Truly miraculous communication is the privilege of the Mass-goer, says Geoff Callister After many years I have finally just upgraded my mobile phone to an allsinging, all-dancing phone/PDA thingy. It communicates on many levels: phone, text, e-mail, Bluetooth, infra-red, GPRS (slow mobile Internet) and WiF1 (fast mobile Internet). This morning I tried out the last of these in a "WiFi hotspot" at a nearby café, which happens to be opposite the local Catholic church. Unusually, I had a free morning, having just completed a tricky study module on Sacramentality. I decided to celebrate my few hours of free time first by going to Mass at the church. Then, after a suitable period of prayerful reflection, I ordered a cappuccino at the nearby café — accompanied by the new phone (which, I promise, was turned off during Mass).
Having been steeped in matters of Sacrament for some weeks, I was struck by certain parallels between a WiFi hotspot and a church celebrating Mass. It's all to do with zones of communication: WiFi, with its impressive ability to conduct live two-way video communication with someone else via mobiles represents just about the peak that man has achieved in the personal communications field. But it's as nothing compared to the literally miraculous communication I had just experienced across the road at Mass. There, I'd had the extraordinary privilege of communing directly with Christ through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
This direct, real communication can only occur through an ordained Catholic priest who becomes in persona Christi capitis, through the sacrament of ordination — with cast-iron links all the way along the unbroken apostolic line back to St Peter and Christ himself. In the words of The Catechism: "This apostolic succession structures the whole of liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders."
Once I had finally and fully accepted these sacramental truths, my own conversion became inevitable. Whenever I'm asked "why Catholicism?", I explain that it was down to the reality of those seven sanctifying graces, with their promise of salvation, which bring one into direct communion with Christ himself. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this succinctly: "By giving the Holy Spirit to his apostles he [Christ] entrusted to them and their successors the power to make present the work of salvation through the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments, in which he himself acts to communicate his grace to the faithful of all times and places throughout the world." As such, the iacraments exist in the Catholic Church entirely by divine institution.
There are many beautiful facets of the Catholic faith, but in my view nothing compares with these seven infinitely precious jewels. It never ceases to amaze me as to exactly what they really are we must never take their awesome reality for granted. Perhaps we should ponder this thought during what remains of Lent. We should also find time to read Pope Benedict's new and exquisite Exhortation on the Eucharist, Saeramentum Caritatis, if only to contemplate a beautiful thought in his introduction: "What amazement must the Apostles have felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during that Supper! What wonder must the eucharistic mystery also awaken in our own hearts!"
The sacraments are quite simply exquisite, life-giving and redemptive — free, undeserved gifts from God.
Put simply, they mark out our spiritual lives from the moment we are surrendered into the mystery at Baptism; essential for all Catholics are the "sacraments of initiation", which form spiritual milestones along our faith journeys from Baptism, through Confirmation to the Eucharist. Also significant is the concept of "sacramental character", where an indelible spiritual seal is set upon one's soul in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.
A sight which never fails to move me now, just as much as it did when I was still an Anglican, is the seemingly endless line of -communicants — hundreds slowly and humbly advancing towards the Real Presence in the Eucharist — at the large abbey church which has become my spiritual home. This is not, as secularists would undoubtedly describe it, a line of lemmings mindlessly doing what they've always done, or something out of Orwell's 1984. It is humankind — still after 2,000 years — devotedly living out Christ's promise in St John's Gospel: "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life". It is a totally trusting action, one that is essential in order to sustain life, somewhat akin to a baby instinctively seeking out its mother's breast.
It is an astonishing privilege that a Catholic communicant, is joined to the Church through Baptism and Confirmation, experiences such total communication with Christ at the Eucharist, that (in Our Lord's unequivocal words in St John's Gospel) he or she "abides in me, and I in him".
By contrast, the best that human beings have come up with In the field of communications — multi-directional holographic video imaging via high speed Internet links — will, ironically, only serve to cut people off from each other.
I don't think I'll bother with WiFi again — they wanted subscription money for it, anyway. I'm staying with the sacraments; like all the greatest things in life, they're free.