In the Divine Liturgy, just before the faithful are invited to receive the body and blood of Christ, the celebrant says, “Let us be attentive! Holy things are for the holy.”
The faithful respond, “One is Holy, the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”
On the surface, it seems, the exchange would be saying, “you can come and receive these holy things (the body and blood of Christ) only if you are as holy as Christ Himself.” In turn, that would, on the surface, seem to disqualify everyone from receiving. After all, we are not as holy as Jesus.
So, why does that dialogue occur? Surely it could not mean what it seems to mean on the surface.
We hear it that way because it touches broken need that is still operative within us to merit God’s love and gifts. And, it is supposed to do just that, to challenge us and yet invite us…
Truly, holy things are for the holy. And truly, only one is holy – the Lord Jesus Christ. AND, we are holy because we have been united with Jesus Christ. So, the holiness of Jesus Christ is our holiness. It is important to register that this is not a “borrowed” holiness. It is really our holiness!! What is His is ours!! God is not pretending we are holy.
That challenges, I dare say, a lot of presuppositions about what salvation is… Is it pretending or is it real? Are we just patched up versions of the old broken persons or new beings? Are we living from Sunday to Sunday attempting “one more time” to get it right this time?
“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table, O Lord,” the prayer of humble access says in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. And how misunderstood is that prayer!!!!! In that prayer and every other pre-communion prayer like it, we are saying just the opposite of what we seem to be saying. In and of ourselves, in the presence of God, we are not “worthy” and should never presume to “draw near” receive communion. But we do not approach in and of ourselves. We approach in and of Christ Jesus. In fact, that is a lot of the point of what has occurred during the Holy Eucharist – being able to “draw near” attentively and legitimately “in and of Christ.” We abide in Christ. We are of Christ. We are holy by grace not by pretending. We, during the Liturgy “wake up” to who we really are and approach as we truly are, consciously and without pretending.
So, is there no room for striving. Well, yes and no. There is no room for striving if that striving is for a work we can show God for the purpose of proving our worthiness. That would be boosting and there is no room for that (see Ephesians 2). But there is room for striving if it is for the purpose of abiding in Christ Jesus and co-operating with the Holy Spirit in the expression of the union we enjoy with in our thoughts, words, and deeds (working out the salvation that has been worked into us). There is no desire to boast in this kind of striving. There is a desire to bless the world and be blessed as a result. A desire to live what we celebrate – the Holy Eucharist.
Pope Francis puts it this way in his audience of October 2nd:
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In the Creed, we confess our faith that the Church is “holy”. But how can we say that the Church is holy when she is all too evidently made up of sinners? Saint Paul helps us to see things aright when he tells us that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy” (Eph 5:25-26). The Church is inseparably one with Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is not ourselves, or our merits, which make the Church holy, but God himself, through the infinite merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. God calls all of us, as sinners, to be redeemed, renewed and made holy in the communion of the Church. So the Church constantly welcomes everyone, even the greatest sinners, to trust in God’s offer of loving mercy, and to encounter Christ in the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Let us not be afraid to respond to Christ’s call, to trust in the working of the Holy Spirit and to pray and strive for that holiness which brings true joy to our lives.
We can boldly draw near, not in our own righteousness (our own worthiness in the sight of God apart from Christ as a result of how “good we have been this week”) but in His. But, His righteousness is our righteousness. This sheds light on the sacrament of reconciliation. It is, among other things, letting go of a very basis sign of needing to be righteous in and of ourselves in the sight of God – to be worthy.
The old prayer of humble access and every pre-communion prayer like it is our re-articulation of what God has been saying during the entirety of the Divine Liturgy — “you are worthy, you are loved.” We must re-articulate it in such a way as to establish, however, that the worthiness is not ours in and of ourselves but ours (truly ours) in and of Christ Jesus. This mystery of an “unworthy worthiness” and “holiness” and the journey of living it more and more consummately is salvation. In Christ Jesus we are holy without pretending. What is His is ours. Who He is by nature, we are by grace.
The beauty of salvation. The elegant mystery of mercy. The artistic perfection of faith.
Truly, “holy things are for the holy… Draw near in faith.”