Category Archives: Eucharist

The Advent of Divine Mercy

GraceGrace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

Contact Author


I often do not know what to think during Eucharistic Adoration.  Sometimes, I’m just too tired and want to fall asleep.  Other times, I think too much, preoccupied with the details of the service.  What is the priest doing?  I hope he doesn’t trip over his vestments when he stands up.  Should I be kneeling or sitting?  I hope nobody notices how off-key I am when I sing.  Oh, shoot, I wasn’t supposed to say that response yet – how embarrassing.  Person behind me, please stop shuffling and making all that noise.  Wow, look at that incense cloud wafting up to the ceiling.  Incense smells so good, but I hope no one here is allergic to it.   I wonder if I can translate this Latin text of the Tantum Ergo.  Oh no, my stomach is growling so loudly… I hope the music comes on soon.  I don’t like this song; I wish they’d stop playing and just let there be silence.  Why can’t there be a prettier-looking monstrance?  Gosh, that person looks so holy and focused in prayer.  I wish I could be, too.


I try to close my eyes to stop taking in so much external stimuli.  But then, images from the course of the day or fantasies I conjure up enter in, and my mind wanders even more, dwelling on things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about.  Why can’t I concentrate?  I then try to think about theological ideas that I’ve learned, such as Eucharistic Real Presence, the Incarnate Word of God, transubstantiation, and the Trinity in an attempt to help me focus.  Okay, so this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead.  He’s the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God who was present before all creation and through whom all creation came into being.  He became incarnate in human flesh at a particular moment in history.  I’m looking at the Body of Christ, the Eucharist that I receive at Mass, the transubstantiated element of bread, now no longer the substance of bread, even though the accidents are still there, but now the substance of the risen Jesus himself.  He is really present…but it looks like bread, and I still don’t really feel anything.  Or perhaps I’m touched by the light shining on the monstrance, which makes it seem like Jesus is radiating his light on all of us, but is that just aesthetics?  And so my thoughts keep spiraling.

Grace, stop.  Don’t think so much.  Just pray.

But… I don’t know how.  What do I do?  How is prayer different from thinking?  I stare at the white disc in the monstrance, trying to keep my thoughts at bay, and trying to think of things to say to God, to Jesus, who should be my most intimate friend and with whom I should be able to share the desires of my heart, my sorrows, and my moments of happiness and gratitude.  I’m mostly unsuccessful, however, because my thoughts have just turned to the historical and theological exegesis that my theology classes have been doing on the Lord’s Prayer.

I sigh, and I try to think of simpler things.  I know that I am waiting for something – an encounter with a Person, whom I know also seeks me, but infinitely more so than I seek Him.  My heart, however, seems as if it is unresponsive to the great wonder of the Lord’s real presence before me, and I begin to give up on finding some disposition of prayer before the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is over for the evening.  Will I ever be able to be open, still, and humble enough to allow God’s advent into my heart?  Finally, a short and simple prayer comes into my mind:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This is the “Jesus Prayer.”  The Jesus Prayer is often associated with The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality and the hesychast tradition of illumination and transfiguration of the human person in the Taboric light, with a special emphasis on mercy and penance.  But of course, you don’t need to know that in order to realize the power of the Jesus Prayer and the mercy of God.

What’s truly important is this:  In the resonant silence of adoration, mercy seeps in.  In a quiet, humble town in Israel, an infant was born.  God makes the first move, but it is often unnoticed.  I had never thought of Jesus before as Mercy itself, and I had not begun to recognize God’s subtle but powerful act of mercy in my life until now.

Sister Maria Faustyna Kowalska, O.L.M.

Saint Faustina, a Polish nun, was a person who recognized the importance of this divine mercy and its advent in the human heart.  The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a well-known devotional prayer that arises out of her contemplation of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and her encounters with him in visions.  The chaplet essentially has three simple prayers:

“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
“For the sake of Your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.”
Throughout her conversations in prayer with Jesus, St. Faustina took to heart the vital message of the mercy of God made incarnate in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Mercy itself entered into history and radically interrupted the course of human existence with the indescribable gift of his self-giving love.  The mercy of God was outpoured in the Incarnation and on the Cross; the mystery of blood and water in his flesh and gushing out of his pierced side reveals to us the extraordinary love of God.   What happens when we are the recipients of mercy?  Oftentimes, we are incredulous because we feel that it is mercy we don’t deserve.  That sort of freely given and unmerited gift shocks us.  It demands a response, but there is no adequate response that we can give, other than by offering back to God the gift given to us in the Eucharist and trusting in His great mercy.  Thus, mercy also inspires gratitude; it forms in us a disposition of thanksgiving.
The original image of the Divine Mercy, painted by Eugene Kazimirowski from 1934-35 under the guidance of Saint Faustina, who was not completely satisfied with the work. She later prayed to Jesus, “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” Jesus replied, “not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in my grace.”

Mercy transforms, and we enter into transfiguration.  Mercy inspires conversion, and it allows us to enter into an authentic freedom of the heart, freedom to receive and to give to those who are our sisters and brothers in Christ. For St. Faustina, love and mercy unites the Creator with his creation, and this is ultimately expressed in the Incarnation and the Redemption, as she explains through her experience at Eucharistic Adoration one day:

“When I was in Church waiting for confession, I saw the same rays (that is, as those depicted on the revealed image of the Divine Mercy) issuing from the monstrance and they spread throughout the church. This lasted all through the service. After the benediction (the rays came forth) on both sides and returned again to the monstrance. Their appearance was bright and clear as crystal. I asked Jesus that He deign to light the fire of His love in all souls that were cold. Beneath these rays a heart will be warmed even if it were like a block of ice; even if it were as hard as rock, it will crumble into dust.

And I understood that the greatest attribute of God is love and mercy. It unites the creature with the Creator. This immense love and abyss of mercy are made known in the Incarnation of the Word and in the Redemption [of humanity], and it is here that I saw this as the greatest of all God’s attributes.”
Another painting of the Divine Mercy was made by Adolf Hyła, as an expression of gratitude for the survival of his family during World War II. This second original is called the "Kraków Divine Mercy Image" because it is kept in the Divine Mercy Shrine near Krakow, Poland.
Another painting of the Divine Mercy was made by Adolf Hyła, as an expression of gratitude for the survival of his family during World War II. This second original is called the “Kraków Divine Mercy Image” because it is kept in the Divine Mercy Shrine near Krakow, Poland.

