On Receiving on the Tongue Again

I am not a demonstrative person. I have a Grimm dread of making a scene. I am also not much of a feeler. I don’t like to cry in front of people and I’m easily embarrassed.

So it was a serious decision when I resolved to start receiving the Eucharist on the tongue. At some point around Scout or Roo’s births I started, mostly motivated by a sort of obscure horror at what it’s like to receive in the hands while juggling a baby. If we are supposed to be even a little reverent, then jutting out half a hand while wrestling a wiggly baby, like a harried drive-thru customer leaning out the car window for a hamburger, cannot possibly be considered to afford the appropriate reverence.

Still, we were, and to some degree still are, Covid-cautious. (I mean, in my case, kind of cautious across the board.) So for months that became a couple of years, I went back to the practice of my childhood and received the Eucharist in my hand.

But then Teddy got here and Teddy got fractious and I was back where I’d been years ago when I first found myself in this conundrum. And I traded being flustered by my lack of reverence for being flustered receiving the Host on my tongue.

And I am flustered, almost always. I’m flustered when it’s a priest I don’t know. I’m flustered when it’s our friend, Roo’s godfather. I’m preoccupied the Eucharistic minister might accidentally touch my teeth. I’m in dread that somehow I’ll still manage to fumble the transfer. I’m self-conscious as all get out, making this Mass somehow all about me.

But sometimes I get just a snatch of the proper perspective, a whisper of the meaning of what we are all doing. And so I was dazzled recently by a passage the kids and I read in Sun Slower, Sun Faster, by Meriol Trevor.

Let me set the scene for you. Cecil (short for Cecilia) and Rickie have traveled back in time to a Mass performed in secrecy during the Elizabethan persecutions. Cecil, raised in a secular home, observes the priest placing the Host in the mouths of people receiving under the constant threat of discovery and death:

“Cecil had a very strange feeling: she felt that this was at the same time the most natural and the most unnatural thing she had ever seen. They were like little birds being fed by their mother: and yet it was grown people who knelt to receive what looked like a paper penny of bread in their tongues. She knew at once why the Mass provoked such love and such hate. Either what they believe is true, or else it is a dreadful delusion, she thought.”

Isn’t that beautiful? I am touched, often, when I pop a chocolate chip or a berry into the delighted mouth of one of my children. There’s just something so trusting about their little sweet mouths, and I’m always transported back to when they were each my own sweet nursling. And that’s what we are, no matter what we pretend, when we receive the Eucharist, and at all other times, too: utterly dependent on the tenderness of God, the “most natural and unnatural” thing in the world.

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