Day 40 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 40

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen


On July 21, 1997, it will be forty years since Cardinal Bernard Alfrink ordained me to the priesthood and my uncle Anton gave me his golden chalice.

The next morning I celebrated my first Mass in the sisters’ chapel of the seminary. I stood in front of the altar, with my back to the sisters who had been so kind to me during my six years of philosophical and theological studies, and slowly read all the Latin readings and prayers. During the offertory I carefully held the chalice. After the consecration I lifted it high above my head so that the sisters could see it. And during communion, after having taken and given the consecrated bread, I drank from it as the only one allowed to do so at that time.

It was an intimate and mystical experience. The presence of Jesus was more real for me than the presence of any friend could possibly be. Afterwards I knelt for a long time and was overwhelmed by the grace of my priesthood.

During the nearly forty years that have followed, I have celebrated the Eucharist every day with very few exceptions, and I can hardly conceive of my life without that consistent experience of intimate communion with Jesus. Still, many things have changed. Today I sit behind a low table in a circle of handicapped men and women. All of us read and pray in English. When the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the table, the wine is poured into large glass cups, held by me and the Eucharistic ministers. During the Eucharistic prayer the bread and the cups are lifted up so that everyone can see the consecrated gifts and experience that Christ is truly among us. Then the body and blood of Christ are offered as food and drink to everyone. And when we offer the cup to each other, we look each other in the eye and say: “The Blood of Christ.”

This daily event has deepened our life together over the years and made us more conscious that what we live every day, our sorrows and joys, is an integral part of the great mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. This simple, nearly hidden celebration in the basement of our small house of prayer makes it possible to live our day not just as a random series of events, meetings, and encounters, but as the day the Lord has made to make his presence known to us.

So much has changed! So much has remained the same! Forty years ago, I couldn’t have imagined being a priest in the way I am now. Still, it is the continuous participation in the compassionate priesthood of Jesus that makes these forty years look like one long, beautiful Eucharist, one glorious act of petition, praise, and thanksgiving.

The golden chalice became a glass cup, but what it holds has remained the same. It is the life of Christ and our life, blended together into one life. As we drink the cup, we drink the cup that Jesus drank, but we also drink our cup. That is the great mystery of the Eucharist. The cup of Jesus, filled with his life, poured out for us and all people, and our cup, filled with our own blood, have become one cup. Together when we drink that cup as Jesus drank it we are transformed into the one body of the living Christ, always dying and always rising for the salvation of the world.

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