Saturday, July 11, 2009

When the Eucharist falls

I remember the night my father accidentally drove the car up the back of my brother's heel - how my brother cried out and my mother screamed to go backwards - just go backwards! "You're on his foot!"

I remember how terrible my dad felt.

That's how I feel tonight. And I'm not really sure how to process what happened. I could call my mom, but she wouldn't understand. I could tell my brother or my sister. But they wouldn't get it either.

My husband John would understand. But he's not here right now. Later tonight. I will share with him later. And he will have calm words. He will tap into that marital grace that exists between husbands and wives. And he will rescue me from this place I'm in.

* * *

A couple of months ago, one of the deacons at my parish asked me to be an extraordinary Eucharistic minister. I told him I didn't feel ready. He reminded me that nobody is really ready and nobody is really worthy of this work. And so, I agreed.

The first time I served as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister, I thought I would die right there. It was too much to take in. Not only will Our Lord rest in the palm of my own hand, but I will have the great honor - the unbelievable task - of giving Him to another human being.

And I could barely keep back the tears as I held up the Body of Christ and watched them come, bowing as they came, with outreached hands and open mouths.

Last week, I saw my name on the list for today's Saturday vigil Mass. I was scheduled once again.

Tonight, as we prayed the Mass, I didn't feel ready. I thought of Corrie ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor, who hid Jews in a secret room. In her book The Hiding Place, she tells of a conversation she had with her father when she was a child - and how that story came back to her as she met death face-to-face in a concentration camp.

When he was tucking her into bed that night, Corrie asked: "Papa, what is it like to die?"Papa Ten Boom did not look away from her, but held his gaze into her eyes. "When we go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?"Corrie considered this well before answering. "Just before we get on the train."Still holding his steady gaze, he said to her: "When the time comes, your Heavenly Father will give you all the strength you need."

At Mass tonight, this story came back to me. And I realized that Jesus would come to me moments before I had to stand and offer Him to others. It gave me peace. I can do this because He will be in me, strengthening me, calming me. He will do the giving.

And then, a girl of about twelve came forward. She smiled and turned toward me. She bowed.

It was a precious moment. We were both filled with joy. I raised the Eucharist and said, The Body of Christ. She said, Amen. And offered her hands. So small. And my own, so nervous.

And I placed Our Lord in her hand.

I don't know what happened. We both realized in the same moment. The Eucharist had fallen. It wasn't her fault. But in that moment, it didn't really matter. We were both devastated.

We leaned down to carefully lift the Eucharist from where it had fallen. She picked Him up and gently laid Him in my hand. Her face was red. I grieved for her. I grieved with her.

I raised the Eucharist to her again, and she received Our Lord.

(The Deacon carefully received the fallen Eucharist when I whispered what had happened a few minutes later. There was no condemnation. Just a nod. Another open hand. And that was all.)

When the Mass ended, I hurried to the narthex. There she was, with her mother, telling Father what had happened. The tears were now a great flood. And I went to her. I felt the same ache. Honey, it is my fault. Not yours. This was only my second time. I was nervous. See? It was my fault. Don't worry anymore.

And I hugged her. Father said, See, it's okay. And the mother and daughter nodded and passed through the doors.

But I looked at our parish priest when they left. I was still so upset. I do think it was my fault, Father. I began. . .

He smiled and with so much grace, he reminded me that Our Lord fell three times. He was not unaccustomed to falling.

And I suppose Father is right. Still, I struggle with the sadness. To have happened so soon after beginning this special ministry. Well, I just don't know if I can do it anymore.

It is like hearing that you have run the car onto your son's foot. Or you have dropped the newborn. No, it's something quite more than that. The Creator of all things has allowed Himself to pass through the fingers of a little girl and an emotional woman and to rest at their feet. Waiting. Waiting.

Such humility, I cannot understand. I am barely able to grasp that He would become food for me to eat. This is too much. . .

At dinner tonight, I thought about Corrie ten Boom's father, and how he told her that her heavenly Father would provide her with the "ticket" when it was time to die.

Had the Eucharist given me what was needed? It didn't seem so. I had failed. Between the two of us, the little girl and me, we had failed.

But then again, He still came to us, didn't He? And there was grace.

The little girl's tears proved her love for the Lord. It proved that she knows exactly Who she is receiving.

The priest's words proved that he is a shepherd and can love his little (and not so little) sheep back into the fold with words of kindness and peace.

I'm not sure what I am supposed to learn. Maybe that I am not really called to this kind of ministry.

Or maybe it is so I can wrestle with what love this is, that He would take on the appearance of bread, to come to me, to come to this little girl, to risk falling all over again.

(Writer's note: I believe the role of Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister is a unique calling for some lay people. After prayer and careful discernment, however, I realize that I am not called to serve in this manner. I feel such deep emotion in the moment of Holy Communion that I am barely able to receive with steady hands. And so, I rejoice that there are laypeople who are given the grace to do this wonderful work - with a strength and composure that I do not have. And that is okay. My joy is found in receiving and quietly returning to my place, where I can kneel in thanksgiving. My place is to be small, hidden, and captivated by joy.)

* * *

from a parish tutorial on extraordinary Eucharistic ministry:

"If you drop the Consecrated Host, do not serve it to the person in front of whom you dropped it. Your calm demeanor at this moment can calm or assure an anxious and embarrassed person. Pick up the Host and consume it yourself, or put it to the side of the ciboria until you can place it in the dish next to the Tabernacle for disposal. Please do not place it directly into the Sacrarium in the sacristy."


  1. Dear Denise,

    I read your story with Joy and deep empathy. I have been an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for several years now. Unlike you, I don't believe I have always truly reverenced the opportunity as you do. Yes, there have been times when I was in total AWE of Him and the Sacred Trust given to me, but there have been other times when I confess I have allowed fatigue, worries -- or something else -- to distract me from giving Him my all. Dearest Jesus, forgive me!

    As to what you are to learn from this experience ... perhaps just that you are human as He was ... as He IS in Holy Communion. Accidents happen and you recovered. You did exactly what was called for--sweetly, gently and humbly. He understands and He LOVES you for caring SO much!

    I have been in a similar situation where Precious Blood was spilled. It distressed both the person I was giving the chalice to and me. But when I think about it from the perspective of a loving parent, do we ever -- could we ever(?!) -- feel anything but love if one of our own children were to accidentally hurt us? Don't they in fact do it all the time? How many times have you planned to do something with one of your children and they 'dropped' you ... accidentally? When they discovered what happened, if they were embarrassed and contrite, wouldn't you simply be overjoyed they cared so much to make everything 'right' again?!

    How much more will God be pleased with your great love and reverence for His Son, Jesus, in Holy Communion?

    You have been entrusted with a great privilege and honor. Continue to worship and adore Him!

  2. Ah, so now you have put the pieces together. You now know the "why" of my distress and that my dear friend met my need with grace. And your words are very precious, too. I must tell you that they brought tears to my eyes. I always appreciate your comments, but this time even more than usual. Like the exchange of Peace at Mass. The email was a point of grace. Our God is so very good.

    Blessings from Missouri,