Experiencing the Real Presence

Monstrance

Apologies dear reader, I appear to have gotten ahead of myself in my what I said at the end of the last post. The post about the Blessed Virgin will have to wait. Much more important in the cosmic scheme, and chronologically antecedent, is the story of the first time I attended Mass.

Now I had established for that I had no choice spiritually or intellectually but to enter the Church, and still I had no idea what that meant, really. I was still unsure about what exactly I was supposed to be doing, but I came to the conclusion that I should probably attend an actual Catholic Mass. So on Sunday evening the week after the Walk for Life, I nervously made my way to Newman Hall in Berkeley around 9 PM.

I sat on the couches in the reception area for about half an hour, reading my Bible and wrestling with my innate discomfort with attending a Catholic Mass. I had already felt the moving of the Spirit in the Church (indeed, within the very Parish I sat in), I had intellectually explored the Churches claims and found them impregnable, I had seen private Catholic devotions up close and felt a tug in my heart.

Yet for all this, still the Mass frightened me, set me on edge. I had been raised to believe that the Mass itself was a blasphemy against God, a re-Crucifixion of Christ that spit upon the Gospel. I no longer believed that to be the case, but there was a deep place in my gut where I still felt primordial disgust at the thought of attending a Catholic Mass.

I knew the Mass started at ten, so I made God an offer. If someone I knew came up to me and asked me to enter the sanctuary, I would take that as a sign and enter in peace. I felt relieved after making this promise, as the part of me that wanted to avoid going in to Mass thought there was little to no chance of that happening, even though I did know some parishioners at Newman.

I paced up and down the hall slowly, examining the pictures and icons up for display, appreciating their finer details. The clock ticked on towards 10, and I had seen no-one that I knew. I was conflicted, on one hand I wanted to attend Mass and knew that I should, but I was strangely glad at the idea of being able to avoid it. Then, something exceptional happened. The sign I had asked for came to pass, and from a completely unexpected source.

Someone I vaguely recognized walked up and expressed surprise to see me there, and I explained that I was visiting for the first time. I couldn’t place her at first, so we quickly reintroduced ourselves. Her name was Andrea, and she was the friend of a good friend I had hung out with a couple times in the past. She invited me to come on in to the service that was about to start up, and so in we went.

I was flabbergasted that my ploy to avoid going to Mass through asking for a sign actually resulted in being given the requested sign, but I’ve learned to not be surprised when that sort of thing happens.

The Mass itself was life-changing. The sanctuary was lit only by candles, lending an air of mystery. The music was lead by a man with a guitar to the far left side of the sanctuary. It was bewildering following along with the congregation who knew the liturgy by heart, including when to sit, stand, or kneel.

One of the charges leveled at the Catholic Church by Evangelical Protestants is that one “never hears the Gospel” being preached, especially from ex-Catholics with axes to grind. I had not seen this to be the case in the case of Catholics I knew, or in Catholic writings I had read. At the Mass, however, I was overwhelmed by the sheer presence of the Gospel in the liturgy, from the scripture readings, the homily, the Creed, the prayers, and most especially the consecration of the Host and communion. The whole Mass, from beginning to end, was a testimony to the Gospel. I could not, and still cannot, understand how anybody could look at the liturgy and see anything other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed and glorified.

Now, I mentioned in an earlier entry how I had mocked my friend Amanda for the Catholic belief in Transubstantiation. By the point I had actually decided to attend Mass, I no longer thought of it as a silly doctrine, and assented to it intellectually, but I didn’t believe it fully. I cannot explain what I sensed when kneeling during the prayer of consecration, but I knew that the elements had been changed, that the power of God had indeed descended upon the bread and wine. I came in with an intellectual agreement with the concept, but I left with sure faith in the reality of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, an experience that is validated whenever I attend Mass.

I went up and received the blessing from the priest, and felt profound peace and grace from the experience. The priest blessed us and sent us forth. I’ve attended Mass many times since then, and while it is always a deeply enriching experience, I will not ever forget going for the first time, and the providence I encountered.

Next time, we shall discuss the Blessed Virgin.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni Per Mariam

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~ by Sam Urfer on August 29, 2008.

2 Responses to “Experiencing the Real Presence”

  1. Great stuff, Sam! Keep it up!

  2. Hi Sam. I wanted to ask you a question based on something you wrote on the internetmonk site, but Michael does not want us continuing to “debate” the Mary thing. I don’t have your email address to email you directly but I believe you will see my email when I post this note. If you don’t mind, could you email me please? I am noticing that you haven’t posted for a while, so I hope you will see this. Thanks!

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