Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eucharist: Desire and Discipline

The Rule of Saint Benedict does not specify how frequently monastics should attend the Eucharist (Mass). Mostly it has not been an option to attend daily, and that holds true for many women's communities today. However, here at Saint Benedict's we are blessed to have priests come most days from Saint John's Abbey, located about six miles away, and to have the local parish church practically in our back yard.

Since not everyone who reads this blog is Catholic, I'll  say a little about the Eucharist in the Catholic faith. Our belief is that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, it becomes the true Body and Blood of Christ. It is not simply a remembrance or a symbol. Christ is really present on the altar: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This great mystery of faith is called the Real Presence.

When I was converted to Roman Catholicism, belief in the Real Presence was central to my conversion experience. However, I have never previously lived a life where daily attendance at Eucharist was possible. In the years before I entered the monastery, however, my desire to attend Sunday Mass became deeper. Participating fed my sense of mystery and connection with the divine. Entering the monastery provided the opportunity to attend Mass and receive Communion every day. You might suppose I was pleased by that. Not so.

Now, I should say that we are not forced to attend daily, nor is it always possible. So, I had some freedom of choice here. Initially, I went most days but I started to feel that my longing for Communion was blunted  by the frequency, and so I would take "days off". Somehow, that never felt satisfactory. I couldn't find the perfect formula for number of attendances per week. This is where living as part of a community of women seeking God helped me to move on. Over the years (note, I grew slowly into my present position), I talked with various sisters about daily Eucharist and a recurrent theme seemed to be that if you discipline yourself to keep going, your desire to go grows deeper. I never made a conscious decision to begin going whenever it was possible, but somehow eased into it, and I'm finding they were right. I go whether I feel emotionally drawn to attend or not. It is an act of will, a choice which I now see as another way that I put my trust in God and give myself over to the path I've chosen to follow. Like so much in monastic life, it rarely yields a huge "high", but if I look back over the weeks and months, I see how my sense of Christ has deepened, and how the expectation that it will continue to deepen feeds my desire to attend.

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