I grew up in a mildly religious Catholic family that went to mass almost every Sunday. Although we went consistently, it never failed that we were always late. Sometimes we got there just in time for communion and the church wine. Every Sunday morning was fairly predictable. My mom, sisters, brother and I rushed around the house to get ready and waited in the living room in silence while my dad finished getting ready. He would suddenly storm in the living room with the smell of Aqua Velvet aftershave trailing behind him and look at us like he had been the one waiting on us. “Are y’all ready?!?!??” he asked, always in a perturbed tone.
Our driveway was fairly long, but that didn’t matter. His light blue Buick LeSabre went 40mph in reverse while we all held our breath and ducked our heads to stay out of his line of sight. We peeled into the parking lot of the church on two wheels and still walked in a few minutes after mass started.
For whatever reason, church didn’t mean a whole lot to me when I was in elementary school. I spent the time during mass counting the people in the pews, staring at the older woman wearing a veil over her hair, and comparing everyone’s rosary beads. I also loved to open and close the kneeling thing that always made a loud noise and got me in trouble a few times. I also remember being confused at the sign outside of the church that said “Pregnant? Need help?” Who was going to help the female parishioners get pregnant? The priest? I never understood it.
The most fascinating thing to me was when all of the church members took communion. I watched everyone wait in line to eat a piece of what looked like a circular cracker and then they’d move to the next line for a sip of community church wine and sit back down. It was supposedly the “Body of Christ” and the “Blood of Christ” respectively which was kind of weird for an 8 year old brain to understand.
Before I was old enough to take the First Communion class (the class where one learns how to accept communion or “the Body of Christ”), we took a trip to visit my sister in college. That Sunday we went to the local Catholic church. For some reason I didn’t understand (or remember), my parents put me in the communion line with them that day. Maybe we were late and they had no choice, or maybe my parents didn’t want to leave me alone in the pew. Regardless, since I had watched all of the parishioners at my own church take communion, I wasn’t really nervous.
When it was my turn, I put the dry, terrible-tasting, circular cracker in my mouth and did the motions that I was supposed to do. I was super proud of myself. I then moved over to the next line where the church wine was. What could go wrong now? I had done the hard part.
Maybe I was suddenly overconfident because of my communion-taking skills, but I was totally mixed-up. You see, there are basins at the end of the pews in the church that contain holy water. When parishoners enter the pews, they dip their fingers in the holy water and then make the sign of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is a different process than the communion wine altogether. One is supposed to drink the communion wine.
In front of the priest and the entire church…
I PROUDLY STUCK TWO OF MY GRUBBY EIGHT YEAR OLD FINGERS IN THE CHURCH WINE THAT EVERYONE SHARES.
Not knowing that I had done anything wrong, I went on to make the sign of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Suddenly, I felt my mom grip my shoulders so hard that I instantly knew I had done something wrong. She then veered me sternly right back to our pew before the holy wine could even dry on my forehead.
What had I done? Oh God. I mean gosh. I always knew that I had done something wrong when my mom spoke to me with pursed lips and clenched teeth. Her mouth was shut so tightly that her maddened whisper to me was something out of a horror movie. The white-knuckled grabbing of my shoulders was also a tell-tale sign that I had done the unthinkable.
I don’t really remember what happened after that. I still wonder if the priest had to excuse himself to throw away the tainted church wine or if the parishioners continued to drink it. Surely not. I wish I could remember what the priest’s reaction was, but I was too busy being ushered back to my pew.
Unfortunately, I think I have grown up always feeling like the girl who put her fingers in the vat of church wine. A tad bit awkward, a tad bit confused. Sometimes confident in the wrong things.
But if there’s one thing I learned from that day many years ago, it’s that I shouldn’t stick my fingers where they don’t belong.