Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
There was a commotion in the communion line. I couldn't hear what the deacon was saying, but the woman who approached him was responding to him in a loud, conversational tone that rose above the reverent murmur in the church. "What are you talking about?" she called out. "Is this what you mean? This?"
Horror: she was waving around a consecrated Host like it was a business card or a cookie. I started to put the baby down, preparing to rush over and tackle this woman before she did something unthinkable.
Then I realized she was smiling, embarrassed. She gave the Host back to the deacon and said, just as loudly, "I didn't know! Nobody told me!" And she walked away. As far as I can tell, she was just a newcomer who was at the church for social reasons, or out of curiosity. She had gotten in line because everyone else got in line, and she went up to get her cracker because everyone likes a freebie. Nobody told her that she shouldn't. God bless our deacon for realizing that something was amiss, and for protecting Our Lord.
For the rest of Mass, I was shaken. Nothing bad had happened; no sacrilege, intentional or not, had occurred. What made me tremble was that phrase she kept repeating: Nobody told me! And I kept telling myself, "So, what is your excuse?"
I've been educated in the Faith for longer than I can remember. My mother ended her long working days by setting us down on the couch and going through the catechism, reading Lewis and Chesterton and George MacDonald and Tolkein, ignoring our bored sighs and pouts and filling our minds with what we needed to know. We prayed the rosary, volunteered for pro-life groups, went to adoration and confession, talked constantly about the Faith.
And as an adult, I'm immersed in the Catholic world. The Bible, the catechism, all the words of the saints, the Church Fathers, all the encyclicals, every possible piece of information about the Faith is available to me, freely and instantly. I would have to work hard to go a whole day without receiving some bit of truth about God. All I have to do is stretch out my hand and someone will place it directly into my palm. All I have to do is, like a baby, open my mouth, and I will be fed.
So what's my excuse? I wish I could say that every time I find myself at the head of the communion line, my spirit is composed in an attitude of reverence and gratitude. I wish I could say that my mind was focused on the Lord, cognizant of the immense gift I was going to receive, aware of how unworthy I was to receive that gift. Because, God knows, someone has told me all of these things, over and over again.
I try. I never deliberately scorn Jesus. But do I let my mind wander? Yes, I do. Do I excuse myself for being inattentive or careless? Do I spend some part of every Mass thinking about my hair, about the errands we need to do after church, about how much I dislike some particular hymn? Do I give myself the benefit of the doubt about the state of my soul, and put off confession for another week or another month, because God is merciful and I am lazy? Do shuffle back to my pew and forget, even, to thank Him? Yes, I do. Even though someone has told me that I should not. I can't say that nobody told me.
This isn't about Communion in the hand vs. Communion on the tongue. This is about the casual abuses we allow ourselves to commit -- we faithful ones, we educated ones, we who have been told. We who should know better. Somebody told us. The one up there, hanging over the altar with His arms spread out, open to be abused, open to be misunderstood, open to be ignored -- what has He done but tell us, over and over again, that He is here, giving Himself to us, because we don't care?
The woman who thought she was getting a free cracker was, at least, just trying to be polite. She simply didn't know what was happening, because no one had told her any different. What's our excuse -- those of us who have been told? Ignorance is a terrible thing, but there are some things that are worse.