For a long time in the Catholic Church the only way to receive Holy Communion was on the tongue – the priest, always a man, placed the sacred host on the person’s tongue. With the reforms after Vatican II, people were then allowed to receive the host into their hand, and then put it into their own mouths. Pardon me for wondering if this was allowed or merely tolerated…
Many, many years ago, in the sacred space
Of the confessional, I met an elderly woman.
All her life she suffered from a nervous tick.
As a Catholic, this was worst at communion.
At that most special moment of meeting Christ,
She felt, not peace, but agonies of desperation,
As she fought to control the uncontrollable, until
Communion in the hand brought her liberation.
The simple fact of taking the host in her hand,
Allowed her to relax, with relief from anxiety.
For the first time in her adult life she could look
Forward to Sunday mass as it was meant to be.
This happy state of affairs lasted some years until
An aged priest of her acquaintance came calling,
And told her taking the sacred host by hand was
Disrespectful, blasphemous, and simply appalling.
When she tried to say the Church sanctioned it,
He played his ace – the pope at that time only
Gave communion on the tongue, and thereby cast
Her back into deep spiritual and emotional agony.
This dear sweet soul had stumbled on once more,
Bent low under a spiritual burden hard to express.
What manner of man, let alone priest, could glibly
Come and exhibit such wanton thoughtlessness?
In the all too brief time she graced my life,
I felt her innocent faith, but feared in fact
The damage wrought in her twilight years
Was way beyond my poor skill to counteract.
It’s hard to overemphasise the horror endured:
How the high point of her week was besmirched
With fear and humiliation, and deep self-loathing,
And served up to her by a ‘man of the church’.
The bread of life was for her a bitter food.
In place of joyful expectation was only dread:
Awful nightmares of mind and spirit, as she
Sought to welcome Him whose blood was shed.
What clever ending can I give to this tale?
None but to pause, and lament her anguish.
And plead as Jesus did: do not lay burdens…
Liberty to captives… wasn’t this His wish?