The Word that He is and the Word that He speaks is mercy.  And so, the silence we experience at Eucharistic Adoration is a silence pregnant with meaning.  It is the advent of this mercy in the human heart for which we try to prepare; it is this mercy that we come to adore at Christmas.  We must cultivate humility to ask for and receive this mercy.  We may have nothing to offer, except for swaddling clothes to hold him, but over time, we can let the cradle of our hearts in which we hold him become the monstrance of our hearts.

O, come, let us adore Him.  Let us prepare him room and allow Him to enter in and warm us.  His is the light that we radiate to the world from our inner monstrance – rays of divine mercy, of redeeming blood and water, that transform our vision and the world.   Does your soul feel cold or unfeeling?  Has the night of loneliness been too long?  Come, be warmed in the rays of Divine Mercy, be enkindled in the fire of His love.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Music and the Three Comings of Christ

b5a883d8-406e-4873-8f8a-d11e2c9fc267Sarah Karchunas, University of Notre Dame

BA ’15, MA in Theology ‘17

Echo Apprentice at Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Community (Houston, TX)

Christmas is coming: the decorations are out at the stores, the music has already started playing and the parish that I am serving at as a catechetical leader in Houston is following suit, preparing our Advent festivities for the Faith Formation program. Something that I am hoping to emphasize in my lessons with the kids in my Faith Formation classes as we approach Advent is the three-fold nature of Christ’s coming to our world. He came and was born to the Virgin Mary, laid in a manger in Bethlehem. He is coming again at the end of time. Yet he is also coming to us right now, in this very moment as an open invitation. This three-fold coming connects all time: past, present and future to the coming of Christ. One way that I think could be useful in conveying this concept in catechesis is through the use of music, which also has a way of connecting past, present and future. To exemplify this point, I will discuss five very different pieces of Christmastime music that I think could prove very useful in catechesis during Advent.

BegbieInterwoven in this discussion are the arguments made by Jeremy Begbie in his book Theology, Music and Time. Here, he argues that “far from abstracting us out of time, the vision opened up by music in this way is one in which to be ‘saved’ is, among other things, to be given new resources for living ‘peaceably’ with time” (152). This means that we can participate in music not just as a remembrance of the past but also as an effective act in the present that allows us to respond to the Incarnation within our time. Time is not the enemy that must be shed but is the reality in which we can engage with the Incarnate Word. This theme runs deep in each of these five selections of Christmas music.

In O Magnum Mysterium (Tomas Luis de Victoria), the rounds of voices bring the past to the present and the present to the future. The four voices come together and move apart again and again in rounds, reminding us that “to share in music is to find temporality in which- at least to some extent- past, present and future have been made to interweave fruitfully” (150). The rounds create the feeling that the past is never totally behind you nor the future too inaccessible because while one voice may end, another continues and then another begins again. The piece grows and grows to the Alleluia, which serves as a call to us to join in and as a reminder that this Alleluia is not just something for the angels to proclaim but for us now to proclaim. The Alleluia brings the piece to a fulfillment, however the voices break apart at the end and continue onward, anticipating that Christ entering this world to save us is not just something that occurred in the past and can be looked upon remotely but is a constant joy and celebration, a constant hope that we also need to join our voices to.

In In splendoribus (James MacMillan), the soft chant is interrupted at a frequent rate with trumpets, trumpets announcing Jesus’ arrival into our world. This announcement shows again the connection between past, present and future. The trumpets are not only recalling an announcement made far in the past to a world we would barely recognize but are also announcing to us this same news of Jesus’ Incarnation today. This announcement is not just a memory of how people in Jesus’ time were called to respond to his birth; it is a call to us to respond to the Incarnation. The calming contemplative chant that remains in the background gives us the opportunity between the trumpet calls to contemplate how we are called to respond to this announcement. Though the trumpets frequently come back, we do not know exactly when they will reenter and thus a sense of urgency to respond is built in us as we listen. The urgency here in MacMillian’s piece reminds us that “the Son of God inhabits this time with us as one of us” (148) and thus we are called to respond today, here within time.

In Today the Virgin, John Tavener takes a slightly different approach to the integration of time into music.  Tavener believes that “the more deeply we relate to God, the more we will need to abstract ourselves from time” (145). For him, then, the music is embracing Christ’s time, his entrance into the world and following the simple command put forth in the chorus to “Rejoice, O World: With the Angels and the Shepherds. Give glory to the Child! Alleluia!” The alternating male and female vocals of Mary and Joseph communicating allow a place for a community to insert themselves in this song of rejoice. The drone in the background reflects what Begbie refers to as Tavener’s intensification of a “contemplative ambience” by giving stability and repetition to the background so that the listener has a “simple space” (144) to shed off the cloak of time and enter into a simple shout of praise in response to the Incarnation.

In Gustav Holst’s, In the Bleak Midwinter, we are placed directly in the Nativity as Jesus enters our world in an environment that is imagined to be somewhat like the winters of South Bend that are not too far from my memory. The song’s slow progress leads to a contemplative atmosphere, a lack of urgency and a feeling that we too are caught in that snow-covered scene. We are not only called to bring ourselves out of this moment into that one in the past but rather are called to integrate the two and give our own response to Christ’s birth. This is reflected in the final lyrics of the piece:

“What can I give Him, Poor as I am?’

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,

If I were a wiseman, I would do my part,

Yet what can I give Him, Give him my heart.”

In this way we are not called to simply insert ourselves in the past, but we are called to “a present through which past is directed towards future, in which a past occurrence does not retreat into an ever-receding and unreal ‘beyond’, and in which future occurrences are not totally unknowable or unreal but can, in various ways, be intuited now” (149).  We are invited here to participate in Christ’s arrival by answering now and in our time what we might bring to him at this scene in the cold winter.

