I’m going to start by getting this off my chest: I just washed my hands at work and the “lavender and chamomile” hand soap has left my hands smelling a lot more like “lavatory and chemical.” Key info: my desk is pretty high and my chair is pretty low by comparison, which means my computer/hands typing on said computer are nice n’ close to my face, so…now you know what I’m dealing with.
If memory serves, I don’t write about my Catholicism terribly often, which is kind of strange because so many funny things happen in church. This is overdue by a week and a half, but I’m going to insist on telling this story.
Two Sundays ago was the day known as Palm Sunday, which, if you don’t know, is a special Jesus day. I don’t really need to get into any more details other than one important one, which is that- you guessed it- palms are involved. If you’re picturing palms as in hands, you should stop, because you’re already wrong.
Maybe this is unexpected, but palm tree palms are Jesus’ palm of choice, and on Palm Sunday, palms are all the rage. Now you know.
On this particular Palm Sunday, my friend and I made our way to the nearest church and had us some one o’clock mass. The nice thing about Catholicism, in my experience, is that you can pretty much waltz into any church (next time I might actually try waltzing) and know what you’re in for because the ceremony is designed to be uniform across all Catholic churches. Obviously language can differ, but otherwise, Catholic churches are like McDonalds: completely standardized while reminding you of past bad decisions. With a smile.
There is however, one particular variance from Catholic church to Catholic church that makes any newcomer nervous, and it’s how that community handles getting in line for communion aka the fake nilla wafer that is blessed/flavored with the Holy Spirit. Some churches like to file in starting with the back row and moving forward, some do the opposite, and SOME just have a free for all. I never understand why churches opt for the free for all, though my guess is that it’s an attempt to force you into an active state after sitting dormant for an hour, and to more easily expose people that get rude when it comes to forming lines.
Anyway, because there are so many customs and traditions in one standard Catholic mass, it’s really important to Catholics that we look like we know what we’re doing, and not like an idiot that hasn’t been to church since Christmas. Getting lost in the communion line is one of the easiest ways to screw this up, which means you have to be quick on your feet and good with using your eyes.
So there we were at this church with which we were not familiar, and as communion got closer and closer I braced myself for the unknown. As it turned out, we had a free for all on our hands, so we went for it and the line process itself actually turned out alright.
Remember what I said about needing to be good at using your eyes? Well I suddenly wasn’t.
Every Catholic, (or so I thought) knows that the positioning of your hands to receive communion is placing your left over your right, so that the person handing it out can put it in your left hand, you take your right, pick the poker-chip-of-bread up out of the left, and use it to go all in (to your mouth).
Instead, as we made our way up the line, I happened to catch a glimpse of one girl (ONE GIRL) that had her right hand over her left instead. For some reason, my brain in its anxious-to-be-a-capable-Catholic state decided that it made the most sense to fixate completely and only on this one girl, and that checking any one of the hundreds of other people around me to clear up my confusion was entirely out of the question, maybe even punishable by death. So I continued staring at this girl, racking my brain trying to remember if right over left was actually the way to go. I had this gnawing feeling that it was incorrect. It looked incorrect, it felt incorrect, but she looked confident, and it was that confidence paired with my choice to forget that I possess peripheral vision that led me to ignore 21 years of Catholic experience and put my right hand over my left.
As soon as I approached the guy handing out the Eucharist (another fancy word for blander but holier nilla wafer) I knew I had made a big mistake. The guy looked at me with such confusion and disapproval, like I was expecting him to place it in my outstretched walrus flippers, and hesitated with the wafer until I quickly switched my hands and gave an assertive AMEN, which in this case is catholic code for “I’m Catholic!” and not regular Joe code for “I agree!” He still hesitated, but I stood my ground and eventually he gave it to me, but he definitely had the “you’re not really Catholic, are you!?” face on full volume. Let me tell you, that face is emotionally deafening.
I was trying to be so careful, to prove that I knew what I was doing, and I choked.
Oh well. Palm Sunday 2012 no regrets!!