- Rudolf Steiner once said, when talking about the history of the Middle
Ages, that when people begin to discuss something, they do not understand
it. This utterance should be treated intelligently, because it refers
specifically to the spiritual. Steiner was speaking about the
Transubstantiation: "This is my body." When this became the object of
discussion, it was because it was no longer understood, although it had
been understood up until that point.
My personal experience with churches and their rituals is limited, and my
experience with Catholicism - apart from reading about it - is minimal. I
grew up around agnostics for the most part, and churches were only attended
for funerals mostly. But I did on one occasion experience the
Transubstantiation in a Catholic church. It may have looked like fluke, but
for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. It's not the precise season for
this story now in the middle of Easter, but it will have to do.
To the best of my recollection, the year was 1972, on Christmas Eve
somewhere in London, where I spent five years as a student. I was going to
spend Christmas day with friends of my family, but in Scandinavia the main
focus of Christmas is on Christmas Eve, so I had joined a get-together in a
Norwegian Lutheran church that evening. It was church coffee and cookies
and chats, but I was longing for a Christ experience, and I was sitting on
the second floor of a London bus on my way home - in those days, you could
smoke upstairs; I don't know if that's the case anymore - the Beatles sang
about lighting up a very potent reefer on the second floor of the bus in
"A Day in the Life":
Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged my comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.
(This song was initially banned on the BBC.)
Anyway, I was having a smoke on the top floor of a London bus on my way
home from Norwegian church coffee, and there was this bus stop across the
street from a nice-lloking Catholic church with open doors and lights
inside and people streaming in. I found my way downstairs in a second and
got off the bus, as an instant reaction to the sight of that church. It was
five minutes to midnight on Christmas Eve.
I had never been to a Catholic service before, so I just "did as the Romans
did", kneeling and praying and singing a hymn or two. It felt really good,
I'm telling you. And then one of the priests came up to the podium, and the
first thing he said just kind of knocked me out; he said: "It doesn't make
any difference if you're Catholics or not," he said. "There is a spiritual
awakening taking place in society, and it's for everybody." Imagine opening
up with words like that; it sure made me feel I'd come to the right place.
And then this other priest in the bacground started singing in Latin, a
liturgy I guess, and it was amazing, because the acoustics rung right
through the walls and roof and seemed to make the whole building
transparent in an astral sense as if the voice of this priest was heard by
the stars, and he was summoning Christ, and Christ came and filled up the
atmosphere, and before I knew it, I was standing there in line to receive
the holy sacrament, and there they stood, those robed priests, some with
wine and some with bread, and I swallowed the wine and the bread with the
words "The blood of Christ" and "The body of Christ" reverberating through
me, and I experienced the miracle of the Transubstantiation.
I tried to attend this kind of thing again in another Catholic church, but
nothing of the kind was happening. But the point was that I had learned to
understand the Transubstantiation Mystery through personal experience. It's
something that no doctrines can teach you, and like Steiner said,
discussions are only symptoms of things not understood.