Looking at Sufjan Steven’s, ‘Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming”, the piece most notably makes use of dramatic pauses throughout, building both a gentle anticipation and a constant hope. Whereas Begbie noted that a constant pulse “insists that all moments are the same, that the past, the present and the future are identifiable” (140), this piece and its lack of a constant continuous pulse provides the opposite experience. There is a clearly defined start and finish to thoughts and thus we experience time as a clear acting force. Though the past is not the same entity as the present or future here, Stevens traces the past, present and future in this song, truly interweaving the three. He references the coming of Christ, the prophecies of Isaiah and continues through Jesus’ birth before concluding with a foretelling of Christ’s death.  The piece speaks of Christ’s birth in past tense, telling the story, but ends in present tense, saying “He saves us, And lightens every load.” This calls us to share in this salvation that was and yet still is.  Begbie sees this taking place as a ‘looking back’ with thankfulness…but this is not a wistful longing, nor an attempt to transport what was into the now, but an act of gratitude flowing from a sense that the benefits of the past, remembered now, anticipate the future’ (151).

Through many of these pieces I have found that we can use music as a catechetical tool, especially as we approach Advent. Through music we can allow those in formation to participate in the coming of Christ not just as a remembrance of the past but as an effective act in the present that allows them to actively respond to the Incarnation within our time, a time that Christ himself entered.

Come to the Yeast

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

San Francisco is a city for bread-lovers if there ever was one. Scores of bakeries line the city streets, each offering particularly unique loaves to particularly devoted sets of locals. The story of San Francisco bread is a story of the search for hidden treasure. In the mid-1800s, the San Francisco area was abuzz with the pursuit of gold, and bread was an obvious staple for miners on their way to the gold fields. However, in these early mining years, a curious complication arose in the rising bread. Bakers found that the recipes that had resulted in familiar loaves back home garnered different, sour-tasting bread when baked in the San Francisco climate. However, curiously, this unexpected sourness wasn’t necessarily a bad thing: it lent a richness to the bread that began to be especially cherished by the miners in search of gold. This treasured bread became the sourdough bread that we build our sandwiches upon today.

A little while ago, on a warm evening at the beginning of the semester, I was standing on the edge of St. Mary’s lake with my boyfriend. He was peacefully silent, staring out, when all of sudden he started to sniff. He sniffed, and he proclaimed, excitedly: “It smells like good bread!” Of course, I made fun of him at the time. For one thing, I didn’t smell anything that smelled like good bread, only the slight stench of the lake and perhaps the crispness of leaves. I also laughed at his specific insistence that the smell was of “good” bread, and not just your average, ordinary loaf. And so, in the weeks following, I took to periodically exclaiming that it smelled like good bread outside as a small joke that I derived far too much pleasure from.


I’ve never been to San Francisco, and until about a week ago I’d never read about their thriving bread culture. Learning about this small and wonderful story has been just one result of a fascination with bread that has slowly been growing as the semester has unfolded: a fascination that I can’t help but attribute to that moment by the lake. I totally understand that most people don’t spend their free time watching Youtube videos about how bread is made, voraciously reading lists of the best bakeries in the world, or compulsively cataloguing all the puns that can be made out of the word “yeast”. But lately, bread has been rising up everywhere I look, and it’s made me wonder: what does it mean to look at the world around us and smell bread? And what does it mean to insist upon the distinction that this bread is good?


To see our lives in the process of baking would be to trust that we are being kneaded, molded, and warmed into selves that will nourish others. It would mean trusting that a careful Baker is forming our lives with great care, and that we are destined to rise. Perhaps it might also call for a vision of our own unexpected sournesses not as bad but good, with faith that our struggles and sorrows will lend a richness to the dough: a dough that is baking slowly into bread that we have been promised will be. Of course, this is no easy feat, because to look at the world around us and proclaim the smell of good bread is to proclaim all of the aspects of our lives as gift.

To see the world in the process of baking is our challenge as Christians, and the source and summit of this vision of creation is the Eucharist, God’s life-giving bread.

Baking is a process, and at times we may feel that our place in the process is closer to the beginning mayhem of a flour-splattered counter than the ending of a perfect fresh-baked loaf. But each time we come to the Eucharistic feast, we are reminded to praise the process: to proclaim our gratitude for the love of Christ which is molding us into loving loaves through even the messiness and the mayhem. Through the Eucharist, we discover how we are called to look at creation and proclaim that it is good: that it smells like good bread. For, when we receive Christ’s Eucharistic offering, we begin to see all of the aspects of our lives as great gifts of love. Truly, the smell of good bread is everywhere, if our hearts lead our noses to pick up the sacred smell of Christ’s sacrifice of love.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

Rooted and Grounded in Love

Ellie Norby
Ellie Norby
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

During my sophomore year of high school, I thought I had the basics down.  God loves us:  check. He should be worshiped in Mass and prayer:  check. He wants us to live according to the example set by His son: check.

But beyond the basics, I didn’t realize God cared about the details of my life – so when I was tested by the news of my parents’ intention to divorce, I couldn’t trust Him. When my family was dragged through a cycle of indecision that lasted from 10th grade until I left for college, I assumed my problems where too small for someone that listened to a gazillion prayers every day. My dad would decide he wanted to leave my mom, but stay because of the kids; my mom would convince him to work on the marriage, but they would not get along because my dad clearly wanted out. Then the whole thing would start over again.

As the only daughter, I was getting a huge share of the emotional splash. Life was messy, and I was bitter. I felt that my problems were strictly of human origin and would only be solved when the adults figured themselves out. I did not believe that God was a part of my life. Even though my mom encouraged me to trust Him, God seemed uninvolved in the gradual collapse of my family.

Although I couldn’t see it, I now believe that God was working in my life the whole time. His grace led me to keep seeking him, even though Mass and prayer led me nowhere. His Spirit helped me to attempt to trust, even though it seemed hopeless. His love allowed me to continue to care for my parents and my brothers, even when my bitterness made the situation miserable.  And then, after years of just surviving, God moved in my life so that I could finally see his presence.

In October of my freshman year of college, my mother (who I already worried about because of the divorce and her empty nest status) developed a freak intestinal condition and spent four weeks in the hospital. She faced two emergency surgeries, an infection, no eating or drinking whatsoever, and loneliness. All this was happening to her while I was nine hours away, so I couldn’t be with her! The situation was so far out of human control, I finally brought my problems to God. It was not my mom’s fault, or my dad’s fault, or my fault – it just happened, so God allowed me to turn to him. I prayed for her healing, and most of all I begged that she would feel God’s presence in my absence. Slowly, she started to get better. I couldn’t tell if her improvement was from God or the power of medicine, but I could not deny what happened when she finally got permission to eat after three weeks of nothing more than IVs.

eucharistTwenty minutes after the doctor gave her the okay, a volunteer knocked on the hospital room door and asked if she wanted to receive Communion. The first thing to touch her chapped lips in
almost a month was the Body of Christ. It was as if God proclaimed: She abides in Me, and I in her. She feeds on Me, and so she will live because of Me.

