What would you do if you were attending Mass and suddenly realized that the priest was using his coffee cup as the chalice? We know what Dorothy Day did when told that this had happened at a Mass celebrated in 1960s New York City for members of the Catholic Worker movement, which she had founded. Taking the cup in her hands, she kissed it and declared that it must be buried — the customary way of disposing reverently of sacred objects. A coworker of Day says he learned more about the Eucharist that day than he had from any book or homily.
July is the month of devotion to the Precious Blood. Perhaps even more than Christ’s Eucharistic Body, His Precious Blood under the appearance of wine radically expresses Christ’s willingness to be vulnerable for us: the Host can be dropped, but the Blood is even more easily spilled and, once spilled, is much less easily recovered. A scene from the Passion of the Christ comes to mind: Our Lady on hands and knees, inching forward over the stones of the courtyard of the scourging, applying a cloth to soak up her Son’s Blood, pooled in hollows and crevices. That Precious Blood — a single drop of which, cried St. Thomas Aquinas in his hymn Adoro te, would have sufficed to save the entire world from every evil. Why did Christ choose to leave for us in the Eucharist not only His Body but also His Blood?
St. Catherine of Siena, another vigorous woman who unflinchingly tackled her era’s knottiest moral and political problems, offers us a clue. She often began her letters — to popes, princes and paupers — with the words, “I, Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood.” And then she would urge popes, princes and paupers alike to trample pride underfoot, cast off apathy, and embrace the cruciform life of burning charity. Catherine spoke audaciously because she knew she spoke bathed in Christ’s Blood.
Christ so desires intimacy with us that He invites us to immerse ourselves in the surging superabundance of His life. He poured forth that life to wash away our sins, so His Blood exists always as a reminder simultaneously of our betrayals and of the forgiveness He wants to extend to our repentance. And that life’s Blood, by analogy with the wine under whose appearances He cloaks it in the Eucharist, is meant to inebriate us, to gladden and fortify our hearts for the struggle that is the Christian life.
The “coffee cup incident” led Day to ponder: “I feel that though we know we are but dust, at the same time we know too, and most surely through the Mass that we are little less than the angels …. I would not dare write or speak or try to follow the vocation God has given me to work for the poor and for peace, if I did not have … the confidence the Mass gives.”
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.