I was terrified walking up to Christ the King Catholic Church the first time. My shaking hands could barely grip the handle of the heaviest door in the world. If they heard the clacking of my heels echoing across the nearly silent yet completely full sanctuary, the congregation didn’t show it. I hardly received a nod of hello, as many were already kneeling, deeply contemplating something else entirely. The aroma of incense and candles and flowers overwhelmed my senses as I tried to understand why the air felt so…thick. I felt completely exposed, surrounded by images and statues of angels and saints and Mary and Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
This nervousness I was feeling wasn’t typical anxiety. Walking into His house with the thought that He might be physically present…I was experiencing the edges of fearing God for the first time. The air was “thick” because it was saturated with Him. I wondered why I had never felt this way walking into a church before. If I truly believed the Creator of the entire universe was there, shouldn’t I always be trembling with the awareness of how small I am in comparison to the Great I AM?
I used to mistake the intimidation I felt walking into a Catholic Church as judgement or even arrogance coming from the congregation. But now I think I just didn’t understand reverence. My ego is finally coming to terms with the fact that most of what goes on in the world is not about me. You see, the parishioners weren’t acting as though my presence isn’t good enough. They were acting as though God’s presence is more than enough.
I let that fully sink in…being around me doesn’t actually matter as much as being with Him.
Isn’t that how it should be?
I cherish my very personal relationship with Jesus. He knows every hair on my head and loves me in spite of every way I have failed. He is my Friend, my Teacher, my Counselor. But have I always been so comfortable in that part of our relationship that I didn’t know how to worship Him as our Almighty King? As I looked around at everyone who was ignoring me – kneeling with heads bent low, whispering prayers, some even shedding tears – I wondered, when did I forget that He is GOD?
My mind flooded with reminders of Old Testament worship – the intense preparation the priests went through, the Holy of Holies, women only allowed in the outer court, the way people were struck dead for disrespecting or disobeying the rules of worship. It hit me hard how the veil had torn – Christ’s sacrifice allowing me, a terrible sinner, to get in closer to my God. I didn’t feel obligated to be there, I felt humbled and honored.
As I timidly sat in the back pew, eyes wide and His/my/our heartbeat pounding in my ears, the pages of Scripture came to life all around me.
There was a visible reminder of the spousal relationship between Christ and His Church, as most everyone seemed dressed in their best, and the women were wearing beautiful lace veils.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath prepared herself. ~Revelation 19:7 (DRA)
The people were kneeling before, during, and after the service.
For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. ~Romans 14:11 (DRA)
There was recognition and honor of Mary, the Mother of God.
…for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed… ~Luke 1:48 (NIV)
The service began with the priest sprinkling the congregation with holy water.
Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. ~Psalm 50:9 (DRA)
I heard the priest and the choir repeatedly begging His mercy, singing Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison.
And he cried out, saying: Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. ~Luke 18:38 (DRA)
The Mass was almost entirely in Latin. I would learn the significance of it later, but in that moment it didn’t even distract me. I was frozen in that spot with desire to be with Him. I was transfixed by the inescapable truth that this worship service was not about me or my comfort. This was about praising God in His way, not mine.
Even in a foreign language, I recognized the words Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest), and the near angelic sounds of Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy).
…And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come. ~Revelation 4:8 (DRA)
The priest was dressed in intricate detail, carefully and purposefully carrying out the most minute requirements of worship.
Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. ~Acts 20:28 (DRA)
There were prayers of confession and forgiveness of sins.
Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. ~John 20:23 (DRA)
Then there was the bread and the wine, the Body and the Blood.
…Take ye, and eat. This is my body…Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. ~Matthew 26:26-28 (DRA)
It was lifted towards heaven as an offering. Jesus.
It was broken and blessed. Jesus.
This was the focal point, the entire reason everyone was there. Jesus.
It was carried out like a sacrifice, just as He promised it would be.
For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts. ~Malachi 1:11 (DRA)
And then His people came to Him one by one in communion. They closed their eyes and held out their tongue to receive Him. They signed themselves with the cross. And when they went back to their seats, they knelt again in solemn prayer.
The very last Gospel reading was (and always is) from the book of John, once again confirming the reason everyone was there. It certainly was the reason I was there.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. ~John 1:14 (DRA)
The service was over, but many stayed on their knees, thanking God for always fulfilling His promises.
“…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:20 (ESV)
I had many more hurdles to overcome. Stigmas and stereotypes and reputations and so many questions. But the longing that started like a heartbeat intensified that day. I was completely mesmerized. Totally in awe of my Savior, I was craving to participate in communion…to fully experience the Eucharist.
I admit transubstantiation is a difficult concept to accept. But now having read the Bible in entirety, I also have to recognize that Christianity itself is an extreme religion when fully practiced and lived all the way out. Jesus Christ is the most radical, passionate leader in the history of the world – so controversial and dangerous to society that they felt the need to brutally execute Him. His legacy stretches all the way across eternity, His devout followers giving up everything this world has to offer and willingly begging to die for Him.
Whether you think I (and the entire Catholic Church spanning thousands of years) am crazy at this point or not, this fact remains. Exploring the teaching of the Real Presence is what kept me from abandoning Christianity altogether. If there was any other reason besides Christ, then I may as well pick any religion or life-coaching strategy to live a good, comfortable life on earth. But Jesus Himself created an unbreakable bond between us that is driving this devotion and loyalty I now feel for Him.
If I can ever find words that give justice to my first taste of the connection that happens through the Eucharist, I will share them. But for now, know this – His real Body and His real Blood are what saved me. And isn’t that the very core of Christianity in the first place?