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The Body of Christ, given for whom?

He looked like he was about 6 feet 5 or 6 feet 6, the way he towered over me. He had the cold, arrogant glare of someone who knew that he was bigger, stronger, and had more power.

When our paths crossed, he gave me one of the chilliest, most disapproving looks I have ever received in my life. I thought for a moment: Have I done something wrong? Did I offend him? Is he going to hit me?

Then came the confrontation: I looked up at him, smiled, and held my hand out.

He did nothing.

I smiled again and extended my hand up a little higher.

This got a reaction: a sneer that reeked of condescension.

Now I was angry. I stood there, smiling, hand up. Nothing. He wouldn't budge, and I wouldn't budge. I kept smiling, and he kept sneering.

Finally, I started to say something--after all, we were holding up the line--when he quickly jammed the host into my mouth. He said nothing to me when he gave it, and I certainly couldn't say anything to him or even mumble an "amen."

The big thug was a priest, and this was Communion at the parish we were visiting.

Did I mention that I was holding my 11-month-old son at the time? Good thing my son was too young to notice or care about a petty junior cleric who seemed to take a strange delight in determining how I would receive the Body of Christ.

Funny, but I thought that us common layfolk--the poor, simple, faithful--were allowed to receive Communion in our non-sacred hands. Poor young priest: Maybe he never got the news? My family and I wound up in his parish partially by chance. We were returning home on Sunday from a weekend trip to see friends and knew we couldn't get to St. Michael's, our parish family in Glen Allen, Virginia in time for 11 a.m. Mass. This may come as a surprise to Father Thug, but we wanted to be sure that we didn't miss Mass. We decided to fulfill our obligation in a parish halfway between our friends' house and our home.

What a spirit-crushing disappointment! Perhaps the main presider and his flock of altar boys had a fine Mass. But expecting to be fed through the liturgy, we certainly went home hungry. The readings were poorly done. The main thrust of the awful homily, if you want to call it that, was that we need to be nice to Protestants so that we can bring them to the "True Faith." The music was wretched, and few people in the pews were singing.

And then came Father Thug and the tussle over Communion.

I missed my parish.

Maybe we have it too good at St. Michael's. We have a noisy, lively celebration of God's presence in word, sacrament, and community. We have a priest who gives homilies that we talk about long after Mass is over. We have music that lifts our souls to the ceiling. Most of us get there early and stay late. No one would even think of leaving right after Communion--unlike the steady stream that kept pouring out of Father Thug's parish when we were there.

We enjoy ourselves and our God at St. Michael's, and we believe that God enjoys us.

And at Communion time, we follow the rules--which means we don't fight or fuss over how people receive. If you hold out your hands, you get the bread in your hands. If you hold out your tongue, we'll give it to you that way. We always offer the cup, seeing as how Jesus offered his body and his blood for us.

Communion is not a time to fight over the God who refused to fight back. It's insulting enough to God that the institutional church believes it has an exclusive claim on the sacraments and won't allow other believers to join us in celebrating the one who died for all of us. Now people such as Father Thug act like they want to determine which Catholics can receive Communion and how they will be allowed to receive.

For God's sake, where does it end?

I think this is the kind of thing that makes God sad, and I don't think we should be about the business of making God unhappy.

Communion is a time when we come together to recall Jesus, to remember his words, and to renew ourselves in him. It is a feast of love, an act of love on both sides. When the cup or bread is offered, when the minister or priest says, "The Body of Christ," that's Jesus saying, "I love you." And when we say, "Amen," that's saying, "I love you, too."

That's something we should celebrate, not fight over.

By Tom Mullen, an assistant news editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Virginia and a journalism instructor at the University of Richmond.
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Title Annotation:Communion
Author:Mullen, Tom
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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