Today my daughter and I went to Mass at a parish we’ve been going to weekly for a few months. We tend to frequent different parishes during the week depending on her ever-changing schedule, but we are no strangers to this particular parish.
When it came time for communion, I plopped my daughter on my hip, same as always. I received the Body and got in line to receive the Blood. When I was next in line, the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion – also a deacon who was not vested today – asked the woman in front of me to stay for a minute. Perplexed, I stepped forward to receive. The minister asked me to hand my child to the woman before me. I am not sure what kind of look shot across my face, but I have no doubt that every mother out there will understand my reaction when someone asks me to hand my child to a perfect stranger.
Bewildered by the exchange and clinging even tighter to my child (which seems odd in and of itself given that I was at the altar in church), I asked why I he would make such a request of me – even the other woman seemed confused by the exchange. He said that I needed to hand my child off so that I could receive the Blood. I informed him that I always receive under both species with my child in tow. He said that they wanted people to receive with both hands. I informed him that I’d pass and returned to my seat, put off and out right angry.
I love the Eucharist as much as the next Catholic gal, and I certainly understand that receiving the cup with both hands is the ideal, but to deny someone the Blood because they are unwilling to pass their child off to a stranger is preposterous. I followed God’s call to be open to life – that was in the vows I took during my sacramental marriage – and yet I am denied the Blood of Our Lord because of it?
It should also be noted that my child was not flailing about, was not having a seizure, nor was she carrying on loudly. She was quietly sitting on my hip, as she does every day, watching me receive our Lord. As I mentioned before, I’ve attended daily Mass at this parish numerous times in the past few months, and yet somehow, this is the first time I’ve ever been asked to pass my child off.
As you can imagine, there are a number of issues with this scenario, the first of which is denying a mother the Blood of Christ. While I know that we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ under both species, it is wrong to deny a mother whose child is calm the Blood of Christ unless she is willing to pass her child off to a stranger. Babies, for those who are unaware, don’t work that way. Passing my daughter off would have caused a screaming fit as she is at the stage of being afraid of strangers. Mothers need to be trusted that if they feel comfortable receiving while holding a baby, they should be allowed to do so. Mothers should not be forced to choose between caring for their child (their vocation) and receiving the Eucharist. The two should not be in competition, rather, they fulfill each other, giving life and meaning to one another.
If we, as a Church, are to encourage the faith in young ones, we need to be open to having children at Mass. (As a side note: in the nearly 11 months since my daughter was born, I have only heard positive comments from people at Mass, people thanking me for bringing her, telling me what a joy or blessing she is, and the like.) Having children at Mass means that mothers will likely come to receive our Lord and only be able to hold the cup with one hand, and/or receive the Body with one hand or on the tongue. Would we deny someone whose arm is in a sling? Do we deny the paralyzed from receiving if they cannot use both hands? Surely, both hands is the ideal, but if one is unable to receive with both hands, this should not be a reason to deny them our Lord in either form (Body or Blood) – charity and common sense should prevail.
If we, as a Church, are going to ask couples to be open to life – whether that means one child or twenty – then we need also need to be understanding of how that affects mothers and fathers at Mass. I love being able to bring my child to daily Mass. She, even at a young age, is developing an appreciation for the liturgy. She knows that she gets to wave at people during the sign of peace, she raises her hands when “and with your spirit” is said, and she even folds her hands together upon hearing “amen”. However, if mothers such as myself are denied the ability to receive under both species or are made to feel unwelcome, then not only does the faith of the mother suffer, but the faith of the children suffer as well.
If we want the Church to continue thriving, then we must be willing to put actions of love behind our words and the teaching of the Church. Being open to life is such a beautiful and rich teaching, but it must be coupled with compassion and understanding for families and/or mothers who bring children to Mass, whether that be daily Mass or Sunday Mass. Remember when Saint James tells us in his letter that faith without action is dead and useless? The faith it takes to be open to life must be met with loving, merciful, understanding action from others in Mass – including Eucharistic Ministers. Pushing mothers and families out through rude comments or denying them either species of the Eucharist will only hurt the Church and the souls of the little ones. If Jesus wanted the little ones to come to Him, who are we to deny them a warm welcome to Mass?