Small, Good Things


One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths. That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. The attentiveness of the writer is shown in how that writer lifts to the level of extraordinary the most ordinary of people, places, and things. Not surprisingly, the great Catholic writers are extolled for sacramental writing, often for their accounts of communion. Graham Greene’s “The Hint of an Explanation” develops around an overdue confession by a grown altar boy who stole a consecrated wafer as a child. Flannery O’Connor included profound descriptions of the Eucharist in her letters and essays but also included some playful accounts in her fiction, my favorite of which is the old priest in “The Displaced Person” who, not being able to talk theology with Mrs. McIntyre or any of her farmhands, “came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs” for the peacocks.

more from Casey N. Cep at The Paris Review here.