Friday, 9 March 2012
The Body of Christ
Father Ignatius considered himself a “traditionalist priest”, as he liked to call himself.
Sure enough, he accepted that changes happen in life generally as well as in the Catholic Church, and that he had to accept them; but it didn’t mean that he agreed with the changes that came his way from “earthly above” – a term he used to describe the church’s hierarchy, as opposed to “Heavenly above” when he referred to the Almighty.
One particular new development which the priest didn’t like was handing the Host during Communion to people in their hands. He preferred the traditional placing of the Host on the tongue, and for people to genuflect by the altar rail to receive Communion. But change he did, and he gave way to new procedures as an obedient priest must.
This Sunday, however, his concerns were put to the test.
As he gave out Communion to the queue of parishioners walking up the center aisle he noticed two youngsters, both aged about eighteen or so, coming towards him. He had not seen them in church before and assumed they were visitors to town. As they came to him in turn, they both held out their hands and he placed the Host in it.
A sixth sense perhaps prompted him to keep an eye on them as they moved away. And he noticed than neither placed the Host in their mouths but walked away slowly.
“Would you please stop” he said sternly, at which point they both hurried and then ran away. Unfortunately in doing so one of them dropped the Host on the floor.
The priest went to recover the fallen Host and shouted “Stop those two …” but unfortunately they escaped through a side door followed by two parishioners.
By the time they came out the parishioners found the car park totally empty … there was no one in sight.
“Which way did they go?” asked one.
“They were too quick … didn’t see them …” replied the other; and after a few moments’ conversation they went back into the church.
That would have been the end of it … but God had other plans.
At that very moment Father Donald was coming out of the parochial house and making his way to the church. He had seen the youngsters running and overheard the conversation of their pursuers. Rather than continue his way towards the church to find out what had happened he had the presence of mind to follow the youngsters at a distance.
They made their way into the park opposite the church and eventually sat down on one of the benches. Father Donald approached quietly and hid behind a tree.
“Have you got it then?” he heard one of them ask.
“Yeh … here it is” replied the second youth, “where’s yours?”
“I dropped it in church.”
“Sorry … let me see it … it looks like a piece of thin paper or card … why do they call it a Host?”
At this point Father Donald realized what had happened and knew he had to act quickly. He approached the bench from behind and grabbed both individuals simultaneously from the back of their shirts. He was really strong and knew how to take care of himself. A skill he had learnt in his native Glasgow where he fought many a street fight in his youth.
He asked them to turn round slowly and face him, kneeling on the bench whilst doing so.
Perhaps because of his broad Glaswegian accent, or perhaps because of his stature and the fact that they were taken by surprise, both youngsters obliged and turned round slowly. Neither made an attempt to escape or pull back. They knelt on the bench facing him whilst his strong hands held them tight by the back of the neck.
“Now then …” he said calmly, “which one of you has the Host?”
“I have Mister …” replied one of them.
“OK … I’ll let you on my right go. Please walk away slowly and stand by that tree.” said the priest releasing the youngster without the Host, who obediently walked way towards the tree.
“As for you young man, please place the Host in my hand,” continued Father Donald holding out his hand and retrieving the stolen Host.
After releasing the second teenager the priest stood there and asked them “Do you realize the seriousness of what you have done?”
They shook their heads “No …” said one of them.
It was certainly not the time for a discussion on Christianity or the reality that is the Eucharist. The priest had to say something to end this encounter.
“In the name of God whom you do not know I forgive you and so does He. I pray for you that you may yet get to know Him.”
He turned back towards the church and never saw the two of them again.
The following Sunday at Mass Father Ignatius was determined to make a stand. He approached the lectern confidently and said:
“As many of you know by now we had an incident here at last Sunday’s Mass. Two youngsters came up front for Communion and instead of placing the Host in their mouth when I put it in their hands, they ran away. In their hurry to escape one of them dropped the Host on the floor. The other Host was also retrieved by Father Donald who had followed the youth out in the park.
“What happened here last Sunday is a sacrilege.
“The Host as you know is not just a wafer, or a biscuit. It is the Body of Christ.
“And I allowed the Body of Christ to be desecrated by handing it out in peoples’ hands. For this grave sin of thoughtlessness I have begged Him for forgiveness.
“I am personally responsible for what happened last Sunday to the Body of Christ and I know that I will be answerable to Him personally one day for my sin."
The priest paused for a while.
“I have decided that from today, Communion will no longer be given in the hand in this church. Not as long as I am here.
“From now on, I would like you please to come forward and genuflect side by side here by the Altar rail. I will then give Communion on the tongue as we used to do previously.
“I’ve discussed this with Father Donald and he agrees and he will be following the same practice too.
“I have also discussed this matter with the Bishop who said that although the decision is ours to make in this parish; he will not be advising other parishes to change their practice.
“If anyone has a problem with this change please have a word with me afterwards or with Father Donald.”
Father Ignatius stopped for few moments to let the message sink in, then continued:
“I think you ought to know that we have identified one of the youngsters who ran away with the Host last Sunday.
“He is a Catholic boy who has in the past attended Mass here and was educated in our local Catholic school.”
The congregation gasped almost in unison. The priest waited for the noise to die down and then went on:
“I also feel responsible for that fact in itself.
“The fact that one of our own children could carry out such a deed proves that we have failed him somehow.
“It is obvious that we failed to teach him, and possibly other children, the true meaning of the Eucharist. As your priest I am guilty of that grave omission.
“I fail to understand how a child who took First Communion in this very church and was educated by us, amongst our own, did not understand the reality of Communion.
“I have discussed this at some length with Mother Superior at St Joseph School and the Headmaster at St Andrew’s. Both will take action to remedy the situation.
“But most of all I would like to plead with you parents. You are the first point of contact with your children, and rightly so. You promised at their Baptism that you will bring them up in the Faith. Please remember this and use every opportunity to teach your young ones the reality that is Christ and His Divinity.
“Teach them by example. Teach them by words. Teach them by praying together daily as a family, and by reading passages from the Bible.
“Father Donald and I are here to help you if you wish.
“The Lord God has given you the gift of children. Your gift to Him is to bring them up in the Faith.”