WE HEAR A VOICE FROM HEAVEN WHEN WE ARE WITH THE LORD AT THE HOLY ALTAR
by Fr. George W. Rutler
When Shakespeare imagined what young King Henry V might have said before the Battle of Agincourt a century and a half before, he wrote one of the most celebrated speeches never really spoken. Nonetheless, it expresses the pride and thrill of having been privy to a great event:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
The eyewitness accounts of those who walked with Christ and saw the things he did and heard the words he spoke may give the impression that the narrators had an advantage over us these two thousand years later. St. John spoke with reverential awe of “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1). However, not one of the apostles, nor for that matter any human being, was at the beginning of everything. It is by God himself that the creation of the world is revealed, and it is by God in Christ that we learn our purpose in the created order. As Christ who has no beginning or end, but has also a human nature that does have a birth and death, he conflates eternity and time so that when we are united with his death and resurrection in baptism, we mystically are able to be at the beginning of the world and at its end. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1 Colossians 1:17).
St. Paul was not there at the Resurrection, but Christ came to him on the Emmaus road, and ever afterward the Apostle would say in both defense and boast that he had been born “out of time.” During the forty days of Lent, the Church is there with the Lord, going up to Jerusalem in an actual way, and not merely reminiscing or imagining as in a stage play. This is a particular gift of these Lenten weeks, but it is not confined to this season. Nor is it limited to one place. The Holy Eucharist enables all worshipers to be with the Lord, anyplace in the world at any hour, attending at the same time his sacrifice on the Cross and his Paschal victory. St. Peter could say with holy pride, “we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18). And while that is a sublime thing to be able to say, so can we rejoice as well, for we too hear a voice from heaven when we are with the Lord at the holy altar: “This is my Body… This is my Blood.”