Friday, May 7, 2010
I WANTED TO BE A PRIEST
Maraval RC Church - My first communion and altar boy church
I grew up in the Catholic Church. And for half my life, it brought me immense joy.
My community as a youth was the church. My grandmother went to church all the time and we certainly were in tow. On Sundays, church was mandatory - 12 pm rain or shine. I was in church sitting in a pew next to my grandmother every Sunday.
We attended our Lady of Lourdes catholic church in Maraval. It was the most beautiful church I have ever seen as a child. It is majestic sitting on top of a luscious green hill at one of the busiest intersection in the village. As a child, it seemed that God himself handpicked the site. You could not help but see the church as you entered and left the village. It was like God saying, before your leave this village, the last thing I want you to see is my temple to remind you that I love you now and my love will be here when you return.
I was always excited to go to church. I saw my friends, family, people in the village that I did not see during the week. Paramin did not have a church when I was growing up. So sometimes I would see my father’s family at church on Sundays. They were from Paramin. That was always a joy.
One event in particular got me closer to the church. Catholics go through various sacraments. First communion was next on my list. So I looked forward to first communion where I would be able to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time.
I always envied everyone who went up to receive the circular wafer and drink wine from a chalice. What was in the wafer?, how did it taste?, and how did one feel after she ate it? I wanted to know and every Sunday I bubbled with anticipation as the day drew near for my first communion.
I attended Catholic school from kindergarten to my first two years at St. Johns University. The only exception was the first year I came to the U.S. All children 6 and 7 in Catholic schools around the world receive first communion instructions as part of their daily lessons. At least I did. I was taught what first communion symbolized and a lot of other stuff that taught me how to be a good Catholic. All I wanted to know was what the wafer tasted like and what it was made of? Too bad that subject was not covered. I was told how to hold your hand and what to say and all the other things you need to do on that day - but know recipe!
The week leading up to the Sunday of the actual first communion, I practiced and practiced. I did not want to muck this up. Left hand over right, wait till the priest says “body of Christ”, say “Amen”, wait until he places the Eucharist in your hand and take your right hand pick up the wafer and put it in your mouth. Do not chew like a cow. Rather, let it dissolve slowly. Make the sign of the cross as you walk to the wine station. When you get to the wine station, stop and wait for the wine lady to say “blood of Christ”. Grasp not grab the chalice as you say “Amen”. Whatever you do, hold onto that chalice, do not be the first to ever drop the wine chalice. This caused me great anxiety! Dropping that chalice was my fear. Wine spilling everywhere and Jesus would not be there to recreate the wine miracle. I would be banished from the church and scorned as the wine spiller.
So there I was on that Sunday. Dressed in a white shirt, black pants, and a clip-on tie, I was anxious and nervous with sweaty palms. This was the event. The church was packed and everyone looked beautiful. The mass started and then it was time. The moment of truth – time for communion. I got in the line to receive the Eucharist. I followed my plan. I got to the priest and said Amen and took the Eucharist and placed on my tongue and closed my mouth and waited to feel what millions of Catholics around the world feel when they did that very same act. I was going to be privy to the secrets of the church – holy communion.
On that day, my Holy Communion was like getting your first paycheck as a teenager and not realizing that taxes had to be taken out and what remained is what you are going to take home. I felt cheated. What a great anticlimax. I did not feel any different. The wafer tasted like a wafer. I asked myself “Did I get a bad one?”, or “Was it a bad batch?” I looked around to see if any other kids in my class had the same “I been cheated expression”. No, they looked okay. Well maybe it has to mix with the wine to have that effect.
I had never had wine past my lips. So that day would have been the first. As I approach the wine lady, I felt her looking at me saying “you better not drop this wine or I will kick you little butt.” Damn, the evil wine lady, I thought. I needed to grab that chalice with all my might. I said Amen, grabbed, sipped, handed it back, and it didn’t fall. Success! I will not be banished. I will not have to curse wine for the rest of my life.
As for the wine, there certainly was a little tingle on my lips at first. But not the sky parting enlightening feeling I thought I would experience. I went back to my pew and I believe I said to my grandmother who quickly shooed me “I did it, I didn’t drop the wine!”
Mass was over and family and friends welcomed us into the family of those who can take Holy Communion. I finally got my holy communion union card. That day was followed by a large celebration. Lots of food and drink were served and laughter could be heard all around.
I fell in love with the church that day. So much so that I went on to become an altar boy for many years. I served many masses, weddings, and funerals. I talked about becoming a priest. That idea waned as I grew older. But that is another blog.
My son is attending first communion classes now. I asked him if he enjoyed the classes and he said yes. I hope he doesn’t have anxiety over spilling the chalice.