The Chalice That Did Not Spill and Those That Do
When I was in a communion procession recently, I approached an extraordinary minister who held the vessel with consecrated wine. Just as I stopped in front of him, he turned his head to the side and sneezed. He had raised his right arm so to sneeze into the crook of his elbow and he held the chalice with his left hand. His body shook with the force of his sneeze and I could see the contents of the chalice sloshing around. Concerned that it might spill—and concerned that if I simply took the chalice from his hand that action by itself might precipitate a spill—I reached out with my hands around his left hand in order to stabilize the chalice. The sneeze passed. The minister’s body and the contents of the chalice settled. I released my grasp of the chalice. He administered the chalice to me. “The Blood of Christ.” “Amen.” He smiled with gratitude; I nodded my head and entered the procession to return to my seat.
Perhaps the Blood of Christ would not have spilled over the rim of the chalice if I had not acted. Nevertheless, I had a moment of humble satisfaction that I had at least reduced the risk of a spill.
As I reflected on this incident in the following days, two songs came to mind. The first is “Via Crucis” from the album Rise Up, recorded by the Benedictine monks of Weston Priory in 1983. The songs from this collection address suffering in Central America especially. One of the verses of “Via Crucis” runs thus:
Via crucis, via crucis:
this our journey through the Red Sea.
Via crucis, sea of blood,
which is drenching all our people.
I thought about the spilled blood in Syria, in American cities and towns that have known recurrent shooting massacres and the steady murderous drumbeat of unheralded shootings in cities large and small. I did not pull any of the triggers or fire any of the missiles or drop any of the bombs, but how am I promoting justice and peace in my neighborhood, my city, my state? Blood can also be spilled metaphorically by way of insult, racist / sexist practices, and so forth. My obligation to prevent the spilling of blood includes but exceeds what happens in a eucharistic celebration.
The second song is “Three Days” from the 2002 album A Light in Darkness, recorded by M.D. Ridge in 2002. The final stanza runs thus:
Three days our world was broken and in an instant healed,
God’s covenant of mercy in mystery revealed.
Two thousand years are one day in God’s eternal sight,
And yesterday’s sorrows are this day’s delight.
Though still Christ’s body suffers, pierced daily by the sword,
Yet death has no dominion: the risen Christ is Lord!
We are charged to reduce and eliminate the spilling of blood, yet even when we fail to do so—and even when this failure is a matter of actively harming another person—death does not have dominion. This notion is a comfort, of course. It does not excuse us from action for justice, however. As Gaudium et Spes reminds us in no. 43:
This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.
Spilt blood and the split between faith and daily life go hand in hand.