By Susanna D –
A few months ago I was at a weekday Mass, and it was pretty crowded. First Friday of the month, and the year. As usual, I was attempting to pray, be aware of the mystery I was participating in, and Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament while batting away distracting thoughts about my life, unfinished tasks, plans for the future, and my next meal. Yes, it’s fun in my head.
It was the Communion Rite, and people were beginning to line up to receive Communion, when I suddenly noticed a couple of young men a few pews ahead of me. They had risen, but looked unsure of themselves as everyone else headed to the centre aisle.
“I guess they’re not Christian.” I thought. It was pretty obvious, and not uncommon for people of other faith backgrounds to visit the church, and to think that Holy Communion was the equivalent of prasad (a food item offered to idols during Hindu religious services, and eaten afterwards).
But Holy Communion is something quite different. We believe it is literally (and I do mean literally) the Body and Blood of Jesus, transformed from the bread offered by the priest, (because of Jesus’ words in John 6 and the Last Supper and the witness of the early Church and the Church Fathers). So it’s not just a sign of inclusion, but a sign of faith, and a sign of the communion that exists with Christ and between His followers. Anyway.
I had a brief moment of wondering if I should say something. But then “Someone else will deal with it,” I thought. “Maybe they’ll sit back down. Or the priest will figure out they’re not Christian, or something.” It’s too awkward to go up to people in the middle of Mass. So I just didn’t.
But then they did join the Communion line. Would the priest figure it out? Maybe when the guys don’t respond ‘Amen’ after he says ‘The Body of Christ’? But no. One of the guys walked off holding the Communion Host in his hand, and the priest or the altar server called out to him. There was a stir, as the Communion line stopped, and everyone looked on. He stopped confused, then consumed the Host, and kept walking. The priest didn’t see that, and as his friend followed, they called out to his friend to stop him. He stopped and tried to explain, while one of our volunteers in the front row tried to explain that he had already consumed it. Finally they both left.
I don’t blame them at all for walking straight out of the church instead of going to sit down again. And then I realized… how easily I could have changed that whole situation.
(Pause scene, screechy rewind sound and replay from the moment I notice the guys.)
Me: (getting up and quietly approaching them): Hi, you guys are not Catholic, right?
Them: Er.. no.
Me: Okay, no problem, you’re very welcome here. I just wanted to explain to you that only Catholics are supposed to receive Holy Communion. During this time you could stay in your seat and spend some time in prayer.
Them (apologetically): Oh sorry, we didn’t know.
Me: No, no, that’s fine. Many visitors don’t know. But I’d be happy to answer any questions you have after the Mass is over.
Them: Thank you.
Pope Francis says in Joy of the Gospel:
The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved.
Yup, let’s do that.
Susanna D serves with Emmaus Catholic Volunteers, an organisation of full-time lay Catholic singles and families who serve the poor and share the Gospel through a culture of encounter in various dioceses in India. She blogs at www.notveryindiangirl.blogspot.inand www.indiancatholicvolunteer.blogspot.in.