I returned to my pew after receiving the body of Christ in communion and glanced sideways at my 10 year old, non-Catholic niece. She was holding the host in her hand as she whispered to me, “what do I do with this?” After dragging my jaw up off the floor I said, simply, “eat it.” She put the edge of the host in her mouth and broke a piece off. “Eat it!” I said, “It’s Jesus! Put the whole thing in your mouth and chew it and swallow it quick!” Before communion I had told her, “cross your arms over your chest so you can receive a blessing. Only Catholics can take the bread, but you can receive the blessing.” She got flustered when she made it in front of Father Paul and forgot what to do, and he put the host in her hand. So goes Rebekah’s first communion.
I had my first communion the same way and at the same age, but less innocently. I’d lived my life on the periphery of my family’s Catholic culture, one of those unbaptized babies whose parents say, “when you grow up you can decide.” To me it felt less like choice and more like being left out. Communion was this exotic thing that all my cousins got to do while my brothers and I kept our aching knees on the kneeler. My chance came while attending my aunt’s wedding. My slightly devious cousin whispered to me as people started forming a line, “come with me.” I agreed. Emily has always been the daring leader of our little posse while I have been the creative director. I wasn’t about to question her authority when the request echoed my own desires. I got in line behind Emily and she told me what to do.
I piled one hand on top of the other, slightly cupped. When the priest said, “Body of Christ,” I spat out an Amen and shoved that wafer right in my mouth, imbibing the God I’d always been denied.
The moment of my first, clandestine communion was one of those moments which seemed to come by chance or by force. In hindsight I see the moment dripping in the grace of God who tells the little children, “come.” I hope it can be the same way for my niece, whether she ever knows it or not.
Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.