A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
How we cite our quotes:
He knelt before the altar with his classmates, holding the altar cloth with them over a living rail of hands. His hands were trembling and his soul trembled as he heard the priest pass with the ciborium from communicant to communicant.
Corpus Domini nostri
Could it be? He knelt there sinless and timid; and he would hold upon his tongue the host and God would enter his purified body.
In vitam eternam. Amen
Another life! A life of grace and virtue and happiness! It was true. It was not a dream from which he would wake. The past was past.
Corpus Domini nostri.
The ciborium had come to him.
This is a deeply powerful depiction of the concept of "transubstantiation" – that is, the idea that the Communion wafer isn’t just a metaphor for the body of Christ, but it really is in essence the body of Christ. At this moment, Stephen believes that this sacrament will save him from his past life. Look for a related scene in Chapter Five where Stephen draws again upon transubstantiation, this time as a metaphor for art (5.2.16; see "Spirituality").
His life seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word, and deed, every instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate radiantly in heaven; and at times his sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower. (4.1.4)
This passage highlights the mechanical nature of religious practice, unbeknownst to Stephen. Thanks to Joyce’s use of Free Indirect Discourse (see "Style" in our analysis section), we are allowed to see the ridiculousness of the image of the cash register, even though to Stephen, it is deadly serious.
– Then, said Cranly, you do not intend to become a protestant?
– I said that I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent? (5.3.100)
Stephen still values Catholicism over other religious systems; he recognizes it as "an absurdity" but still holds it above Protestantism. At least Catholicism is a "logical" absurdity. This whole distinction seems a little absurd.