Many years ago, long before I was Catholic, I knew a woman whose son had died when he was only a boy. His death was a tragic one, and I often wondered how she could bring herself to speak of him so often, for she never tired of talking of him, describing his childhood as if he were still the toddler in the next room, the child she had held in her arms at Mass, cradling his face and turning him toward the altar during the Consecration, whispering gently to him to "Watch! This is when the miracle happens!". It is a story she told often, and one of which I never tired, despite the fact that I never knew her son, that I had no concept of the scene she was watching with her precious child.
It is one of the first things that I watched for when I became a Catholic. I had longed to feel the emotion I heard in her voice when she described this moment. I, too, wanted to see the miracle. I wanted to know My Lord in the Bread and Wine. I wanted to recognize Him at that very precise moment when He is again with us, sharing His Body and Blood with us, making us whole by His Passion. I wanted to see these things with the eyes of both the child in awe and the mother in faith.
There is a beauty in this moment that is like no other on earth. Our Faith teaches Christ crucified, His Body broken, His Blood poured, His Wounds marking Him Victim and Sacrifice for the many. Yet at this moment He is lifted higher than the cross, His elevation in the Host marking Him victorious over it, and then comes the sole moment of gentleness in the tableau. His Body is lowered, ever so gently, to rest again on the Altar. It is such a private thing to see, the look of awe on the face of the priest who lifts Him high and then restores Him unbroken to the paten, as if He is once again being laid in the arms of His Blessed Mother. This is the miracle another grieving mother described to me long before I could understand it. This is what she recalls when she mourns for her child, that what he once believed he now beholds. It is what marks us apart from men, this understanding of how Mary felt as she took her Son again into her arms, the recognition of the child in the man, who through no fault of His own was made to suffer and die in agony, in thirst, in nakedness, in abandonment, in shame.
The bells ring and the moment passes, the priest continues the rite as it was begun, and we partake of Our Lord's Body and Blood. Some receive Him reverently, some absentmindedly, some worthily, some not. I imagine it has always been so. I wonder who it was that lifted him down from the cross? Was it Longinus trying to be kind to the old Jew from Arimathea or at least get him out of the way? Did John clamber up to help? Was Jesus first lifted a little higher to ease Him from the nails or were they pulled away from the wounds? I like to think that He was lifted from them, leaving the cruelty of cross intact as He was restored once more to the gentle care of His mother. She who bathed Him as a child would bathe the wounds of the Man. She who swaddled Him in a manger would wrap Him in His Death linens. She who witnessed His Death would know Him in His Resurrection. She, Our Lord's most gentle advocate, her own heart pierced with sorrow, taking His disciple as another son at His command and turning John's face toward the cross as she cradles the Body Broken for us. "Watch!" she says. "This is when the miracle happens."