We all have favorites. From liking mom’s potato salad over all the other side dishes in the world to that comfiest pair of shoes in our closet to our favorite day of the week, we all have certain things, times and activities that we prefer to others in just about every aspect of our lives. Personally, I love 7:15 a.m. when the morning sun is shining so bright through my kitchen window that I have to squint as I open the blinds. I prefer my Levis to all other clothing. I love Fridays because the weekend looms just within reach and full of possibility.
And I love the chalice.
As an Extra-Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion (that’s Catholic techno-speak for a regular person who helps distribute the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass), I honestly prefer giving the cup – holding and offering the Blood of Christ to my fellow parishioners. (I feel I have to say something else here…just in case there are any liturgical/scriptural/theological experts reading my blog – not likely, but still – that I am not going to say everything in the most correct way, and I mean no disrespect to the people or the process as I ramble on, spewing my opinions. They are what they are. My deepest thoughts and feelings are never adequately expressed in words. This will be no different, so please excuse me if you find my views blunt, skewed, or otherwise incorrect. You can rest easy in the knowledge that Purgatory awaits me.)
I’ve done quite a bit of soul-searching on this matter of my preferring the Blood to the Body in terms of distribution, and I can come up with only one reason that the cup should resonate with me so: it’s optional. Extra. Lagniappe, as we say here in the Cajun state. You don’t have to drink the Blood regularly to be in communion with the Catholic Church. Just partake of the Body at weekly Mass. Eat the bread that has been forever changed, and that is enough. You’ve been to Communion. You’ve met the obligation of the Mass. But the cup – to walk those few extra steps to the cup represents, to me, going a little further. Taking a bit more initiative. Going the extra mile.
Not everyone drinks from the cup. I would venture to guess that only half of the congregation on any given weekend takes the Blood. Some people probably don’t like the idea of a common cup. Some don’t want wine in any form. And it’s a whole lot quicker to just take the Body if time is a concern to you. Stick out your hand, pick it up, pop it in your mouth. No fuss, no muss.
My family attends Saturday vigil Mass, surrounded mostly by the older population of our church. I have grown to love these people in ways I simply cannot explain, but if I think about it long enough my eyes will start to water. The majority of the people at Mass with us are grandmotherly and grandfatherly people who come slowly to the Communion line, more slowly than they moved a decade ago, I’d wager. For many of them, the ten extra steps they have to take to reach the cup with shaky hands would seemingly be better spent leading them back toward their pew. But they come to the cup. They come to drink. They come to seal the deal.
They approach deliberately, smiling. I offer the cup to them as I say, “The Blood of Christ.” They say, “Amen,” and they mean it. Their eyes twinkle and dance as they bring the cup to their lips and hand it back to me. Most whisper, “Thank you,” before they walk away. Still others give my hand or arm a grateful pat as they move past me.
The best days are those when, as the communion line ends and the usher (last in line) takes his sip from the cup, I look down to find the cup empty, save for a drop or two. This means two very important things to me: 1) I don’t have to stand in front of the altar swallowing nearly half a cup, graceful as I try to be, praying that I don’t drunkenly wobble off of my three-inch heels as I descend the altar steps, and 2) it means that more people came to the cup – more people took the extra steps, even though it meant taking extra time.
I suppose maybe it’s my Baptist roots that long for a watering with the Blood. The faith tradition of my childhood did not focus so much on the body of Jesus, but you’ll rarely meet a Southern Baptist matriarch who isn’t concerned with whether you’ve been washed in the blood. And, as the dear hymn says, there is power, power, wonder-workin’ power in the precious blood of the Lamb.