As a protestant, I always had questions as to why we celebrated communion and why there were so many camps of belief in taking it. Why did it matter how often we took it? Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly – why the fuss? And what exactly was I missing that everyone seemed to get? I get that we do things in memory of and to celebrate events, and Jesus commanded it, but was that all there was to it? Seemed a little shallow for a God whose depth is infinite. Now I see that the last supper and my life have a lot in common. God was preparing my heart, even while I was in high school, for the work He was preparing to do. I didn’t get it, but I was willing to follow, or at least so I told myself.
The first mass I ever attended was during my second cousin’s wedding. My uncle was upset even having to enter a Catholic Church, my cousins and siblings expected me to know what was going on – and partly I did. Everything went okay, even though there was an older woman scoffing at us for not kneeling or knowing where in the world the readings were located as we gave it an honest effort. I was torn when it came to communion. I had no idea if we were supposed to partake or not. I had heard in a rumor that I shouldn’t, but hadn’t Jesus commanded Christians to take communion in memory of Him? In the end I didn’t go up because I didn’t want to cause a scene if I should be denied for some reason. I felt regret immediately.
The second mass I attended was years later as my husband and I attended mass while he was in the process of discerning if God was leading him to join the Church. Afterwards we had a number of thoughts: 1) Kids are loud! How could we be expected to hear the homily?* 2) We needed to learn why we couldn’t take communion. 3) The bells were comical when the priest held up the body – reminded me of a magic Disney kind of thing. 4) We loved the tradition, it was beautiful. 5) It was emotional and offensive to be excluded from communion.
My husband and I joined RCIA and my questions were answered. The offense went away, but the emotions deepened each Sunday as the Eucharistic ministers took their places. I was a new mom and my baby was on a feeding schedule that seemed to always coincide with communion. I happily complied and would head out to let him eat. Then Easter approached. My husband clearly had God’s call to join the Church and I wanted to support him, but I couldn’t in good conscience. I just couldn’t take the Eucharist honestly, professing with full knowledge and faith that it was what the Church claimed it to be – the literal body and blood of Christ. After speaking to our pastor he told me he respected my reasons and was going to leave instruction in my file that whenever I was ready I should be allowed into the Church.
My journey continued and my emotional status as the Eucharist was presented each Sunday deepened to the point where I was in tears weekly. It wasn’t that I was being excluded anymore; it was that everything I studied and the Holy Spirit were working on my heart and whispering a hunger for the Eucharist into my being. I know it sounds crazy to crave the Eucharist, but it is true. Finally one night as I was doing my quiet time, I heard God’s voice and felt His arms around me as I prayed. I knew many would think it was just following my husband; I would likely lose friends and even be looked at as no longer being a true follower of Christ**. But I couldn’t let other’s opinions of my status as a Christian block me from actually obeying God’s leading. In the silence and comfort of God’s presence He told me all of my questions had been answered, but that I would need to trust what I had studied and take the leap of faith where the Eucharist was concerned. Everything was arranged for the following Sunday. Thanks to my pastor’s instruction and care, I was allowed to join the Church on the first Sunday of Advent.
My husband, my infant son, and my two sponsors were the only ones at the front of the Church with me while I recited the creed and officially joined the Church. Dressed in white, somber but excited and nervous as to the backlash and to how my friends and family would respond when pictures hit the social media world, I was finally allowed to take the Eucharist myself. It wasn’t earth shattering, the world didn’t shake and there was no burning bush that appeared from the heavens, but the Holy Spirit was present. I was able to kneel and worship with my own quiet prayers, basking in the new unity with my fellow sisters and brothers in the Church that I had through Christ’s body and blood, but most importantly the new unity I had with my Savior.
The Eucharist is what first drew and kept me from the Church, and it is the thing above all others that holds me to the Church. Sure there are things I miss about protestant churches, but none of them have the fullness of the Eucharist (among other sacraments) – I cannot and will not miss partaking and sitting in the presence of the body and blood of my Savoir.
If you are a protestant and find yourself reading this, I pose this thought to you for consideration: If my belief about the body and the blood are wrong there are no negative consequences for anyone save my pride. But what are you missing if I am right? Let’s stop battling over something that is meant in its very existence to bring unity and love each other where we are at and pray that we all will follow God’s leading, even (and especially) if it involves communion with the Body and the Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
*By the third mass we attended I was amazed at the love that the kids received in church, and I was easily able to hear over them undisturbed. I quickly learned the reasons for #2 and #3.
**The backlash was mostly surprise on my part as to how well my friends and loved ones still love, accept and respect me as a sister in Christ.
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