First, I'm sure you’ve noticed how Catholics often follow their praying of the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, with the Hail Mary. What caught my attention was how theologically profound that is. In the Our Father we petition God for everything that we will need during this day: that His way of doing things spreads through our lives and throughout the whole earth; that we be able to forgive those who have hurt us; and that we be protected from evil. And then in the Hail Mary we turn to the person who opened herself to receive these blessings like no other! With real excitement we can pray, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!” Excitement – because in Mary we see what happens when we pray the Our Father from the depths of our heart. As John Paul II pointed out, the Hail Mary is a Christ-centered prayer; it’s all about what God did, in her! And we want the miracle of the incarnation to continue, for us to give flesh and bone to God the Son. Really, isn’t that what we’re asking for each time we pray the Our Father, for us, for every human being, to be remade in Jesus’ image? And each time we finish the Hail Mary, we ask her to pray for this too, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death.”
The second thing that clicked with me had to do with incense. No, not that cutesy stuff from Bed, Bath & Beyond - I’m talkin’ ole-school, briquette in a censer, incense. You see, on special feast days, like this past Sunday’s All Souls Day, the priest incenses the gifts to be offered in the Eucharist. (It’s a very hip practice, going back to the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. The Book of Revelation shows the saints in Heaven offering incense to God – and then identifies that incense as our prayers [Rev.5:8]!) What finally caught my attention this past weekend though was how the priest didn’t just incense the bread and wine; he came around to the front of the altar and swung the incense out over the congregation as well. YES - we are part of the offering; we are to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The transformation that takes place on the altar, occurs SO THAT we may be transformed. We (our thoughts, words, actions, our very beings) are to be made part of Jesus’ Love and response to the Father.
In writing this, I realize that both of the above realizations are actually only one - examples of the Gospel in miniature: “We live in Jesus and He in us; Heaven can begin right here and now.”