“Is it Jesus now, Miss?”: Katie Biddle and the Excitement of Transubstantiation
Katie (Burke) Biddle joined ACE for some of the same reasons that everyone does: she wanted to volunteer, and she wanted to teach. While her faith and working in a Catholic school was important, Katie felt especially passionate about elementary education. After she was placed in the second grade at Holy Redeemer in Washington DC, however, preparing second-graders for their First Communion changed her life’s path.
Like some other ACE schools, many of the students at Holy Redeemer were not Catholic. In Katie’s first year, only two of her second-graders received the sacrament of first Holy Communion, but the whole class still participated in the lessons and worked together to understand the meaning of the sacrament. Katie even brought in pictures of her own First Communion, which thrilled and intrigued the students. In Katie’s second year, just one child would receive First Communion but like the previous year, the entire class participated in the preparation.
During one lesson that year, one of Katie’s students suddenly shot his hand in the air.
“Wait,” he said, his voice full of skepticism. “So you are saying that when we go to church, when the priest holds up bread, that is Jesus? Really Jesus? Right up there?”
“Yes!” Katie told him, excited that he was interested and listening to her lesson.
“Well,” the young man said. He did not look particularly convinced, but he continued with his question nevertheless. “Why doesn’t someone tell all the people? Because no one looks excited when we go to Mass at school.”
It was a moment that stopped Katie in her tracks. He was right–the moment might be somber and holy, but where was the excitement? Where was the wonder and awe at the amazing miracle in which bread becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ? Had we grown indifferent to the mystery of the Eucharist?
The importance of the moment was not lost on Katie’s students. At the next Mass, Katie heard whispering coming from her students as the priest lifted the host in the air.
“Is it Jesus now, miss?” they asked. “How about now? Is this the moment? Is Jesus here yet?”
The questions continued far beyond Mass, and became so numerous that Katie called in her pastor as reinforcement. The intricacies of transubstantiation proved to be a bit beyond second-grade sensibilities, so the pastor simplified: after the Lord’s Prayer, he said, the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus.
At the next Mass, Katie waited to see how the students would react. After the Lord’s Prayer, she looked over at her questioning student and found him looking right back, giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Other students followed suit, smiling and giving the thumbs-up to their fellow students in excitement: Jesus was finally here!
In these moments of questioning and eagerness, Katie realized how much she had taken for granted. After so many Mass experiences, it had become ordinary that bread and wine transformed into Christ. But the second-graders’ sense of wonder ignited a spark in Katie. Though her work still lies in education, she shifted her focus to helping kids foster their relationship with Christ so that they may experience the awe-inspiring power of the everyday as well as the miraculous.
Katie moved on to teach middle school math and religion and became very involved with high school youth group and confirmation retreats. Her increasing desire to introduce students to Christ led her to teach high school theology and to become a campus minister. However, Katie found that she missed the younger students and this year, she is back in the second-grade classroom. She expects her first child just two weeks after this year’s second-graders receive the sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time, and she has come to realize that this everyday teaching is in fact a profound gift: the parents of her students trust her to introduce their children to God and educate their soul. Each day, she is humbled and made joyous by this opportunity to find wonder in every ordinary and extraordinary moment of her students’ faith journey.
Are you an educator looking for help in planning liturgies? The Notre Dame - Newman Centre for Faith and Reason in Dublin has a number of great resources to assist you. Visit http://newman.nd.edu/liturgy-planning/ for more information.