By John Fulton
Mass was essentially over. The abbot had consecrated the bread, held communion, and locked away the bread of the presence. He was putting away the instruments of communion and tidying up the alter when she came in—an old grandma, frail from many years.
The abbot looked up from cleaning the chalice in which the bread had been and watched as she dipped her fingers in the holy water, genuflected, and performed the sign of the cross. As she moved to sit down, the whole congregation stared at her, at him.
With sucked-in breath we waited, what would he do? Nothing? Or would he do what so many pastors, abbots, priests, father’s, deacons, bishops… had done before. Would he speak down to her directly, would he use this moment to make an example of her and talk about the sanctity of the mass and our obligation to honor the Lord with our punctuality?
To my surprise, he walked over to her and, with extraordinary gentleness, took her hands in his. What followed was no scolding, no rebuke, no chastisement, but rather, the softly spoken words, “My dear, the mass is over.”
Her body slumped as shock, guilt and shame washed over her. “But the paper said it was at eight fifteen,” she meekly bubbled out.
Before she could finish, the abbot simply, quietly, calmly, lovingly said, “Would you like communion?”
She nodded, acknowledging her desire.
The abbot made no fuss, no muss, gave no sign of irritation. He showed nothing but love, serenity, and grace for this child of God who desired to partake of the body.
Without a word or commentary, he retrieved the key, unlocked the tabernacle, removed the cup containing the host, and took it to the alter where he transferred but one wafer to the freshly cleaned chalice.
Now, did he make her come up to him? Did he force her into the awkwardness that would be natural to all if one stood before everyone all alone in such a situation?
In an act of pure charity, grace, and humility, he walked with the chalice and the one wafer to where she stood. With kindness, grace, and the love of a father, with the presence of a true man of faith and with the love of God, he said quietly, gently, peacefully, “The body of Christ,” as he placed the wafer on her outstretched tongue.
He then turned and repeated the process of putting away the host, locking it away, cleaning the chalice, cleaning the alter, and ending the mass, all without a word.
It was a beautiful moment. A moment where Christ clearly re-assumed bodily form in the body of the abbot. It was a profound moment of grace and love and charity that touched all who watched to their core.
I am certain that if you were to bring up this moment to the abbot as a profound moment, it would simply not register to him. A daughter of his God showed up late for mass. The reason mattered not. She had come to be with her God and His community; to hear His word, receive His grace, and partake in the host. The abbot, as the representation of Christ to her, simply did what Christ would do—he honored her heart and kept not the presence of Christ from her.
Feel what you will about Catholicism; believe what you believe, but that day in that abbey, in that abbot, Christ came back and ministered grace to His daughter. It was a glorious wonder to behold and experience, to see once more the hands and feet and body of Christ.