One of my catchphrases when teaching RCIA is, “A mystery is something that can be experienced even if it cannot be explained.” From time to time at the altar, as a priest, one glimpses the mystery in a new way which is astounding and so real that it makes ordinary reality seem pale and insubstantial. It happened like this tonight:
On Wednesdays I hear confessions from 5:15 to 6:15. At this time there is a holy hour concluded by Benediction. Then at 6:30 I celebrate Mass. I do so on Wednesday evenings ad orientem. Tonight the Mass was simple and dignified. Deacon Ballard assisted. Two children served. We celebrated the memorial of John Neumann. I was reminded earlier in the day of his extraordinary missionary zeal, his knowledge of many languages so he could minister to the immigrants, his love for children, for the poor, of his tireless work and how he literally died of exhaustion. While preaching about him, for a moment I was overcome with a sense of awe at his life. Then, at the altar I was aware of a presence–the presence of a little man so full of energy and zeal that he burned like a radiant light. Then after Mass, while deacon tidied the altar the presence was again so strong in a way I cannot explain.
It was like I could understand at once the power and the eternal radiance of the saints. I could see that the power and zeal and supernatural energy of the true saint was something far greater and more astonishing a human capability than that of any sports star, celebrity, genius or human marvel. I saw that a saint is infused with a supernatural quality which is humanity at its zenith, humanity having reached its true and amazing potential. I am now trying to put into words what was simply an impression which was powerful and real, but which only lasted for a brief moment. It was a flash of insight and then it was gone.
At once I understood at a deeper level than ever before why we say that the saint or blessed is ‘elevated to the altar’. Through the Eucharist time is suspended. Heaven and earth are met. The saints above connect with the world below and it is as if (and I do not mean to be irreverent) that the saint at that moment is ‘beamed down’ to the altar and we somehow share in the supernatural graces of Christ through the saints who make up the Mystical Body of Christ and that through the sacrament we too have a share in a communion far far greater and more marvelous than our blinkered eyes and hardened hearts can usually experience, and this share that we have is actually always present and always real. It is just that we are not usually vouchsafed the realization.