I was in the bride’s room with my toddler, a non-flower girl as she had angrily discovered fifteen minutes earlier at the beginning of my brother-in-law’s nuptial Mass. She sat in my lap, her heavy lashes still wet with tears. I rubbed her back. The ring bearer was with us, too, sunk deep in the corner of the worn velvet couch, too tired from the rehearsal dinner to stand in the pews and hot in his vest. We were there for the long haul as I dared not bring the tired-eyed toddler back into the church past her cousins beautifully arrayed in their matching dresses. In the little corner of the cathedral, a room tucked away in a gathering area, I felt a thousand miles away from the ceremony. I sighed and sunk back into the couch and stared at the blank wall ahead.
Time passed and I could hear the vows over the loud speaker. I imagined my brother-in-law and his lovely fiancé exchanging consent. I thought sadly of my mother-in-law who had died suddenly this past Christmas. I considered the enormity of Jesus soon becoming present in the Eucharist and knowing that I’d miss Him. And then I thought of a book my mother had given me recently.
The book, 7 Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn, had been a beautiful, simple, yet profound reminder that our participation in Mass is truly a participation in the Divine Liturgy eternally unfolding in Heaven. I could hear the Sanctus over the speakers and recalled Flynn’s writing about our union with all of heaven at that very moment.
So, in reality there is only one Mass, one eternal Liturgy of the Eucharist, and it’s taking place in heaven all the time. Christ, the One Great High Priest, is celebrating it, perpetually offering His once-for-all sacrifice to the Father in the heavenly court, surrounded by Mary and the saints, and by the angels, who sing His praise in endless adoration…
As the Catechism explains it…by our celebration of the Mass in our little parish church, anytime, and anywhere, ‘we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life’(# 1326). (44-45)
Flynn adds, “The Mass is the most complete experience of unity possible for us on earth, for we are praying together with the whole Church—all over the world and in heaven.” (46) He includes a quote from Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper, “We go to heaven when we go to Mass.” I suddenly didn’t feel so far away from everyone in our little room.
The prayer of consecration would come next and my mind turned to the Eucharist. What had really drawn my mom to the book was the chapter entitled “Christ is Not Alone.” In it Flynn writes about the reality of all of heaven being present with Jesus in the Eucharist. He writes, “When He becomes present for us in the Eucharist, Christ is not alone.” (19) Flynn reminds us:
As the Son of God and the Son of Man, the King of Kings, glorified now in body and soul and seated at the right hand of the Father, He is surrounded by the whole heavenly court of angels and saints, and eternally reunited with His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary who, having been assumed into heaven, body and soul, now reigns with Him as Queen of heaven and earth.
Christ is never alone. When He becomes present in the Eucharist as He is in heaven, without leaving heaven, that means that all of heaven is present with Him. (26)
I imagined not only the bride and groom and our family gathered with the priest around the altar, but all of heaven, praying and praising God at the same Mass. I hoped very much that my mother-in-law wasn’t merely present in our memories and love for each other but really and truly there with us, as real as Jesus in the Eucharist.
I could hear the scuffle of people getting up from their spots to head up for communion. With the little energy left I tried to make a spiritual communion, a practice encouraged in Flynn’s book. Vinny Flynn references St. Thomas in the Summa when he writes, “Sacramental eating is when I receive with at least some understanding of the sacrament and some intent to receive it. Spiritual eating is when my sacramental eating is accompanied by a real longing for union with Christ. I thus receive not only the sacrament itself but also the sacramental effect whereby I am spiritually joined to Christ in faith and love.” (83)
He elaborates, “Kolbe stressed what we’ve already seen from St. Thomas Aquinas, that the graces of the Eucharist are received in proportion to our spiritual condition, our desire to be united with God. And, since God always honors our desire for union with Him, these graces are not limited to sacramental Communion. ‘At times, Kolbe explained, ‘spiritual communion brings the same graces as sacramental.’” (86)
Even though I could not carry my fragile daughter and sleepy son up to communion, I felt solace knowing that I could unite my heart spiritually with Christ’s until I could receive Him again. I tried to think on this and offer a little token of love to the Sacred Heart.
The priest gave the final blessing and a few minutes later I could hear the bride and groom’s joyful chatter from behind the door. We straightened up the room and I slowly opened up the door and peeked out. The whole wedding party and family and friends were all gathered together.
I felt the stress and fatigue melt away as we joined up with the happy faces of our family. No one had noticed the outburst, and my littlest girl was now standing next to one of the other two-year-olds, posing for pictures as she held a pink rose that a lovely flower girl had plucked from her bouquet. I looked around the room, saw the beautiful bride and her handsome groom. The dashing groomsmen looked for their families. The bridesmaids chatted happily and my father-in-law greeted the well-wishers with a brave smile. And I hoped very much that my mother-in-law had truly been there with us.
“It was beyond them that all the joy of heaven had entered one small, exiled heart, and that it was too weak to bear it without tears. As if the absence of my mother could make me unhappy on the day of my first Communion! As all heaven entered my soul when I received Jesus, my mother came to me as well.” –St. Therese of Liseux (35)