“The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom…[O]ur entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.” Alexander Schmemann
Participation in the Eucharist – an act millions of Christians enter into each Sunday – is always susceptible to disenchantment. If we give our bodies to the celebration, but not our minds and our hearts, we will soon lose the vision of that “dimension of the Kingdom” Schmemann describes. While what happens during the celebration and the liturgy is objective – it is God who sanctifies the elements – there is still a necessary subjective participation required by the believer to appropriate the reality and to give him or herself to the experience. If we truly believe God himself is present to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, giving to us his mercy, grace, peace, the hope of eternal life, his very Self, we should desire a new depth of imagination and contemplation to better understand the heavenly dimension of the feast. God is present, we sing his praises alongside angels, we rejoice at the table of a good and loving King who invites us to share in his Kingdom. If all of this is truly a present reality, how can we more fully give ourselves to it? How can it impact our lives beyond the church walls?
I cannot assume to know the answer to this, for each individual will differ in what manifests a state of “heavenly mindedness”. In St. Mary’s chapel at Nashotah House, one will see students, staff, spouses, and clergy giving themselves to the Celebration in a variety of ways. Some read St. Augustine’s Prayer Book or Balthasar Gracian’s Sanctuary Meditations before and after receiving the sacrament, some kneel and pray, some sit meditatively with eyes closed, and some string rosary beads through their fingers. All make an attempt to enter a place of meditation where the heavenly reality is perceived. Participating in the Lord’s Supper each day, students get the opportunity to take what they learn in classes – liturgy, ascetical theology, New Testament – and apply it to their experience in the Eucharist. Worship life at the House takes information and turns it into formation. If that eucharistic formation takes deep root, the world will be touched by the proclamation of the Gospel of the Risen Christ.
Seeking new means of meditative participation in the Eucharist, all Christians can gain a “vantage point” and take the vision of sharing in Christ’s risen life beyond the doors of the church and into the world. Schmemann reminds us that we are able “through this knowledge and thanksgiving to transform the world itself into communion in the life that ‘was in the beginning with God’ (Jn 1.2), with God the Father, and was manifested to us.”