My First Holy Communion
Marilyn A. Kinsella
"Corpus Dominic Jesus Christi" were all too familiar Latin words that I heard over and over as I prepared for my First Holy Communion.
Things were a lot different in the Pre-Vatican Two days. Not only was the communion in Latin - the whole mass was in Latin. To follow along properly one had to mark one's St. Joseph Missal with the colored ribbons and as sundry of holy cards. You had to flip from one section to the other as you tried to interpret what was going on during mass. Even the priest kept his back to us as he whispered words towards the altar. When the priest opened the tiny, golden door to the tabernacle he leaned in toward the chalice. It all seemed very mysterious.
To prepare for our communion our second teacher, Sr. Mary Beatrice taught us everything about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. According to our belief the wafer is truly the Body of Christ. As such, the host in the Pre-Vatican II days was surrounded with rules and regulation. We were not allowed to eat after midnight and should not drink for an hour before communion. In fact, our teacher told us to be very careful while brushing our teeth. We must not swallow any toothpaste or it would spoil our fast. Most especially, no one...no one was allowed to touch the host except the priest. Even he could only hold the host between his forefinger and his thumb. The communicant knelt at the altar rail that separated the priest from his flock. He and an altar boy would start at one end and serve communion to the faithful. The altar boy held a golden palate under one's chin, just in case the host fell. After we received the host, we were told NOT to chew the host. That would be the utmost sacrilege!
To emphasize the importance of this most mystical part of our faith, Sr. Beatrice told us little stories. I remember one in particular - Once there was a little boy who didn't believe in the sanctity of the host. He did not believe the host was truly the Body and Blood of Christ. One day he pretended to swallow the host, but when he got back to the pew, he took the host out of his mouth and wrapped in a handkerchief. When he got home, he took the host and pierced it with a long pin. A single drop of blood fell from the host and onto the handkerchief. From then on he believed.
I believed, and I loved Jesus, and I knew I would never do anything to hurt him. Now, back in the Pre-Vatican II days, the host was considered so sacred that even the unblessed host was not to be trifled with. So, we never even practiced with the unblessed host.
Well, the big day finally arrived. I had a white frilly-frally dress, white socks, shoes, and gloves. There was a crown of pearlized flowers and a flowing white veil. When I came downstairs at my house, my mother told me to sit in the chair in the kitchen...and not move! Everyone else was busy preparing to go to church. I couldn't help notice that the door from the kitchen to the living room was closed. How odd! That door was never closed. I slinked out of the chair and opened the door. The whole living room had been transformed! It was set up with tables, and candles, and statues, and good china at each place. Ooops - I knew I stumbled upon something I shouldn't have. I quietly closed the door and sat back down. For once I was not going to spoil a surprise.
When I got to Church we lined up like we had practiced - boys on one side/girls on the other; short kids in front/tall kids in back. Being one of the tallest I was always in the back of the line. We paraded forward our hands folded with the fingertips pointed toward heaven and our thumbs folded in the shape of a cross. From beneath her volumous sleeves Sr. Beatrice clicked - we all genuflected; click - we filed into the pews; click - we all knelt down. The Mass began. We knelt, we stood, we sat, we knelt, we stood, we knelt...there was lot of up and down action going on in the Pre-Vatican II days.
Finally, it was time for communion. Click - we stood; click - we filed out to the communion rail; click - we knelt down. I could see Father Schindler as he started to deliver communion way down on the other side of the communion rail. As he approached, I felt my mouth go dry. I whispered the first prayer my mother taught me, "Sweet Heart of Jesus I implore that I may ever love Thee more and more." I looked up and the priest was standing in front of me saying those words to me, "Corpus Domini Jesu Christi." I opened my mouth, and stuck out my tongue, and received my First Holy Communion. Click - we stood; click we filed back to our places; click - we knelt on the kneeler. I placed my face in my hands like I saw the older girls did, and waited, and prayed.
Suddenly it was time to sing the last hymn. Wait! It couldn't be over. But it was. Tears welled in my eyes. Panic set in. Click - we stood and walked to the altar to have our picture taken.
I still have that picture. There are my classmates joyfully smiling at the camera, but not me. My tear-stained face peeked out from the crowd. They should have been tears of joy, but they were tears of sorrow. Because as I bravely smiled at the camera… the host was stuck to the roof of my mouth.
Things have changed since the Pre-Vatican II days. We know longer have to wear chapel veils in church, we don't have to abstain from meat on Fridays, and we when receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we now hold out our hands - "The Body and Blood of Christ." "Amen!"
SCHOOL DAZE HOME