26 May 2017

Caryll Houselander: from "The Risen Christ"

An Excerpt from the Chapter "The Prayer of the Body"

Before Christ died he literally gave us his sacramental body in his own hands. Day after day he is born in the consecrated hands of the priest ; in a man's hands he is lifted up and offers himself to the Father. It is fitting, then, that so often our offering of self through the body must be made literally with our hands.

Caryll Houselander
What an expression of himself a man's hands are. When he comes to die, what a story his hands tell. They have taken on the shape and colour and texture of his work. They are the story of his life. When Madame Curie lay dead, the most beautiful testimonial to her life's work was in her hands lying simply on the coverlet, scarred with burns of radium.

Long before Christ gave us his body in his own hands they were hardened by toil, beautiful with the line and muscle and sinew of the hands of an artisan, and hollowed out by the wooden mallet to cup the chalice and hold the nail. But in the consummation of his self-giving, these hands which had given   in so many ways were helpless, fastened back, immovable, to a plank.

At that moment his body was broken, the heart was broken, the flesh and blood separated. Every day the suffering of the Lord's body is shown in the breaking of the bread.

Sooner or later, our prayer of the body too becomes the helpless hands, the falling away of self, the breaking of the bread.  Sickness, old age, death ; these must come, and when they come it seems that our service is ended. There is exhaustion which makes it first an effort, then an impossibility, to lift the hand up to make the sign of the cross; no more liturgical acts in daily life, gestures and symbols that worship God and give Christ's love to men.

Everything falls away from us, even memories— even the weariness of self. This is the breaking of the bread, the supreme moment in the prayer of the body, the end of the liturgy of our mortal lives, when we are broken for and in the communion of Christ's love to the whole world.

But it is not the end of the prayer of the body. To that there is no end. Our dust pays homage to God, until the endless morning of resurrection wakens our body, glorified.

Caryll Houselander
The Risen Christ
Sheed and Ward, New York