The Holy Communion or body of Christ as it is called by the Catholic church is one of the things that fascinated me most as a child growing up. I would sit in the pew and watch people marching up in a straight line to the priest who put the communion in their mouths or sometimes on their palms. I always wondered what it tasted like and was tempted one too many times to walk up to the front and get one but stories told to us about people who played with the communion frightened the hell out of me. There was a story told often to us to remind us not to mess with the Holy Communion, the story said that a man once took the communion and poked it with a needle and blood came rushing out of it. As a kid, I believed it. This of course was not true. Just a story to scare us, not just to strike fear into our little hearts but to make us respect it and show reverence.
I was 8 years old doing Grade 3 when I first took the Holy Communion.
This is an account of what happened in the church in 2005 at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Six Mile.
I sat next to my cousin and watched him as he opened his mouth and rested the communion on his tongue, he gently closed his mouth and then knelt down on the pew putting his hands together to pray and meditate. Me being inquisitive and curious watched as he moved his mouth and after a while, his lips. ‘He must be uttering a prayer and asking for forgiveness’ I thought for that’s what I was told, you take the body of Christ and ask for forgiveness and God will cleanse you. I sat back and examined myself; I had committed a lot of sin of late I thought. I stole some coins in my mama’s bilum to buy hubba bubba yesterday. I need the body of Christ to cleanse me. That was of course the secondary reason for me wanting to take the communion; the real reason was to know what it tasted like.
When I was in elementary school, I thought it was really the body of Christ that they ate but it wasn’t. It was just a metaphor, the bread signified Jesus and the last supper. Same with the blood of Christ, which is wine.
I was in third grade now; I knew it was not the real flesh of Christ but a bread because my elder brother and cousin told me so. By now, my cousin and elder brother had grown tired of me asking them what the communion tasted like every Sunday. Since I already knew it was bread, I wanted to know what kind of bread it tasted like because it did not look like a regular bread. It was shaped like a circle. Did it taste like regular bread we buy from the Ialibu’s bakery or something else? They both saw the look in my eyes and knew I wanted it so to scare me, they would tell me stories of people who played with the communion and were cursed by God.
When my cousin finished his meditation and communion, he rose to his feet and slipped back into his seat. I leaned closed to him and asked ‘em taste osem wanem?’, irritated he said ‘osem hubba bubba’ for he knew I loved hubba bubba. He said it as a joke of course but in that little mind of mine, I was analyzing the whole thing trying to make sense of it. How can a bread taste like hubba bubba. I leaned closed to him again and asked him on how to take the communion, annoyed by my continuous asking; he gave me the instructions on how to receive the communion from the communion minister.
I watched the people standing in line to receive the communion. Some open their mouths and had the minister place the communion on their tongue while others put out their palms and received it. Those who got the communion stood in front of the minister and took, making the sign of the cross while others took it back to their seats and put it into their mouth before kneeling down. I had seen this repeatedly but every Sunday, and knew what to do by now.
I spotted my elder brother on the altar helping the priest, he was an altar server. I surveyed the congregation and saw most of them had already received their communion. The priest had retreated to the altar and the communion minister was giving out communions to the last of the people in line. I counted the people in the line, there was about seven, and the line was fast getting shorter.
I took a deep breath and thought if I don’t do this now, I will never get another chance to do this, so gathering my courage, I got up from my seat and walked up the aisle towards the communion minister. As I was walking up, all eyes were on me. This was a strange sight for the congregation, to see an 8 year old kid walking up the aisle to get the communion. I felt that all eyes were on me, I wanted to turn around and go back but I could not, I had come half way already. I felt my thighs go numb, and then I couldn’t feel my feet. My palms were sweaty. I kept my head down as the last person to receive the communion walked past me going back to her seat but turned around to see what I would do.
The communion minister having given the communion to the last person was about to walk up to join the priest and my altar-serving brother on the altar stopped when he saw me approaching. I walked up straight to him, looked up at him as he was taller than me, then opened my mouth and at the same time extending my open palms to him indicating I wanted to receive the communion. I had forgotten what my cousin had told me. There were two ways of receiving the communion and you had to only choose one but here I was, mouth open wide and palms out like a hungry starving kid begging for food.
The communion minister studied me carefully and then looked at the congregation, then at me, he didn’t smile, this was a bad idea. In my mind, I knew he had registered me as the kid who used to come to the church yard and make rubbish and noise. I thought ‘ok he is going to tell me to go back to my seat’. However, to my astonishment, he told me to close my mouth and then placed my left palm over my right palm, as the left palm is the palm you use to get the communion, while the right hand is for picking it up and placing it in your mouth.
When my palms were in the right position, he placed the communion on my palm and walked onto the altar. I stood there with the communion on my palm, then realizing I had to eat it, I picked it up and placed on my tongue to let it dissolve by itself because you are not allowed to crush it with your teeth, my cousin told me. The last person who crushed the communion with his teeth lost all his teeth and had blood coming out of his mouth, that was what I was told which was not true, just a story to scare me. So careful not to crush it, I left it on my tongue and felt it slowly dissolving. I then turned around and walked back down the aisle. The whole congregation was in shock, they had never seen a little kid take the communion before and here I was walking down the aisle, chest out proud cos I had just received the body of Christ and all my sins would be forgiven but it didn’t taste like hubba bubba.
I think the people in the church called me stupid for taking the communion because you had be in the holy communion and confirmation class before you took it, plus you had to be above fifteen years old, at least. What I didn’t understand until late in life was that the communion minister who gave me the communion knew I was not ready to receive it, he knew I was still a kid but he went on to give me the communion.
I went back to my seat and slid in, every eye was still on me. My cousin grabbed me by the ear and said ‘Mama ba kilim you, Jesus belat lo you’. Upon hearing these words, All my sense of pride and the feeling of accomplishing something went away as quickly as they had come. I sat there shivering cos I knew my mother would murder me. When the church service was over, I was the first one out. I escaped home and prayed my mother did not see my walking to up get the communion but alas she had, everybody had and I was the talk of the day. I heard her voice when she approached the house; she was screaming and rebuking me calling me the devil’s child.
She came and grabbed me by the ear so hard that I felt the flesh from my ear tear. She dragged me to the church while continuously making the sign of the cross asking God to forgive me. In the churchyard, I was presented to the priest; my mom asked the priest to offer a prayer over me asking God to refrain from punishing the mischievous little brat. All the nuns and catholic brothers had a talk with my mom while I stood silent crying holding the torn ligaments of my ear.
They said I was too young but since I already had taken the communion, I had to join the communion and confirmation class. The following Sunday, I was ushered into a building in the churchyard for my first class; inside I was surrounded by adults. I was the only kid inside.
After almost 2 months, I was ready to receive the communion, this time I was qualified for I had taken the classes.
I was the youngest to ever take a communion in that church; I would say ‘Mi mekim history’ though it is not something to be proud of. Years followed and some younger people and others younger than me were also allowed to take the communion.