That moment was so powerful that I could not just accept it as temporary comfort during my mother’s illness and move on with my life as before. It forced me to realize how much energy I had wasted being angry at God, and angry at my parents. And in letting go of my anger, I realized that God had been present not just in the hospital with my mom, but in the entire mess of the last few years. While I was lost among each of my individual sufferings, He was actually drawing them together into one path that led closer to Him. I could not see God’s presence at the time, because I was blinded by sadness and confusion.

Somewhere in the emotional discussions with my parents, somewhere in leaning so heavily on the rest of my family and my friends, somewhere in seeing my mom and my dad vulnerable, broken, and crying – God was there. How do I know this? Because love was there. Love. We all easily could have drifted apart, but we remained committed to each other, and to what could be salvaged of the family. Those gritty situations, however painful, were rooted and grounded in love.

God didn’t want me to suffer, but He did use my burdens as an opportunity for grace. The divorce was a cross that free will and human choices placed on my shoulders, so under its weight I could not look to God. But He found me, with my head bowed, vulnerable, and His grace drew me down a certain path. And then, when he lifted my burden in the moment he came to my mom in the Eucharist, I was
able to look up again. And I saw that He had led me to a new place. A place where I was a little closer to him, and a little closer to the person He created me to be.

holy family iconIn the world’s eyes, my family is broken. But the Lord can always see the possibility of bringing more love into our lives with each other and with him. So as my family continues to struggle, I pray that our reconfigured relationships are based on love and devotion and not hurt or resentment. I pray, again and again, that I may trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding; that I may acknowledge Him in all my ways, and He will direct my paths.


Make of Our Hands A Throne

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 




Make of our hands a throne
to hold the Bread of heaven,
make of our hearts a home
to hold the very wine of life.
In this myst’ry, Lord, make us one with you.

I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with pent-up emotion as I held up the host and said the words “the Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.

I have served as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist for over twenty years, a ministry which allows me to share with the community the gift of the Eucharist that also nourishes me in my journey of discipleship. My path to following Christ has lead me to full time ministry in the Church, serving over the years as a parish youth minister, high school campus minister and now Associate Director with the Notre Dame Vision program. In these various roles, I have encountered an occupational hazard that may be familiar to many in ministry – the risk that through familiarity and proficiency we can become desensitized to the power of grace with which we are privileged to encounter each day.

In the Order for the Commissioning of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (Book of Blessings, Chapter 63) the priest asks two questions of the candidates:

“Are you resolved to undertake the office of giving the body and blood of the Lord to your brothers and sisters, and so serve to build up the Church? Are you resolved to administer the Holy Eucharist with utmost care and reverence?”

Those who are to be entrusted with administering the Eucharist respond to both questions with the affirmation “I am.”

When I am serving as an Extraordinary Minister I strive to honor this sacred task entrusted to me.Yet when serving in the context of ministry (while overseeing school masses, liturgies on retreat, during the Vision Conference weeks) often in the back of my mind I am also aware of the overall logistics of the distribution of communion: “Do we have enough stations? Is anyone running low on hosts? How is the overall flow of the communion lines?” While fully attending to those coming before me to receive the body of Christ, I admit that there have been moments when I am in danger of reducing the sacred mystery to a process to organize and execute.

The moment described above occurred at the closing mass of the final week of Vision this past summer. This young man had just spent the week exploring God’s call in his life in the company of over three hundred high school students lead by undergraduate Mentors-in-Faith from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross Colleges. His small group Mentor was in line behind him, and conveyed with one look the authenticity of this young man’s response, that these simple words of “Amen” and “Thank you” echoed from the depths of his gratitude in response to the experience of God’s mercy that week.

I don’t know the specifics of his story, but that didn’t matter as I recognized in him the story of God’s merciful love acting in his life, as in all of salvation history. This encounter was not just an opportunity to witness God’s grace at work in this young man, but a moment of renewal in my call to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and in my life of discipleship.

As ministers we are called to nourish ourselves for the sake of our service to the people of God, to ask ourselves “Where did God seek to renew me today? How have I been surprised by grace in the daily work of ministry?”

In the months since this encounter I have asked myself, “Does my life express the depth of my gratitude for all that I have received from God? What is God asking me to offer in love to the world? How is God working within me to “make of [my] hands a throne to hold the Bread of heaven?”

As the answers unfold in God’s time, I return to the closing prayer of the Order of Commissioning:

Lord our God,
Teach us to cherish in our hearts
The paschal mystery of your son,
By which you redeemed the world.
Watch over the gifts of grace your love has given us
and bring them to fulfillment in the glory of heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Setting the Table for All

GraceGrace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

Contact Author

I love sharing meals with other people, especially around the dinner table with my family.  In this sense, family, while including the biological, extends beyond that to a spiritual communion of persons, who express vulnerability by welcoming each other to the table, preparing a place for each person, serving each person, and embracing each other as he or she is in God.  You behold the body before you, you receive it, and you give of yourself in return.  It is both a physical and spiritual act.  I learned this experience of family in a special way during my time this past summer at a L’Arche home.

L’Arche is an international organization founded by Jean Vanier through which people with and without intellectual disabilities share life in community, build mutually transforming relationships, celebrate the dignity of each human person, and make known each other’s gifts by working together to build a better world. [1]

At tvince4he beginning and end of each dinner meal at L’Arche, we pray together.  We thank God for the gifts of family, friends, and food before we eat, and afterwards, we light a candle and pass it around to each person at the table as they express gratitude for certain experiences of the day and name their prayer intentions.  We conclude by joining hands to say the “Our Father.”  In gathering together around the table, we share our joys and sorrows, and we acknowledge each other’s dignity as persons created in the image of God.  The meal is not only about the food shared but also about the humanity shared with each other in kinship, where those at the margins are brought to the center.

