In the parish I grew up in, a gigantic image of Christ the King looks on lovingly from behind the altar. A design which I presume is more modern than older churches, there is only Christ: no other images of saints in retablos, no ornately gilded beams or frames (at least back in the early ’80’s; they’ve added a few things since then), just clean lines showing off the magnificent, majestic King of all kings.
I used to love singing from the choir loft because the elevation allowed me to just gaze lovingly at His face. And standing above everyone else made me feel separate from the crowd below, as if it was just the two of us talking, loving, beholding each other.
Something I loved even more than staring at Him from the loft was walking down the center aisle to receive communion. I would usually stare up at the huge image, reverently walk on the red, sometimes green, carpeted floor, and feel giddy at the thought of receiving Him into my body. The perfect anthem for this procession was Manoling Francisco’s “Sa ‘Yo Lamang,” (Yours Alone)–
Sa ‘Yo lamang ang puso ko,
Sa ‘Yo lamang ang buhay ko.
My heart is Yours alone,
My life is Yours alone.
Each step, a prayer: I’m coming, my Love! I’m coming to receive You!
But it was during my college years when I discovered something that I loved even more. This time, I found it in the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
I can still remember the first time I ever heard mass there. I had heard a lot about this church, boasting of having had 5 national artists collaborate on its construction and design. I was quite excited to see the Stations of the Cross encircling it, each panel a genuine Manansala. But once there, I found so much more to admire: the “open” round design, the dome constructed to facilitate ventilation (quite an important feature after walking around campus under the sun), and Abueva’s double-sided crucifix (Christ crucified and resurrected) suspended from the ceiling. All magnificent spectacles to behold.
But none as memorable as the experience of receiving communion there. A circular building, there was no center or main aisle leading to the altar. Pews emanate out from the central altar like spokes on a wheel (thus the double-sided crucifix makes sense because one can see either one of the images, or the profile of both, depending on where you’re seated). I began to wonder, where do people fall in line to receive communion? I was seated facing the crucified Christ, meaning I would have to walk a considerable distance to the “front” side of the church.
Then, as the priest made his way down the elevated platform, mass-goers started kneeling around the periphery of the altar. The railing wasn’t just a fence bordering the altar, it was a communion rail (the church was built in the 1950’s, therefore, pre-Vatican II). The priest then made his way around the platform, giving communion to parishioners waiting patiently on their knees.
As the communicant in front of me stood up, I knelt down and took my place. Just as I usually did, I stared up at the cross, praying and preparing to receive Jesus. But as the priest’s outline entered my peripheral vision, I once again started getting giddy with anticipation. But this time, He was coming to me. He’s coming! My Lord, my Love is coming to me!!
A giving love, a sacrificial love. Sometimes, I marvel at the way it is so easy to draw near to Him, being so full of His love. Indeed, the most logical response to experiencing such overwhelming love is to love Him completely and with abandon. Other times, when I feel that my sin has taken me so far from His grace, and I cannot bring myself to take that walk towards Him, He is the one who comes forward, meeting me where I am, loving me there, holding me there.
What a giving love this Sacred Heart has for us! It will never be outdone in love, in sacrifice, in giving of itself. Even if I were to give my whole heart, my whole life, His Heart would still have given miles beyond what I have to offer.
To the Sacred Heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I give myself and I consecrate my person and my life, my actions, pains and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being other than to honor, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart. (from the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus)
Sa ‘Yo lamang. Yours alone. Always, forever.