If anyone has seen the movie "Trainspotting" one of the most
memorable scenes is the protaganist free diving into a
filthy toilet bowl. He dove into a stinking shithole and
literally became a sacred plunger - pun intended. Most sacred
plunges are like that - sometimes you just have to see
shit for what it is and plunge away.
One of the most extreme of extreme sports is called free
diving and it is gaining in popularity world wide.
The purpose is to dive as far as you can underwater with one
breath. The world record is 131 metres and the longest
recorded time under water is 7 minutes. At these depths
the lungs are compressed to the size of oranges and a
mistake can be fatal.
The greatest danger facing divers - besides sharks -
is called shallow water blackout. This can occur during
the final part of the ascent within five to 10 metres
of the surface. The blackout occurs because the diver
runs out of oxygen and they could easily drown without
proper assistance. People who undertake this sport have
to be extremely fit, competitive, excellent at concentration
and relaxed - or just plain crazy. They often practice
yoga to enhance their breathing performance, improve their
relaxation and increase their lung capacity. Scientists
are expressing much interest in studying these people
in hopes of discovering which parts of the brain are
being utilized to enhance the pulmonary and cardiovascular
systems that take these elite athletes to the breaking
point of breathe or die, and hope that it may enlighten
us on philosophical concepts such as free will and consciousness.
We have all been to those places in our lives where we
reached a jumping off place, a point of no return,
a place of complete uncertainty. This is a place of
nowhere to run, a place of forgiveness and forbearance,
a place where the tide of our life or the life of someone
dear to us is turning. We find ourselves in a place
between life and death or in a place between suicide and murder.
We have all been to that place where we knew our time was
up there or we had no power to change the situation,
the place where our only choice was to hold our nose
and step forward into the unknown and trust that we
would keep on going even when we weren't sure where
we were going. We took a leap of faith, free dove and
made the sacred plunge, fools that we are - or maybe
just plain crazy - and felt our soul breath compressed
until our lungs surely were the size of oranges. In this
place we knew we had to breathe or die by drowning
in a teaspoon of our own bittersweet tears. The only thing
left to do was to take a deep breath, hold our nose,
free dive and hope for the best or at least hope that
the worst had already been. A person of grace always
knows when it is time to leave or leap - you could
call it the dancers' edge.
What do you pack for a sacred plunge?
It was a custom of the ancient Greeks to prepare a
special supper for those about to depart on a journey.
This dinner and the provisions for the journey, such as
food, money, utensils and clothing, was called viaticum -
literally provisions for the journey of life. The
term Viaticum was applied to the Eucharist or Holy Communion
and was once used in all the liturgical sacraments but
became a metaphor for the provision of sacred food for
the journey out of this life and into the next and the
sacrament associated with giving spiritual comfort and
strength to the dying. Confession, viaticum and anointing
of the sick are called the Last Rites. In the Catechism
of the Council of Trent it is described as follows,
"Sacred writers call it the Viaticum as well because
it is the spiritual food by which we are supported in
our mortal pilgrimage, as also because it prepares for
us a passage to eternal glory and happiness".
In order to bring the Last Rites to a sick person some
essential items are required. The Priest should have a pyx
and a purificator in small burse which they should hang
around their neck until they reach the home of the ill
person , a small corporal, a white stole, and the Ritual.
The word pyx means literally box-wood receptacle and was
applied to all vessels used to contain the Blessed Eucharist.
It was a term commonly applied to the cup in which the
Blessed Sacrament actually rested when it was suspended
above the altar during the Middle Ages. The term pyx is
now more commonly used to describe a smaller vessel
of gold or silver in which the Eucharist is carried
to the sick.
The purificator is a piece of pure white linen or hemp
used for cleansing the chalice. A corporal is a square
white linen cloth which the Sacred Host and chalice are
placed upon during the celebration of Mass. The burse
is a receptacle in which the folded corporal is carried to
and from the altar. It is usually made up of two pieces
of cardboard about ten inches square, bound at three edges,
with the fourth open to fit the corporal in. The outer
side of the burse is made of the same material and is
the same colour as the vestments it is to be used with.
The interior is lined with linen or silk. A stole is
a liturgical vestment made of a strip of material from
two to four inches wide and about eighty inches long.
A small cross is sewn or embroidered at both ends and
in the middle; the priest kisses the stole on the middle
cross before putting it on.
A table is prepared in sight of the sick person containing
a crucifix, two lit candles, a wineglass containing water
for the priest to purify his fingers, a clean napkin for
the sick person, a vase containing holy water and a
sprinkler made of box or some other type of wood. The altar
would have two lit candles, the key of the tabernacle
(many churches lock up the Blessed Eucharist in the
tabernacle) and a burse with a large corporal.
Usually the priest will carry with him two wax candles,
holy water, and a small communion cloth in case the sick
room cannot be properly set up for the Ritual.
The Ritual itself is made up of the Penitential Rite
which is a confession if a Priest is there to hear it or
an act of contrition and a promise to confess; repetition
of the baptismal promise or the Apostle's Creed; recitation
of the Lord's Prayer; the giving of Holy Communion;
a prayer and a blessing. Everyone is entitled to receive
the Last Rites.
"The celebration of the eucharist as viaticum,
food for the passage through death to eternal life,
is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian.
It is the completion and crown of the Christian life
on this earth, signifying that the Christian follows
the Lord to eternal glory and the banquet of the
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops "Communion of the Sick"
So our little Fool, standing poised on a cliff, has a
burse hanging from his Wand of Will - his sacred plunger.
His burse contains the viaticum for his free dive into
manifestation - bread, water, fire, utensils
and wood - everything he requires for his journey. He
is becoming the Magician with the sacrament of the
Blessed Eucharist laid out upon his altar - one hand
reaching upward to heaven and the other hand reaching
downward to earth - like God had held his hand and in
a gentle pirouette, placed him in this spot and will
return and take him home the same way.
On the other hand, God could have set him down in a
Tim Horton's. Communion is a sacrament that can be
given and received anywhere, anyplace and anytime if
the need is real - no one owns the sacraments. Spiritual
food and sincere celebrants make for a peaceful journey.
Peace be your journey. Don't forget to dance.