So be forewarned, I’m about to be cranky today. And this is so because I have bent over backwards trying to remind people that welcoming is one of the central aspects of church that people look for in a parish. Quite often, this is forgotten by pastors and pastoral associates, who granted, are far too overworked and who we depend on far too much.
But this one takes the cake.
My best friend took his six year old daughter to mass about a week ago. He takes her up with him to communion because she hasn’t yet received her first communion and doesn’t want to sit in her pew alone. (I did the same thing as a kid–when my father and sister went up and left me alone, I cried uncontrollably once when I was four. Amazingly, I have a strong memory and have sent them the therapy bill.)
He reached the head of the line and the priest offered him communion and as he received the Body of Christ in his hands, his daughter tried to grab the ciborium from the priest because after all, she wanted Jesus too.
Now my friend’s daughter is six. She’s a precious child and she’s a lot of work. We often can’t have a phone conversation without at least 5 interruptions from said precious daughter.
But the priest’s reaction was to pull the ciborium away and say angrily “DON’T YOU DO THAT!” I’m sure he tried to slap her hands away too, but my friend is too kind to mention it.
So my friend said nicely and quietly to his daughter as the rest the church snapped their necks to see what Fr. Meanie was reacting to, “No-no honey, don’t do that. Come on, let’s go back to our seats.”
He thought she was fine but when he got to his pew, he heard a strange noise…a low whimper. Here was his daughter, crying a low cry. So he turned to her and asked her what was wrong.
But he couldn’t take her home, one, mass was not finished and two, is that she had Sunday school right afterwards. Which she was then fighting with my friend about because she sure as heck didn’t want to go there today.
Now let’s think about this in any number of ways.
There are now future implications to this. The first being, good luck getting her to be excited about her first communion. She’s going to be terrified to head up to that same priest who frightened her. And who knows, he’ll probably yell at her again because she didn’t put her hands out properly.
The second thing is good luck getting her to want to go to church at ALL.
The third thing is obvious to me, but many others might disagree:
Jesus doesn’t NEED us to protect Him.
What if the worst thing happened and she knocked a few hosts out of the ciborium and they fell to the floor?
Well, someone would pick them up and wipe up the particles with a damp purificator and then have that purified. We should be respectful of the sacrament, undoubtedly, because it is Christ himself in the appearance of bread. But what about the living and breathing Christ that is a little girl that stands before us?
I train eucharistic ministers and this is always a question that they have…What happens if I mess up and drop my ciborium or my plate? And I always tell them the same thing:
“We should respect the sacrament, but accidents happen. But you want to know something? Here’s something that was no accident. Look to the cross.”
And when they look up at the cross I say: “Jesus went to the cross for us. That’s the worst thing that could have happened to Jesus. And now look! Here He is again with us anyway. Jesus defeated death and remains with us now despite going to the cross and physically dying! I don’t think you dropping a ciborium is going to hurt him all that much. But that said, respectfully pick up the hosts and then place a corporal over the spot until we can wipe up any particles.”
They often smile at me and relax into their ministry and I think maybe twice in 15 years have we ever had to deal with someone dropping a host. They become more comfortable in the presence of the Eucharist as well.
And a six year old should also be comfortable in Jesus’ presence and now she is not.
My friend had a great line. “Didn’t Jesus say let the little children come to me?” I concurred and said “He also said a great millstone should be thrown around the neck of someone who distances a child from Jesus!”
We laughed a bit and I asked him if he spoke to the priest afterwards. He replied, “I waited for him after he came back to the sacristy and when he came out, I went to apologize to him and he said “Hi” and then ran past me and out the door.”
Upon further reflection I asked how did he get into the sacristy so fast? Wasn’t he shaking hands with his parishioners afterwards? He said, “There was a small crowd it was an early morning mass, so it didn’t take him long to greet people and I was busy calming down my daughter then and he got back into the sacristy before I could get her calmed down.”
Of course he didn’t spend a lot of time with parishioners. Instead he got back to that sacristy as fast as he could. It takes me a good half hour after a student mass to get back to the sacristy some days.
Here’s what should have happened in my humble opinion and I’m a eucharistic minister and I’ve had children do this to me. One, is that we should remain calm. Again, Jesus can take care of himself pretty well, so nothing that we do is really going to matter too much. Two is you can calmly tell the child, “Oh honey, I know. But soon you’ll get to receive your first communion. Sorry you can’t receive yet, but God loves you. Hey dad, thanks for bringing her to mass with you today!” I’ve even given kids a little pat on the head or on the cheek afterwards and they’ve often become kids who have sought me out later. One need not snatch the ciborium back angrily. Even if the kid got a host, well…then you could just ask for it back. Even if she consumed it and received her first communion that day…is that REALLY so bad? It would be an opportunity to explain things to her at the very least.
Some days those of us who distribute communion need to relax a bit. And in particular, those who are clergy, priests and deacons, have an extra responsibility when it comes to children. Especially these days, when our record with children is not all that stellar. That means that they have to take an extra moment for a six year old and give them a good experience and not a scary one. Welcoming is the NUMBER ONE thing that we need to do and the POPE is screaming at us to make sure we do it.
And even he’s screaming softly and politely and dies it all while hugging little kids and kissing them on the tops of their heads.
Can kids be rambunctious, sure? Could a kid really mess things up by knocking a ciborium out of a eucharistic minister’s hands? Of course that could happen. But guess what?
Things of a lesser concern happen to their parents every single day. Dinner plates get broken, milk gets spilled, walls get written on and things get messy.
And we love our children anyway and more importantly we try to be patient with them and explain what they should and shouldn’t do calmly and politely and maybe we need to do this with each other as well more often so that children see that adults can deal with things calmly and therefore they can too.
Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for this priest who I won’t reveal, nor will I reveal the parish or even the town this took place in. Suffice it to say that I pray this day that one little girl will be able to find Jesus waiting for her when she seeks him and I pray that a welcoming pastor and parish might be around for them to seek out and feel comfortable in.
As for you, Fr. Meanie. I pray for you too. May you be able to relax just a bit more and maybe take a vacation to calm those nerves. And while you respect the Eucharist greatly, perhaps you might show the same respect for all the members of the Body of Christ who present themselves before you.
And to my friend’s little girl: I hope your first communion day is so special. Jesus loves you.