“…all the rest of life is expendable.”


What does the Eucharist mean to you?

“I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, A Charmed Life). She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his now wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

Flannery O’Connor, in a letter dated 16 December 1955

Given that I am not Catholic, not yet anyway, I find myself in an interesting place: I love the Eucharist, I am coming to believe in the Real Presence as understood in Catholic doctrine and, like O’Connor, if it’s only symbolic then “to hell with it”, but since I am not Catholic I do not partake of the Eucharist in the Mass—in other words, I have many times partaken of the bread and wine (or Baptist grape juice) in Protestant services, but never in a Catholic Mass, never with a consecrated Host. I have a peace about it because I am in God’s hands regarding the path He has me on, but I do long for the Eucharist.

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