Especially in a world where many are afraid to confront Lazarus begging for scraps at the table of plenty, this understanding of family where all, especially those on the margins of society, are welcomed at the table is essential for us to encounter God in human relationships.  We are to come to the feast of heaven and earth exactly as we are in God, and we are to embrace the dignity of all persons at the table, regardless of condition or ability.  For people with disabilities, this can be difficult because much of the non-acceptance that they face in society happens because others are not willing to incur a cost to themselves in trying to go beyond their fear in an attempt to understand.  Much of the disabling part is actually a social construction – the terrible feeling of isolation that results when other people, who do not understand because they are afraid, treat people with disabilities in a different way that can be demeaning.

Persons with disabilities are human beings.  Their experience of disability is a very particular type of challenge that they face in their daily lives.  It informs their experience as human beings, but it no way defines who they are.  Like every other human being, they seek love, they seek acceptance, they seek friendship, they seek communion.  Like all people, they must be offered a place at the table, where the human heart is called to relationship, to “a communion of hearts, which is the to-and-fro of love.” [2]

According to theologian Henri Nouwen:

[H]aving a meal is more than eating and drinking [to stay alive]. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body. That is why it is so important to ‘set’ the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, “This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!”  [3]

At L’Arche, we take great care in preparing and setting the table for each meal, ensuring that we have the right lastsuppernumber of places for all the people coming to dinner and that we can accommodate specific dietary needs.  Likewise, at Mass, it is so important to set a place for each person at the table, to invite them, to welcome them because that is true meaning of community.  We are to enjoy the beautiful presence of each other, of God coming into our midst.

This is part of the reason why I enjoyed attending Mass with the L’Arche core members.  They sat right in front at church, participating as fully and joyfully as they could using their gifts, and the whole parish community was so accepting of them as persons, which is a recognition that goes beyond merely accommodating a physical disability.  The accommodation needs to become a spiritual one for both persons in the relationship in order to bring them together, not just as one simply helping the other but as both mutually benefiting and being transformed by the interaction.

As Hauerwas and Vanier wrote,

“The Word became flesh to bring people together, to break down the walls of fear and hatred that separate people.  That’s the vision of the incarnation – to bring people together.  In his prayer for unity Jesus prayed that we might all become one.  We have this incredible vision of peacemaking, two thousand years in the making.” [4]

We are called to break down barriers of misunderstanding that separate us by giving and receiving the kiss of peace each day, and especially so during a family meal by taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing the bread that sustains all.

Sometimes, we have experiences of disruptive meals because of hostility and unreconciled differences among persons.  Those meals often go unfinished, with one person leaving in anger, the food wasted, the other sinking at the table, either no longer hungry, or eating in a futile attempt to fill the emotional emptiness.  Or there is an awkward silence as we cover ourselves by focusing on our food, anxious to get the meal over with so that we can escape the embarrassing situation.  There is no giving or receiving; only fear, and the walls go up.  We are left alone in isolation, in a division that threatens community.  This happens all too often in family life.  Some of us grow up not being able to be vulnerable, and it affects our relationships with other people.

When we are unable to accept the limitations of others, it is often because we are unable to accept our own.  For many of us, it is difficult “to accept our limits and our handicaps as well as our gifts and capacities.  We feel that if others see us as we really are they might reject us.  So we cover our weaknesses.” [5] Each of us has a strong desire to be valued and regarded as a person of worth, and when we discover those things which inhibit us from aspiring to our full potential or those things that are looked down upon by others, we want to hide them so that we may be accepted.  It is hard to expose our true selves because we run the risk of being rejected and hurt.  To give of oneself freely and to be accepting of another comes at a cost, but the rewards reaped can be great when love is returned.

When we accept each other as we are with all our weaknesses and strengths, and continuously come together to partake of the same meal, we grow together on our journey to God. When one gives to another, he or she allows the gift to be received, creating areas of inner spiritual growth.

For Jean Vanier, accompaniment is very much a part of life at L’Arche, but it is ultimately at the heart of all human growth. [6] We are to assume dispositions of humility and mercy for each other, so that we may walk together on this journey, encouraging the other to grow in loving relationship.  This mutual trust and belonging in communion is the “to-and-fro” movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives.  Communion is not a stagnant reality; it is continuously growing and deepening but “can turn sour if one person tries to possess the other, thus preventing growth.” [7] Both are enabled in freedom because they are allowed to be themselves.  As we partake of the meal together, we accompany each other in our spiritual journeys to union with God, which involves forgiveness and growth in understanding of each other.

In acknowledging and accepting each other’s vulnerability, we participate in this “to-and-fro of love,” a communion of hearts, where vulnerability and tenderness abounds.  By sharing the same meal and being incorporated into Christ’s loving act of self-gift, we are called to do the same in our lives when we are sent forth into the world after Mass.  We become a living body, unified in love through vulnerability in relationships.

By emphasizing relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ, L’Arche identifies itself as not just a service provider but also as a Christian community.  It is not just assistants caring for persons with disabilities; it is persons with disabilities caring for assistants as well.  The relationship is mutually beneficial and transforming, where both are called to vulnerability and to an ever-deeper love.  This is the nature of self-giving love that is intrinsic to family life.  There must be a selfless desire to give, and a humility to receive, both of which require vulnerability.  The love of husband and wife, the love of mother and father for their children, the love of siblings, the love of children for their parents, especially as they grow older and in turn, now need their children’s care.  We are formed in this love at Mass, at the Eucharistic table, and leaving, our lives become “Eucharistized,” as we share meals at our own family tables in our homes, welcoming all and preparing a place for all, especially those on the margins.

Gratitude is a fruit of this vulnerability of persons gathered together around the table.  Just as one core member at L’Arche expressed that his vision of heaven would be like the “First Thanksgiving,” pointing to a depiction of the Last Supper on the wall above the dining room table, we are called to enact each meal as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, honoring God and those human beings around us with sacred dignity.  We are called to give of ourselves in relationships of humble service and gratitude, as an offering of self-gift modeled on that of Jesus’ own gift on the cross.  Our hospitality to each other is a genuine example of how we should emulate Christ’s vulnerability in our lives.  In coming to the table, we do run the risk of allowing ourselves to be changed.  But unless we are transformed in love, how will we ever be able to kiss the crosses of others?  Our hearts become both the table and the altar where we encounter others and experience the person of Christ, who implores us to do this in his memory.



