In 1968 I was seven years old and in the second grade. In addition to attending public school I also went to CCD where I learned my Catholic Catechisms. (Try saying that out loud and fast three times!) In the ordinary turn of events, second grade is the year Catholics first encounter Sacrament Number Three, aka First Holy Communion. (Baptism and Confession precede Communion.)
When First Holy Communion came around and I was asked to carry the unleavened wafers down the church aisle and hand them to the waiting priest where he, through transubstantiation, would repeat Jesus’ miracle at the Last Supper and change ordinary bread and wine diluted with water into the actual flesh and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ I was ready and eager to comply.
After the transubstantiation, we congregants ate the body, drank the blood and then sang a song of love. (Side Note- Despite the predictions of my best friend’s mother, Anita Frisch, I did NOT drop the soon to be body of Christ all over Saint Mary’s church floor on my chalice held high march down the aisle. Score one for clumsy, slightly autistic, seven-year-old me.)
If the above seems odd to you you obviously did not grow up Catholic nor any of its near descendants.
I semi-gladly and somewhat willingly attended weekly Mass for another near decade; and speaking of decades, let’s fast forward one.
In 1979 an age mate, coworker and friend’s father died. Many of my fellow coworkers attended the funeral Mass including Rob Goldberg, a Jew teetering on the edge between conservative and reform.
A Catholic Mass, whether funeral or other, by definition includes many rituals. We stand up, we sit down, we chant in unison, we kneel and pray. The center ritual is the miracle of transubstantiation followed by the consumption of Christ’s body and blood. Mass is going along, young Rob, his first time in a Catholic church (Any Christian church?) is doing his best to mimic the congregants’ actions when all us Catholic folk stand so as to line up and receive the body and blood of Christ. I whisper in Rob’s ear that he probably doesn’t want to participate in this part of the Mass, he nods his head and sits. (Later I explained what he had just witnessed and what he was about to do and he thanked me for the heads up. I had been correct, Rob was glad to observe rather than partake in the Eucharist.)
Over the years, my faith has become less and less Catholic as well as less Christian. One of the founding principals of Catholicism is the importance of regular confession. If I were to utter the traditional opening volley of Confession I would say, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last Confession was-
“Regular” should be read as at least once a month and more often as needed or desired. I’m something like 470 installment payments behind. (And no, so long as we’re alive it’s never to late to confess.) To receive the body of Christ one is supposed to be in a State of Grace, i.e. confessed recently. I have received Communion dozens of times since 1978 but I always hesitate. Despite my glib presentation style my lack of faith should not be read as a lack of respect. When I take Communion I do so with that very goal in mind- to commune with God and on Friday the fourth of August I did just that.
I attended a funeral Mass for my wife’s aunt, Peggy Byrne. Peggy and husband Terry produced half-a-dozen children and these six produced two-dozen more. There’s even a few great-grands floating around so the church was filled with loved ones saying goodbye to a firecracker born July 4, 1930. Mass proceeded and youngsters brought the gifts to the altar where Father performed the miracle of transubstantiation, the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
When I attend Mass, which is so rare that I’ don’t even qualify as a “Chreaster”, (Christmas and Easter only) I almost never receive Communion. I’m not in a State of Grace; it’s their church and they should get to lay down the ground rules. I took Communion at my wedding Mass, at those of my siblings and the funeral Masses of my parents, but if my wife somehow gets me to attend regular church services with her I am about as likely to take Communion as Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are to appear in the flesh looking for a game of pinochle.
But in the little cheat sheet/responsorial guide that was printed for Peggy’s Mass it clearly stated that all are welcome to approach the priest during Communion but that non-Catholics should hold their arms in the form of an “X” and receive a blessing rather than the Body of Christ. I filed up debating whether to hold my hands out or to make the “X” and as I reached the priest I held out my hands, Father held Christ’s flesh before me and intoned, “The body of Christ,” I uttered amen, took the consecrated, transubstantiated bread made flesh onto my tongue and touched my lips to wine of blood and then returned to my spot on a pew and wept.
Because no mater what I think, I’ll always feel Catholic.
May God bless us all.