When I was growing up, we would watch the Schoolhouse Rock animated educational videos on Saturday mornings between the cartoons. One of my favorites was always “Conjunction Junction.” After introducing these important little words, the song asked, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?” and the singer explained, “I’ve got ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or.’ They’ll get you pretty far.” Then the animation would show how these words make connections, create meaning, and keep things on course.
Conjunctions do get us pretty far, and in one prayer from our tradition, the conjunction makes all the difference. The Prayer of Humble Access is an option in the Rite I Holy Eucharist, and we say the prayer regularly at the Wednesday Noon Mass, on Sundays at 8:30 a.m., and seasonally at the 11 a.m. Mass. The prayer in on page 337:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
“But” begins the third sentence, and in my opinion, it’s one of the biggest and most beautiful “buts” I can think of. The earlier “but” is important, too. “But” makes it clear that it’s not our own goodness or merit that gets us invited to the Lord’s Table, but God’s too-many-to-name mercies. The second sentence is not meant as a self-loathing, groveling kind of statement. Rather, it’s objective fact. It reminds us of our place in the universe, that you and I exist because of the choice and decision of God to create us. We have not made ourselves. BUT, God is good. BUT, God always shows mercy.
God always sets the table, irons the good linens, cooks up a feast, and makes sure there’s space for us. That’s just how God entertains. God invites us to eat and drink deeply of the Blessed Sacrament so that we might become one with God. We see the table, we stumble ahead in spite of ourselves, and we are filled with the Body and Blood of Christ, revived, renewed, and reborn as God’s children.