reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees

Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal
Montréal, Québec, Canada

At Christmas, we celebrate God becoming man—the bishop pointed at the doors at the back of the church—and at Pentecost, after Ascension, we celebrate man becoming divine, he said, pointing now at the communion rail. And this is our Catholic Christian life, he went on. Jesus opens the doors to heaven by incarnation, and so we open the doors to church. Jesus ascends back to heaven and takes us with him in Communion, and so we commune with him every week. But you still have to walk, he demonstrates, from one end of the church to the other. This is our life, he says. We walk through the door God has opened for us, and we make our way toward him, until that final and everlasting Communion. We do this every week. It is rehearsal, except that it is not.

We say in the Mass that it is truly right and just always and everywhere to give you thanks. This is our prayer as we walk toward God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (The visiting bishop says on World Mission Sunday, here to ask us to help his diocese get water delivered more than twice a week.) Always and everywhere. We do not just pray for something once, and then give up. When Abraham prayed for the deliverance of Sodom and Gomorrah, he asked God six times—but if you could find just fifty righteous men, would you not spare them? he prayed, then forty-five, then forty…and so on until just ten, and each time God said, of course I would spare them. And we know God to be far more merciful than that. You must forgive seventy times seven times. So we must thank him not just in our literal communion line, but always and everywhere. Like Abraham, like Paul, praying without ceasing, because we are always walking toward our eternal Communion.

I was reminded, as the bishop preached all these things this morning, of Oratoire Saint-Joseph, built on top of the great Mont-Royal in Québec. There are signs scattered as you climb up the hill: reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees. And you cannot imagine anyone doing so. Then you remember the pyramids of Mesoamerica, with their steep stairs, that were so hard to climb until you learned the trick. Going on your knees is actually easier—they designed this temple to humble you. Either way, though, you arrive at the basilica exhausted, dehydrated, so that you naturally fall prostrate before the cross as you enter the church and the grand shade of the place begins to cool and comfort you.

To pray always and everywhere is tiresome the way a heartbeat is tiresome, but essential. And when they stop together you will fall exhausted into the arms of God. That’s how this communion line was designed. To humble you.

Published by Catherine Addington

I am a translator from Spanish to English and a writer on saints, myths, and icons in both religious and secular contexts.

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