[1] I participated in the Summer Service Learning Program offered through the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.  The theme of this year’s immersion experience was “Kinship at the Margins.”

[2] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 63

[3] Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

[4] Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World:  The Prophetic Witness of Weakness

[5] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 100

[6] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 130

[7] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 28

A Temple of the Holy Ghost

Vienna Wagner

Vienna Wagner
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

I was born a perfectionist.  As an ambitious older sibling, I was always eager to prove myself.  I got straight A’s, played sports, sung in musicals, and competed on the academic team.  I planned to attend an Ivy League college, go to medical school, and make more money than my parents.  Success was my main desire.

I was baptized in the Mennonite Church and believed that I was in complete control of my faith and my life.  I believed that I was strong, but the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  Instead of depending upon God, I became like the foolish man in the Gospel of Matthew who built his house on sand.

My control came crumbling down during my senior year of high school.  When I returned from my summer vacation, the twin brother of my best friend, who was my high school boyfriend, had transformed into an angry stranger.  Our relationship became physically and emotionally abusive.  He began to flirt with my friends and mocked me for my looks, my grades in school, and my Christian faith.

I could not tell my best friend how hurtful her brother had become, and, instead of turning to God and his love, I retreated into silence.  I ate lunch alone and hardened my heart.  I began to believe that I was worthless, not worthy of God’s grace.  I refused to confide in my friends and family and continued with the motions of my put together, perfectionist’s life.  I focused even more on college applications and scholarship competitions.  I continued to attend church but refused to allow the Word of God to comfort me.  I blamed myself for what had happened and sometimes blamed God.

I was ashamed of myself for staying with my high school boyfriend for as long as I did.  My body became a thing that was ugly to me, something apart from myself.  I did not view my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, my body became the one thing that I could completely control.  Although I was already slightly underweight, I scalebegan to skip meals and exercise at every possible opportunity.  Anorexia became my idol.

As I lost the pounds, my friends complimented me on my appearance, but their compliments only fed my eating disorder and my disordered pride.  As I counted calories obsessively and developed rules for what I could and could not eat, I could not escape feeling disgusted with myself.  No matter how many pounds I shed, I believed that I would never be good enough to be authentically loved, to merit God’s grace.  I lived like a prisoner within my own body.  My life was forcibly focused on school, not eating, college applications, not eating, and avoiding my ex-boyfriend.

Without God, I would have not survived.  Since my baptism, I had taken communion at my local church but had never seriously thought through what it means to take the Eucharist and accept the body and blood of Christ.  As my pastor said Christ’s words of institution, “Take and eat; this is my body,” I began to reflect on the importance of the Incarnation, of God having a body that could suffer like mine.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection his human body was glorified.  Not just Christ’s spirit, but also his human body was freed from death.

As I took the host from my pastor’s outstretched hands and placed it on my tongue, I began to adopt a new definition of beauty.  I realized that my body is a temple where the spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells.  That Holy Spirit also brings life to my mortal body.  I realized that if my body is a holy temple and an inseparable part of myself, then I needed to take care of it.  In light of God’s love I am beautiful.  I am God’s beloved creation that he molded into his likeness.


I decided to stop counting calories and gave up my control over how many ounces I weighed.  I realized that I had allowed what had happened to me to harden my heart and turn it inward upon itself.  I had starved my heart and locked it away.  I made it impenetrable to God’s salvific love.

I told my family and my friends the truth about my high school boyfriend and my eating disorder.  I have learned to not blame God for my suffering, but to see Christ suffering beside me.  I have begun to forgive myself and am learning to rest in God’s grace and steadfast love.

In light of the Eucharist even my physical act of eating was transformed into a sacrament and a participation in the life of Christ.  My body was no longer disgusting to me, and I no longer felt separated from that part of myself.  Although I do not believe that God wills such suffering upon his children, I believe that he has used my pain to teach me how to authentically love.  I have learned to view all of creation, including myself, as an undeserved gift.  There is freedom in living in the love of God’s grace, a grace that I can never earn or deserve.   God cares for me like he cares for the rest of his creation.  I can trust in God, and, with God as my strength, I don’t need to worry about my weight or my reputation.  Only Christ could heal my brokenness.

The Most Important Thing About Parenting

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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The most important thing about parenting I learned from my dad. It wasn’t anything he said, it is what he did, day after day.

That I learned the most important thing about parenting from my dad is not surprising. After my mom left him when I was seven and my brother was three, my dad raised us on his own at a time when single parents were not as common, and a single dad was rare indeed. With a broken marriage and shattered finances, followed by job insecurity and one health problem after another, my dad gave himself over to both the obvious and the millions of imperceptible daily duties of bringing up two young boys. My greatest education in parenting comes from what my dad chose to build his parenting upon.

My father attended daily Mass every morning at 6:30am. In and of itself, this practice was neither a form of overt piety nor heroism; in fact, when I asked my dad recently why he went to Mass every day, he said, “I just enjoyed it. It was a good way to start my day.”

Mass always ended a couple minutes before 7am (so I’ve been told!) and he would race home afterwards to pack our lunches and get my brother and me ready for school. Otherwise, his days were no different than the great many parents who tend to their kids, work their jobs, cook meals, pay bills, attend school meetings, drive to sports practices, and maybe find a half-hour or so of down time at the end of the day. In all those ways, what he did then is much like what I do now. And yet I can’t help but think about the sheer volume of it all for one man, about the way he poured himself into it all, and about the simple routine that started all those days.

Once, when I was in the middle of one of my precocious, self-centered obnoxi-thons during my early teenage year, my dad’s best friend sort of reprimanded me:

“Someday you’ll realize all that your dad’s done for you.”

More than 20 years later, I still think about that prophecy. With my eldest son now a couple years older than I was when my dad became my sole day-to-day parent, I can’t imagine trying to give him and his siblings all they need without their mother (especially since she is the superior parent). Now that I am myself am in the midst of experiencing the joys and the struggles of parenting, I’m starting to realize what my dad did for me and for my brother.

