Mass

The Holy Eucharist is a threshold across which we pass into heaven.

“Mass of St. Gregory,” Cleveland Museum of Art
“Mass of St. Gregory,” Cleveland Museum of Art (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When Carl Sagan, the science writer, was working on a science fiction novel, he ran into a problem. He had a character who had to make it to a different part of the universe in a very short amount of time, an impossible feat based on the laws of physics as we knew them. Think of it this way, if someone wanted to travel from one side of our galaxy to the other, it would take 100,000 years if he could travel at the speed of light. And we can’t travel at the speed of light. So how could Sagan’s fictional character make it from one part of the universe to the other in a scientifically plausible way?

He turned to his friend, Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist who literally co-wrote the gold-standard textbook on general relativity and who, later, was heavily involved in the making of the 2014 film Interstellar. Instead of thinking about how to make things go faster, he thought about the fabric of space time and if it could “fold” back on itself and then create a wormhole to form a connection between two locations. Sounds like science fiction, but Thorne actually started writing scientific papers on the idea. Sagan’s problem was also solved, and he could finish his novel, Contact.

Wormholes and portals between different locations, dimensions and universes are now standard fare in science fiction stories. The idea that we can walk through a door and enter a completely different world appeals to us. There is a longing in every human heart to enter into a hole in the universe and find ourselves in a new and better place on the other side. We like to think that in our everyday world there are places we can enter or peer into a different reality.

C.S. Lewis portrays this longing beautifully in The Last Battle, where the protagonists enter through the door of a world that is falling apart into a transformed version of that world, a glorified Narnia where everything is “more real.” The Chronicles of Narnia itself is a great study in portals: wardrobes, picture frames, magic rings, and ponds are all ways of getting from one world to another.

One of the fascinating things about wormholes is that they would not be circles — they would be spheres, like the vision of God in the Divine Comedy. All of reality is inversed as the outer sphere becomes an inner sphere on which Dante can gaze and see all things. He seems to be looking into a sphere, when it would be more proper to say that he is looking out into God. What contains all things is contained in a vision.

Cardinal Sarah, in The Day is Now Far Spent, quotes Romano Guardini’s meditation on the altar as a portal. The Holy Eucharist is a threshold across which we pass into heaven. Right here, in and among us, is a door to the Mystery of Heaven. Every day in churches all around the world, the Divine crashes into Earth and tears open our dilapidated reality to enter into us so that we can enter into Him. The altar is not so much a portal into another world, but a door into the depths and foundations of our own world, a view of the Beating Heart that sustains the life of the cosmos. This is not science fiction or theoretical physics; it is theological truth and metaphysical reality. Christ has called himself the door. We are invited to enter in.

And what is on the altar but the Passion of Christ? Sometimes I imagine the crucified Christ lying on the altar, or a slain lamb being sacrificed. The suffering of God opens up the divine realm. The Cross is the threshold by which we Cross Over into the heart of God. We are called to participate in that very suffering. Lent and Easter unite, as do all things, in the Passion and, thus, in the Mass. We all face the problem of how to get to the place for which we yearn, an impossible feat on our own. Praise God that he has made a portal for us, and he is not far.