I first started to really get the Communion of Saints when I was engaged in parish ministry that involved frequent trips to El Salvador. On one trip we were praying a litany of the saints and the response was "¡Presente!" That one word changed everything. The saints weren't just "praying for us" -- they were there along side us, praying with us. What an humbling yet empowering, inspiring, and comforting expression of solidarity, community, and communion!
As we journey on this pilgrimage, that understanding of the Communion of Saints is constantly reinforced and deepened for me. I found myself completely overwhelmed by not only the witness, but the presence, of early Christian women and men as we wondered through the Catacombs of Priscilla and the Catacombs of Priscilla and the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.
It helped that we were able to see -- in person -- some of the most famous and important frescoes of these catacombs: the Fractio Panis, which depicts women partaking in the breaking of the bread; and the Veiled Woman, which many scholars, including Sr. Chris, believe depicts a woman being inducted/ordained into some kind of ministry, standing in an orans (prayer) position, and seated on a chair (a symbol of her authority). Sr, Chris explained to us earlier in the day that she believes this woman was being inducted into the order of widos.
These frescos and others, as well as the oil lamps, tools, and decorations left behind were reminders of the real people who were really here. These are the spaces where early Christian martyrs, saints, and women and men walked, buried and honored their dead, prayed, told stories of the Resurrection, and expressed in any number of ways that death was not the end of the story, that there was a light that could overcome any darkness... And today, I find myself in need of their presence and of their unshakeable faith, their wisdom, their courage, their perseverence.
Of course, that got me to looking at the group of saints that I'm traveling with. They are married couples, single people, vowed religious, pastoral ministers, journalists, scholars, writers, and young people discerning a faithful response to God's call in their lives. And each of them brings something no one else could bring to this journey and this community. I'm thankful to be in their presence and to have their witness of faith, their wisdom, their courage, and their perseverence as well.
And so, it was especially meaningful for me to know that I was in the presence of all these saints -- past and present -- as we celebrated a bread breaking service in memory of Prisca and her husband Aquila. Prisca and Aquila were early Christian leaders names several times in the New Testament (most usually with Prisca/Priscilla named first) and were a part of Paul's ministry.
Our bread breaking service probably looked a little more like what Prisca, Aquilla, and their fellow early Christians would have celebrated than our Mass today. We sang, shared in the proclamation of Scripture, gave thanks for the ways in which God was active in our lives, and broke bread together. Participants gave thanks for one another, these early Christian women we are learning about, the opportunity to learn about them, the women who have shared the faith throughout history, and the insightful conversations, and fruitful times of prayer we have had together.
Today, in a new way, I am thankful for the Communion of Saints.