The most important thing he did for us, though, was that he went to Mass every morning. It is not that all the things that happened the rest of the day were the effects of this one cause; rather, each of those days that I lived under his care were days spent with a man who practiced giving both his joys and his sorrows to the Lord, who stuck to “the familiar ritual of the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of a life in turmoil,” as Tim O’Malley wrote a few short weeks ago on these very (digital) pages. As much as he had to improvise in those days and over those years, he made that one constant his foundation. And for two boys who lost the stability of a familiar home, he became our stability.

Though the translation of the Missal was different then, I like to think of my father at those early morning Masses when I recite these words before approaching the altar at Mass:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof;

But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

For him, that roof covered our home, and our home was a perpetual reminder of the fracture that had occurred in his life—of what once was but was no longer. Under that roof, we all erred, we all failed, and for all his remarkable virtues and heroic deeds, he also had his fair share of poor decisions. Like all families, ours was, in many ways, unworthy of blessing.

But. I love that word right in this prayer. But I turn to you, O Lord. But I trust in you, O Lord. But your word is not my word because your word heals even when my word wounds…. But my dad practiced opening himself to more than he was by himself, and at couple minutes before 7am, he would race home to make our lunches.

I’ve learned a lot about the Eucharist since I was a child. In fact, I “know” a lot more about the Eucharist than my dad ever did. I’ve studied the Eucharist, I’ve taught the Eucharist, I’ve written about the Eucharist. And yet, there is nothing I could ever think or say or write that would exceed the eloquence of what my dad did, day after day.

He went out before we woke to receive the Eucharist and he brought the Eucharist back to us within himself.

“Become what you receive.” My dad carried what he received into our home and shared Him in the uncountable small acts of love he performed on a daily basis. We fed on his love; he became our bread.

That is the most important thing about parenting.

The Eucharist: Food for Us Wild Things

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Like many American children, I was well familiar with Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. The story of a land populated with strangely horrifying yet even more strangely appealing creatures and the darkly thrilling image of Max as their boy-king became firmly lodged in my imagination from an early age; however, there was one facet of the story that I could never quite wrap my head around, even as I grew up and began sharing the story with younger siblings and eventually nephews and nieces. After the “wild rumpus” (quite possibly one of the greatest phrases in children’s literature), something surprising happens:

And Max, the king of all the wild things, was lonely, and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. . . . So he gave up being king of where the wild things are. But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

Dear Wild Things: Saying you're going to eat me up because you love me is not making me want to hang around longer. Love, Max
Dear Wild Things: Saying you’re going to eat me up because you love me is not making me want to hang around longer. Love, Max

Initially, it was surprising to me that Max would give up being king of where the wild things are, but more than that, it was the response of the wild things that utterly bewildered me. Last time I checked, in the world of kid-dom, “We’ll eat you up” was a death threat! And yet it’s followed up with “We love you so”? How could eating Max possibly be an expression of the wild things’ love for him? In the child’s imagination (or at least in my own), the prospect of being eaten by a monster with terrible roars and terrible teeth and terrible eyes and terrible claws is something, well, utterly terrifying. Yet here, in Sendak’s world of wild things, eating is somehow an expression of their love.

Turning from the wild things of Sendak’s world to the adorably wild things of my own world, I began thinking about something my younger brother said once of his two small children (now 5 and 3), who are inseparable besties. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for these kiddos to give each other hugs that more accurately resemble full-body tackles in their joyous exuberance. As my bemused brother described these endearing expressions of sibling love, “It’s almost like they’re trying to eat each other.”   “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

There is often a strong connection between an intense love for something and the desire to consume it—to break down any barriers of separation so that there is nothing between us and the object of our affections, and this desire is often understood from an alimentary point of view, a desire which has deep resonances with the Eucharist. Love—in its myriad forms—is, ultimately, a desire for knowledge of and union with the beloved, as Philippe Rouillard points out in his essay “From Human Meal to Christian Eucharist”: “The words ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ are often employed in a figurative sense to express the desires of all human beings” (see Living Bread, Saving Cup, ed. Seasoltz, 127). Indeed, there is often an intense longing to have the object of our affections become a part of us, and here we can establish a connection to eating and drinking. When we eat and drink, we interact with various substances and take them into our bodies, and in so doing, we reach a new level of experiential knowledge of those substances, even as we transform them into ourselves. Angel F. Méndez-Montoya points out this relationship in his book The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist:

In tasting through eating and drinking, the world enters us, but we also enter the world. We are made by that which we eat and drink, but we also “make” the world. We are what we eat, but we also eat what we are. To know is, then, to savor, and thus enter into an intimate relationship with another that shapes us while it is being shaped by us. . . . Knowledge is active collaboration and participation. (64)

This desire for such deep, participatory knowledge is why we sometimes look at a baby and think, “She’s so cute! I just want to eat those chubby cheeks!” It’s why effusive young sibling affection often looks more like toddlers trying to hurt each other. Or why the wild things want to show their love for Max by eating him up. And yet it is the realization that knowledge is not only participatory but also collaborative that prevents authentic love from becoming a relationship in which one being utterly subsumes the other, thereby destroying the other in the process (as would happen if the wild things had actually eaten Max out of love, and as ultimately happens with the food that we eat).

The wild things and Max, my niece and nephew—these memories and images have resurfaced in my mind as I’ve listened to sixth chapter of John’s Gospel proclaimed during the Sunday Mass these past few weeks. Christ_feedingIn this passage known as the Bread of Life discourse, we learn anew that in his love for us, Jesus comes to us—his beautiful creatures who have become wild things, rebellious in our sinfulness yet hungering for we know not what—and in him, we recognize our King, the One whom we love. Moreover, Jesus doesn’t come to us only to leave us again; he comes to us as the One who ‘loves us best of all,’ the One who desires to be with us forever, who demonstrates his love by laying down his life on the Cross and offering us the gift of himself in the Eucharist: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:51, 54–55). Or, to put it in Sendak-ian terms, “Please eat me up, I love you so!”

Unlike the food we wild things consume and transform into ourselves, the Eucharist is the food by which we are transformed. As we savor Christ in the Eucharist, we become Christ (as St. Augustine reminds us in Sermon 272), and through Christ, we participate in the life of God. It is in the Eucharist that loving and eating are one and the same thing: in his love for us, Jesus Christ gives himself to be eaten under the forms of bread and wine, and in our love for Jesus, we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood not only so that we might come to know him more fully, even as we are fully known (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), but also so that we might become the One whom we receive.

