Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mea Maxima Culpa

Dear parishioners of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Brooklyn:

My mother and I, fresh-faced WASPs with a romanticized Thorn Birds understanding of Catholicism, have made a Christmas tradition of attending midnight mass in your house of worship. It's a lovely service, made even lovelier this year by the tiny boy in the kilt and brogans who carried the Christ child to the altar.

The moment when the lights go out and your cantor begins to sing (this year, jolting me from a shameful reverie in which I was wondering why on earth Sarah Jessica Parker had worn that positively dowdy striped sweater earlier on Larry King) may be my very favorite part of Christmas. For a couple of minutes every year, I feel -- to the extent that a fish-fry Methodist understands these things -- Christ's mystery.

I know I'm not supposed to take Communion in your church unless (1) I'm Catholic and (2) I've confessed. And every year I do it anyway, and every year I wonder if you guys can tell. I know you noticed that I didn't genuflect when I sat in my pew, and I know you think I'm cupping my hands to receive the host with a little too much cinematic gravity. But I've never believed my fish-fry Methodist God would mind if I just slipped in with everybody else: Only say the word, and I shall be healed. *

And that is why I am so heartily sorry that I drank the last drop of Christ's blood on Saturday night.

You know, when I take the wafer I always feel that mild anxiety that I'm not passing as Catholic, and in the relief that follows wonder whether I should chance it with the wine. (I've noticed quite a few of you take the wafer without, and the drinking of the wine just seems like a much more fraught transaction because you have to drink it under the watchful eye of the one who administers it, and it's unclear how much you're supposed to take, and then there is the ritual wiping-away of your Protestant saliva.) But this Christmas I decided to go for it, and that is why I was so flustered when, as "Silent Night" swelled around us, the lady with the goblet said, "The blood of Christ, given for you -- and there's just a little bit left."

My first impulse was to wave my hands around and say, "Oh, that's all right, I'm good," but then I would be not only a Methodist carpetbagger but one who treats the blood of Christ as something optional, like chastity, fidelity, or salvation itself. So I tipped the cup to my mouth and saw that there was indeed just the tiniest, feeble little drop, barely enough to trickle down to me.

So, good people, I didn't take it! I didn't! I just put my lips to the rim and pretended I did! I saved the miracle for the real Catholics!

I'm not sure what will be more offensive to you: (1) that I pretended to be Catholic so I could take your Communion or (2) that I just pretended to take your Communion because I wasn't Catholic.

Whichever, I am sorry.

Peace be with you,

Your Humble Narrator

*Maybe this is just my own version of the crapped-out relativism I decried in my last post.


Blogger Recovering Baptist said...

Once I went to a catholic service in college with my baptist singles group. We didn't know you weren't supposed to take communion if you didn't know the super secret catholic handshake, so we did anyway. And afterward the priest informed us that we shouldn't have done that. And he was frowning when he said it. The worst part was that one of the guys took the body of Christ and wanted to sit in the pew and meditate before eating it so he put it in his pocket. He put our Lord's body in his pocket. And probably forgot He was in there and washed Him later. I think you're in the clear. And don't worry, I'll light a sinful protestant candle which God may or may not honor at a local catholic church for you. Then maybe He won't punish the whole family.

11:36 AM  
Blogger frostine99 said...

Dear Recovering Baptist,

IN HIS POCKET! And here I was sweating it over bypassing the holy water font!

Speaking of our family -- in the sixteenth century our French ancestors were busy being persecuted by Catholic dragoons, so I guess it all comes out in the wash. Unlike the body of Our Lord!

4:58 PM  

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