The Hazards of Communion

I fell asleep fairly early last night and, consequently, woke up earlier than I might normally have on a Sunday morning. Too lazy to pick up my book and not tired enough to go back to sleep, I stared up at the ceiling and indulged in one of my favorite pastimes: thinking. Thinking is something I don't get to do in a high school classroom with great regularity, as most of my effort goes into entertaining, reacting, cajoling, haranguing, and praying (for the bell to ring).

For some reason, my mind went to one of those strange phenomena I've noticed in my beloved Catholic Church. This is the phenomena of the distribution and reception of the Eucharist. As a communicant for nearly 24 years and as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist (EME) for nearly fourteen, I have come to regard the reception of the Eucharist at the Catholic liturgy both the source and summit of my faith and a study in the oddities of human behavior.

From the Perspective of the Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist

  • The proper response to "The Body of Christ" and "The Blood of Christ" is not thank you. It is a firm Amen. "Thanks" and "Huh?" and "Can I have another" are unacceptable answers.
  • Remember that there is a line behind you. Try to bow before the EME has spoken (I personally tend to bow while the person in front of me is receiving). The bow in question here need only be a 30-degree bow; you needn't touch your toes or try to peer between your knees to see what kind of shoes the person behind you is wearing. The Lord knows you are unworthy and that you are showing a sign of reverence: just do it in a way that doesn't disrupt the traffic flow.
  • Speaking of traffic. As you prepare to exit your pew, be sure to find some geographic marker that will guide you back to your seat. I tend to use my coat (I never wear my coat during Mass) as my cue, but stained-glass windows, pillars, and sedentary old people are equally helpful. You're in luck if you find someone who has decided to forgo Communion that day, as they make great landmarks. If you do bypass your pew, pretend that you're going to use the washroom. 
  • When you come up to receive the Consecrated Host, you have two options. Either elevate your hands, one over the other, to about chest level or open wide your mouth, stick your tongue out far, and try not to bite my fingers. It is bad form to receive in the "Fig Leaf" position (hands at belt level) and a recessed tongue, with a barely opened mouth, is a small target for Host distribution and raises exponentially the probability that the EME's finger is going to come into contact with your saliva or get bitten. This is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ we are talking about: if the hands are to make a throne for the Lord, then let your tongue be the red carpet - stick it out!
  • Breath mints are always a wise course to follow. Even the EME has personal space and all it takes is a robust "Amen" from a person with dragon breath to make distribution a painful affair. It's horrifying that sometimes I have given someone the host and although I hear Amen I think garlic bagel. 
  • This is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not a saloon. When you take the cup and receive the Precious Blood, do so with two hands. Elevate the cup gently, reflect upon what it is that you are doing and who it is that you are receiving, and take a measured drink. While you may come to Mass with a hangover, this is not the "Hair of the Dog." Nor should you hear "The Blood of Christ" and construe it as a "Bottoms Up." 
  • Ladies, looking good for the Lord is marvelous. Ladies and Gentlemen, surely our savior is sensitive to the challenge of chapped lips. Nevertheless, perhaps it is not prudent to apply lipstick and/or lip balm before, or during, Mass. The residue builds up on the lip of the chalice and it takes dextrous fingers to use the purificator well enough that the communicant following you does not leave with lips the shade of "All Day Cherry." 
From the Perspective of the Communicant

  • I am not a vampire and I will not recoil from the Host when you hold it out and basically shout, "THE BODY OF CHRIST." I am a civil man. I endorse saying that this is "The Body of Christ" with strength and conviction, but you need not do so in a way seems intended to exorcise me. 
  • Again, breath mints are never a bad bet. Those Listerine strips seem to work really well. 
  • Remember that, very often, the EME's are seated together at Mass. Like the altar servers, your behavior is most conspicuous. If you are coughing into your hands, scratching your head, blowing your nose, or wiping your nose with the back of your hand, it stands to reason that I am watching you. Having captured my attention, I am now worrying about how to navigate to another line if you should be the target of my section's "traffic pattern" and I've focusing less on the Word of God. 
  • Please, do make use of that purificator. Unlike the gentlemen's handkerchief that is meant merely for decoration, the purificator is achieving its intended when you use it to purify the chalice. After each communicant comes forward, take the purificator and grasp the lip of the cup. Holding firmly, give the cup a good one-quarter turn so that a good portion of the cup is wiped away clean. Those cloths are going to be washed after Mass and they'll probably use a lot of bleach. Do not dab or tap the outside of the cup, for we are bi-labial and have two lips that wrap the cup. Consequently, get both the inside and outside of the cup after each communicant. 
  • Don't play games with me or try to push your agenda upon me. When I raise my hands, it means that I want to receive in the hand. It is allowed in this country. Do not push it toward my mouth because you think that is the proper way: please respect my decision. 
  • If the person to whom you are distributing does not say Amen, I strongly doubt that he'll give the right answer if you keep repeating yourself. It is also horribly tacky to ask the person, "Are you even Catholic?" I totally get that you don't want to be the one to give someone his first communion, but try to exercise some degree of sensitivity. Unless you really suspect that profanation is about to occur, it may be best to err on the side of charity. 
  • If you find that you have distributed the last of the Precious Blood, it is probably best that you leave your station and return the chalice to the altar or to the person responsible for purifying the vessels. It's a terrible thing for you to stand there, empty vessel in hand, having to say, "Sorry, all out." This isn't Costco and you're not giving out free samples, so there's no need to apologize. 
  • If you are an EME distributing hosts and you happen to run out, there are perhaps better ways of getting more hosts than raising your hand and saying loudly, "Hey, I need a refill." That may work at Denny's, but it's tacky at Mass. If you're in this situation, simply look the communicant-to-be in the eye, ask him or her to wait for a moment, and then go to an EME who has plenty of hosts. It need not be a massive production. 
It strikes me that in classrooms we have Fire Drill procedures and Tornado Drill procedures and that, several times each year, we even have Crisis Drills in the case of an emergency in the school. Perhaps in the sacristy of every parish we should have ECE (Eucharistic Crisis Drills) that go over the various calamities that may befall the normal day-to-day distribution of Communion. 



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