"Christ Feeding the People" by Fyffe Christie (Iona) Photo: Eleanor Christie (2012); CC BY-SA 3.0
“Christ Feeding the People” by Fyffe Christie (Iona)
Photo: Eleanor Christie (2012); CC BY-SA 3.0

This relationship of transforming love is not one in which we are subsumed into Christ; rather, it brings us more fully unto ourselves, as Benedict XVI affirms: “This union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one” (Deus Caritas Est, §10).

For the next two Sundays, we will continue to receive nourishment from the Bread of Life discourse, where Jesus insists, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:56–57), and yet we are also invited to receive nourishment by not merely by listening to the words of the Bread of Life, but by eating the Bread of Life. It is out of sheer love for us that Jesus gives himself as food and drink for our souls, inviting us to eat and drink of his flesh and blood so that we might share in the divine life. Let us love wildly, responding to the one who says, “Take and eat” by exclaiming, “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”


On Liturgy and Dinosaurs: what ‘Jurassic World’ teaches us about control

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Editor’s Note: This post may contain mild spoilers.

Jurassic World hit theaters June 12 and quickly broke box office records, becoming the eighth-highest-grossing film of all time and the highest-grossing film in the series. Starring Chris Pratt (alongside, it would seem, half of the USA Network), Jurassic World is set twenty-two years after the failure of the original ‘Jurassic Park.’ In the film, “Jurassic World” has become what “Jurassic Park” had been intended to be: a fully functional, dinosaur-themed amusement park, featuring dinosaurs that are very real and very much alive. As IMDB explains:

 A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park’s newest attraction–a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine–escapes containment and goes on a killing spree.

While the larger questions treated in Jurassic World and the film’s overarching storyline were by-and-large rather predictable, I was struck by one of the film’s central themes: the question of control.
jurassic_world_hd_wallpaper-800x600Especially in the first half of the movie, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is shown repeatedly trying to warn the park’s creators, administrators and those who would seek to appropriate its scientific achievements for military advantage that the notion of control over these animals, at least as it is understood by those attempting to exert said control, is an illusion; a naive construct. This is especially poignant in a conversation between the park’s Operating Manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Pratt’s character, whom Dearing approaches in order to consult his expertise on security measures for the new species invented by the company’s scientists. The scene reads as follows:

Claire: “Mr. Masrani thinks since you’re able to control the raptors…”

Owen: “See?! It’s all about control with you. I don’t control the raptors; it’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect.”

[. . .]

Claire: “Okay, okay… can we just focus on the asset, please?”

Owen: “The asset? Look, I get it. You’re in charge out here, you gotta make a lot of tough decisions… it’s probably easier to pretend these animals are just numbers on a spreadsheet. But they’re not; they’re alive.

Claire’s attitude toward the park’s species is ascribable to many of the movie’s characters, who are often seen trying to control Jurassic World’s dinosaurs in a way that one might operate a robot, computer or drone. They tinker with the animals’ genetic makeup as though they were nothing but machines, created by man and therefore controllable by man. Jurassic-world-1They are blind to the fact that the animals inhabiting Jurassic World are not innovations of human beings, but rather ancient, living creatures that modern man has, in a way, received, so to speak. Perhaps these animals can be tamed, trained and even taught by man; but they can never be simply controlled.

Had the makers of Jurassic World had liturgy in mind when creating the film, they would have been spot on in their liturgical and cultural commentary. How often do we see these attitudes prevailing when it comes to the Church’s act of public worship? Have you ever noticed, for example, how the Church’s liturgical and even doctrinal life, whether in your local parish or on the pages of the New York Times, are often treated and commented on as if λειτουργια was something mechanic, something that we created, rather than something we received? Liturgy, much like the raptors or the indominus rex of Jurassic World (okay, it’s an imperfect analogy), is something living and breathing.

What is more, it is not ours to “control” at will. It was not made by us; only entrusted to us.  We can “tame” and “tinker” with the liturgy only to the extent that this fundamental reality – this stewardship, so to speak – allows. jurassic-world-800We can “control” the liturgy, for that matter, much like we can control a hurricane: or perhaps more appropriately, like Owen Grady “controls” his raptors.

And, to take the analogy a step further, perhaps it can be appropriate to at times make adjustments and minor ‘changes’ in order to preserve the liturgy’s integrity. As the park’s chief geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) explains, sometimes it is necessary to “fill in some gaps” when it comes to preserving a species – this is something that scientists have done “from the very beginning” in order to get as close as possible to the species’ true genetic makeup. Thus perhaps not all forms of innovation are prohibited as we go about “doing” liturgy. But what happens when “filling in gaps” or “minor adjustments” becomes an obsession with “control,” progress and re-creating liturgy in man’s own image? What we are left with is something entirely different, Jurassic World shows. The result, as Owen observes, is not a dinosaur but a monster.

51FUprUv86L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Perhaps, then, Owen Grady gives us something of a picture of what the true liturgist looks like. He is not the scientist or military general, who seek only to create and to control. In fact, the liturgist is not even the ‘dinosaur nerd’ Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), who knows just about everything there is to know about dinosaurs (from their weight to how many teeth they have). His knowledge of everything jurassic(though both impressive and important), is not enough in itself when he finds himself standing before a living, breathing dinosaur.

Aidan Kavanagh writes that “standing before the living God is a risky business, […] the deity remaining all the while alarmingly unpredictable“(On Liturgical Theology, 125). Perhaps the proper stance of the liturgist is one that recognizes and takes into account this one important truth. As Kavanagh points out, and Owen Grady demonstrates for us in Jurassic World:

It is risky to sit at the Lord’s table, and there is absolutely no certainty that one will not end up on it with one’s own body broken, one’s own blood poured out. But it is plausible in faith that one might risk the whole thing and even be the better for it (ibid., 126).

Neither dinosaurs nor liturgy “are for us to be done with as we wish,” and “in our misuse of these,” to borrow Kavanagh’s words, we “distort the world” (113; 122). Liturgy, Jurassic World can remind us, is not about control but about “the existential reality of a relationship” – in our case, “communion with God in Christ and, therein, with all God’s holy people and holy things” (123). We must approach the liturgy as it is, then: as though we are receiving it, and not as we would make it.