When I first turned to take account of the sprawling landscape of Christian tradition which lay just behind me but of which I had never known, I had a certain sense of alarm, like discovering suddenly I was standing on the edge of a cliff. The shear size of the landscape spreading out over time and space and encompassing all sorts and conditions of people and places affected my soul, and it changed my whole perspective. And time and time again, I found, as I read about our Christian ancestors, that the center of their life in God and with each other was what I had grown up calling the Lord’s Supper, though it has more often throughout history been called the Eucharist (Thanksgiving).
My initial skepticism and thoughts of superstitious rituals notwithstanding, I couldn’t deny the conviction and humility with which thinking people from the first to the twenty-first century wrote regarding the Eucharist. Dom Gregory Dix, writing in the twentieth century, wrote one of the best summaries I know to exist of what I had learned about this peculiar action in the life of the people of God:
Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.
I can think of no more magnificent aspiration than to become squarely one of the holy common people of God.