Just outside of Toulouse France in 1579 a young girl was born. This particular girl was born with a crippled and paralyzed right arm and she was born with a form of tuberculosis that affected her neck, she couldn’t easily move her head. Her name was Germaine and eventually she would be known as the Saint of the Unwanted. No one knows for sure who her parents were, as a baby; she was left on the doorstep of a farming family. They took her in but they treated her terribly. When she was old enough they moved her out into the barn, away from everyone else. Food was left out on the porch for her to come and get. Germaine lived in ragged hand-me-downs and she never had any shoes. She was regularly beaten, neighbors would often see welts and bruises on her hands and face. Life was very hard for this little unwanted girl.
There was, however, one bright spot for Germaine. She was allowed go to Mass every Sunday. It was the weekly highlight. It was at Mass where our Lord spoke to her heart. He showed her how her life could be; he gave her an understanding of the sacraments. He gave her an understanding of His great love. With time she developed a hunger for the Mass. During the week, however, Germaine had to shepherd her sheep up in the hills above town. She couldn’t go to Mass. She wanted so badly to be there, but she couldn’t. But she could hear the church bells ring marking the beginning of Mass. So she would face into the direction of the church and make a spiritual communion.
But a time came when even that was not enough for her. She had this great hunger for the Eucharist. One day our Lord gave her an inspiration. She took her shepherd’s cane and she jammed it into the ground, she then huddled her flock around the cane and told them to, “Stay put.” And they did; well-trained sheep. She could now go to Mass every day, she could now meet our Lord in the Eucharist every day. And her sheep never strayed. They were always there when she got back.
Germaine’s time at Mass was not only the high point of her day; it became the driving force in her life. She would gladly suffer all that her family and the weather in the fields and her illness and deformity handed out to her. But she could not do without Jesus in the Eucharist.
Eventually Germaine’s illnesses caught up with her. And she died in 1601 at the age of 22. Today her body is incorrupt and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession.
St. Germaine understood the Mass and she understood the great Communion of Love to which she was called. To which we are called. God Himself is an eternal exchange of Love, Father, son, and Holy Spirit. So, for all eternity, the Father pours Himself out in a total gift of self-giving love to the son, and the son returns that gift with the same self-giving love and the love between them is the Holy Spirit. And amazingly God had destined each one of us to share in that Divine exchange of ecstatic love. And the way we do it is by becoming a member of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Baptism does that for us.
Before the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus there was a gap between us, fallen humanity, and the love of the Trinity. And there was nothing we could do on our own to bridge that gap. But God in his unfathomable mercy, reached out to us with His Trinitarian love, and bridged the gap. And every time we come to Mass the drama of this bridging of the gap is made present to us.
God the Father gave his son to fallen humanity, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). And who is the Son? He’s everything that the Father is. So, God truly reached out to us with the eternal action of his own Trinitarian love. In the Incarnation of the Word, the conceptions and birth of Jesus, he gave himself to us in an act of total self-giving love. With the Incarnation the bridging of the gap begins. Self-giving divine love is extended to sinful, selfish humanity. And not only is this love extended to us, this loves goes on to show us the way of return to the Father. On the Cross Jesus poured himself out in a total gift of self-giving love to the Father. That’s our return.
1st God the Father gives himself in love to the world by giving his dearly beloved son, and then 2nd the Son gives himself back to the Father on the Cross, completing the two-part, eternal exchange of love with the Holy Spirit himself being the love. So the eternal action of the Trinity’s exchange of love becomes visible in the Incarnation and the Passion of Jesus.
But what does that have to do with us? If we are baptized and attend Mass, then it has everything to do with us, because the Mass contains the whole drama of the bridging of the gap and we in the pews and at the altar are right there in the midst of the drama!
It works like this: The first part of the Trinity’s love is extended to us at the moment of consecration, the moment when the priest takes the bread and says, “This is my Body,” and then takes the wine and says, “This is my Blood.” At that moment of consecration, God so loves the world that he gives us his only son. At that moment, God the Father pours himself out in a gift of self-giving love to us by giving us his dearly beloved Son.
So where does Jesus complete the Trinitarian action of love by giving himself back to the Father. Giving himself as a gift of total self-giving love? Jesus does it when the priest at altar, who acts “in persona Christi” takes the Body and Blood of Christ into his hands and offers it back to the Father saying, “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.”
And at that moment, as we say, “Amen,” Jesus returns to the Father, completing the Trinitarian action of love. But there is something different this time at the celebration of the Mass. When the Father reaches down to “pick up” and embrace his Son, he notices that his Son is much heavier than before. When the Father receives the self-giving love of his Son, he receives not only Jesus Christ the Head of the Mystical body but he also receives all the members of his body. The Father receives the gift of self-giving love of the “Full Christ.” Which is all of us in Christ who are uniting ourselves with Christ at the moment of his self-offering to the Father at Mass.
The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life, we not only offer the divine victim to God, but we also offer ourselves along with him. Truly the Mass is Heaven on Earth. It is the visible, sacramental enactment of the invisible, eternal exchange of self-giving love of the Father to the Son and the son to the Father in the Holy Spirit. And we get in on the action. At least we’re supposed to. The Second Vatican Council calls us to a fully conscious and active participation in the Mass, and this offering of the Victim (Jesus) and the offering of ourselves along with him gets to the heart of this active participation.
Do we give to the Heavenly Father with Jesus all of our praise, our worries, our joys, our sufferings, our whole selves? Do we put them right into the chalice to be offered to the Father? St. Germaine did. St Germaine is known as the Saint of the unwanted and she was certainly shunned by her family. But to her Heavenly Father she was certainly wanted and loved. And she experienced that love at every Mass she attended. She couldn’t stay away.
We are called to live for all eternity in the great Divine Communion of Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bliss beyond anything we could ever imagine. And it begins here at Mass. If we are Catholic, healthy, and able why would we ever stay away from the Mass.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley