We sat toward the back of Cathedral, having arrived a few minutes late to Mass. The friend visiting from out of town converted to Catholicism a few years back. I could have dropped her off and picked her back up an hour later but this wasn’t my first time at Mass and I doubt it will be my last.
I referred to the program as needed. I’ve amassed a certain amount of liturgical knowledge over the years. There’s a certain comfort in attending Mass. Short of the homily, we basically know how the service will go.
As we drew nearer to the sacrament of communion, I fidgeted more and participated less. The priest spoke of “inclusion” and “exclusiveness” and I wasn’t entirely sure what he was saying about the scripture passage. The irony of his word choice wasn’t lost on me, given what awaited.
My friend rose to go to the front, while I stay seated. The last time I’d been in a Catholic church was at my grandmother’s funeral almost a year prior. The memories of various Masses burned.
I blinked back tears. I wanted to run out of the church.
I wanted to take Communion.
We gathered around the Christmas tree a decade or so ago. He said he wanted to read a letter before we opened presents. He liked writing letters and I thought- we all thought- it would be about our family and the season and good things.
Instead he talked of failure, only one of the children still went to Mass. Where had they gone wrong, he lamented, blaming himself. The air sucked out of the room and my eyes flitted from person to person, gauging reactions. It’s a miracle no one stormed out. It may have been written in love but it was received as judgment.
All I could think was: you don’t think I’m a real Christian? Me, who serves, leads small groups, changed churches in high school so I could draw closer to God. My faith doesn’t matter because I don’t go to Mass?
My parents traded the Catholic church for a Protestant one when I was a few years old. I didn’t realize it caused some to grieve.
I didn’t know it was an old-school Church teaching: salvation by Catholicism.
Shell shocked, we opened presents and tried to pretend it was Christmas as usual. We tried to ignore the words rippling through our family.
The pain leaked out in conversations over the years. I always meant to go back to the letter-reader and ask why and share my heart.
I still could.
When Grandma died 5 years ago, two of my cousins and I brought the elements to the priest during the funeral. They hadn’t been raised Catholic either. We handed over bread and wine, then sat back down while 99% of the church went forward.
I watched as people made the sign of the cross, people who hadn’t gone to Mass in years, people who denied believing in God. Yet, by virtue of their Catholic roots, they went forward and received.
I sat bound by the pew and my non-Catholic faith.
My grandmother’s funeral and I couldn’t participate in this part of the service. It hadn’t bothered me previously- just one of those religious quirks, you know- but sitting there, my heart howled at the injustice. In the years since, communion has become a scab picked at each time I’m left to sit in the pew.
I’m told unless a Catholic is in good standing, they should not take communion. In good standing, meaning they go to Mass weekly (so much as they are able), confess regularly, and are right with God. I’m told if they are not in good standing and take communion anyway, it is of great offense to God.
I shouldn’t judge some of those who go forward but I do.
The paradox in all this hurt is the way I heave and sigh when churches I attend offer communion. It could take a lifetime to unpack the reasons why. My current church has offered healing by way of its reverent approach to the sacrament. Our hearts are prepared, our souls laid bare, and only then can we process forward and partake.
When my other grandma died last fall, Grandpa asked his largely non-Catholic family to go forward to receive a blessing. He didn’t want to be the only one up there. I crossed my arms and said “blessing” before the priest and I can’t recall the words he said in turn. But it felt right to be up there, though I longed to participate.
Addendum: I wrote this post more than a month ago. I had no way of knowing I would attend my aunt’s funeral mass in the weeks since. I felt such peace when it was time for communion. Exploring these memories led to such healing.