Robrt Pela's Heartwarming Valentine Tale: "If It's Friday, This Must Be the Body of Christ"
Our "lines" amounted to one word, spoken in response to a simple question posed by Father. As we approached him, he held up the pretend communion wafer--in this case a quarter stood in for the round, white "host" we'd be gobbling on Sunday--and earnestly asked, "Body of Christ?" To which we were expected to respond, "Amen," then stick out our tongues so that Father could place the wafer there.
I couldn't do it. There was something in the way Father Pat read his line that had me in hysterics every time. "Body of Christ?" he'd say, holding up the quarter to little redheaded Robin Walden, as if he were offering her a pleasant snack instead of a metaphorical hunk of some dead guy's flesh, and I'd be on the floor, gasping for air while the other kids stared in horror. Just the fact that he was offering the host, as if one had the option of saying, "Oh, no, that's okay, Father, I had sort of a big breakfast this morning," set me off, every time. Sometimes his query sounded more like he was unsure of the identity of the little circle he held in front of our face. "Body of Christ?" he'd ask, and I'd pray someone would reply, "Uh, gosh, Padre, it looks more like a poker chip to me!"
It didn't help that each of my classmates, perhaps in an attempt to please Father, had chosen an inflection--"A-men!"--that sounded to me like they were saying, "Boy howdy, a little circle of two-thousand-year-old skin sure would hit the spot right about now!" And the fact that they followed this response by sticking out their tongues at Father caused me to scream with laughter.
"You!" Father hollered, pointing to where I stood at the back of the fake Communion line, shaking with glee and trying not to wet in my pants. "See me after class!"
I wish I could say I was banished forever from the Catholic Church on that day, but I'm afraid my only punishment was being made to write "I will not laugh at the sacred covenant of receiving Communion" a hundred times on unlined paper. But, for the next decade, after which I finally left the Church altogether, I flat our refused to take communion at the end of Mass each Sunday.
Forty years later, not long after I began taking care of my elderly parents, I spoke to Father Pat again. I phoned him to arrange for a Eucharistic Minister to visit my folks, who are no longer able to attend Sunday mass. He sent Betty, a jolly, seventyish spinster who has been sanctioned by God (or someone) to deliver communion to shut-ins. She arrives each Friday at 10 a.m. to pray with my parents and to give them little white discs of unleavened bread to eat.
Usually my mother, who has dementia, just goes along with the chanting and metaphoric cannibalism that Betty offers, while I roll my eyes and try not to make gagging sounds from the next room. But on a recent Friday, Mom apparently balked.
They'd just finished reciting the Profession of Faith and had moved on to the pretend-flesh-eating part when, apparently, my mother decided she didn't like the taste of her Holy snack.
"Oh, Mary, no!" I heard Betty gasp. "You can't put the host down on the table like that. It's a sin for it to touch anything. It's the body of Christ! You have to swallow it!"
My mother sounded sad and more than a little angry. I peeked around the corner just in time to see her pick up the communion wafer and stare at it mistrustfully.
"What is this thing, anyway?" she asked.
"Why, honey, it's the Body of Christ!" Betty replied
Maybe it's because she's just been called "honey" by someone she didn't recognize. Or maybe the dementia that's clouded my mother's mind these past six years has afforded her a new perspective on eating other people.
Whatever the reason, my mother let out a long, indignant breath and said, "Somebody's body? Well, I'm not eating that!"