When I was home last week visiting my family, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend mass with my dad on Sunday morning. Likely the last time I attended mass with my dad, Ronald Reagan was in office.
We went to the church that I had spent my angst filled teenage years strumming away in the guitar mass. Very little was familiar. Only a small part of the old tiny church I remembered remained intact. A very large and modern addition jutted out from the original steeple. We had a congregation of perhaps 200 when I attended church there in the 70’s, and it has grown to likely a couple of thousand. There was standing room only, in the one of 6 weekend masses we attended.
Since I was unfettered by the getting ready of my own children for church, we were able to arrive early and secure seating. I discovered that I would now make for a lousy Catholic, because of my bum knee. Both genuflecting and the kneeling were an unattainable goal.
I was raised in a parochial school, and attended mass when it was in Latin, and all the ladies wore hankies on their heads. Or at least those of us who were constantly losing our little circular lacy veils. This was also the time when ONLY the priest was allowed to touch the consecrated host.
I’m certain that I’ve told the story about how I risked burning in hell when once I dared to slip a tiny pointer finger in my own mouth after communion just to touch the communion wafer. I was just a little bit shocked and greatly relieved when lightning did not reach into the pew to smite me into a smoldering pile of burgundy plaid uniform with a hanky on top.
And I remember well when a fellow student puked after receiving communion. And the janitors were dispensed to bury the vomit, as a priest blessed the ground.
As the church evolved over the years, I did appreciate that I could understand what was being said, as much of the Latin was replaced by English, of which I had a fairly good grasp. However, I never could get past the fact that lay people (as in, not priests) were distributing communion, and that the church congregation was receiving holy communion IN THEIR OWN HANDS.
I sat with my dad watching with interest how communion was neatly organized and distributed by priests and lay people alike. Everyone knew where they were suppose to be. And I was pleasantly surprised that a large dispenser of hand sanitizer was at the forefront of the ritual.
However, I was just a little bit creeped out by the distribution of the sacrament of wine. One challis was held by each person dispensing the communion wine. And everyone in that particular line drank FROM THE SAME CUP. The person holding the challis did give the lip of the cup a swipe with a white hanky. But still.
As communion was ending, I noticed an older woman, her head covered in a veil. A real one, not a Puffs Plus. She waited in the back until she could get into the line that had a bona fide priest at the head. When she got to the front of the line, instead of holding out her hands, she tipped her head back, opened her mouth, and accepted the communion wafer from the priest’s hands.
I completely understood from whence she came.
I am proud to have come from a background that is so steeped in tradition. I had an opportunity when I was home to share some of my beliefs when I was asked about being raised Catholic, and then leaving the church. I think that this person was expecting me to belittle the Catholic Church. I would never do that. Raised as a Catholic, I was infused with a tremendous sense of faith. And a reverence for God and all that is Holy.
I was able to bring the conversation around to a basic point. This person that was asking the question, had been tremendously hurt by a church. The church itself is flawed, because it is run by people. And people have a tremendous capacity to make enormous mistakes.
No church is ever going to be perfect. There is only one flawless person that ever walked on this Earth, and that is Jesus. That is where our focus should be. Looking upward toward Him. I told this person that I attend church to hear the Word of God preached, to listen to wonderful music of praise, and to fellowship with other flawed individuals like myself.
I love the church that I now attend all these years later. And I am very respectful and humbled by the church that started me off down a path of faith all those many years ago.
(my brother, me, and my best friend Karen on the occasion of my First Holy Communion)