Last year around this time, our good friend lost his grandmother. Despite the fact that we aren’t religious, we decided to go to the funeral to support our friends and their families.
When we pulled into the church parking lot on a freezing cold spring-in-Pittsburgh day, my husband looked at me and asked, “Are they gonna do the cookie thing?”
Let me stop here and explain.
My husband’s mother, while baptized Catholic, never practiced any religion during her adult life. My husband’s father, who was adopted at birth by a Jewish couple, also never really aligned himself with any religion. They raised J with the understanding that, should he show any interest in practicing either faith, they would support him. He even attended a Catholic elementary school, but the church did not permit him to make his Communion because he was never baptized. So while my husband has some knowledge of both Catholic and Jewish practices, he was never baptized or Bar Mitzvah-ed and, in general, identifies as a very skeptical agnostic.
I, on the other hand, was baptized Catholic, made my First Holy Communion, and attended Sunday school until, say, fifth grade. From there, my family began to gravitate more towards the spiritual side of things rather than the rigidity of organized religion, and I now consider myself an optimistic agnostic.
So back to the funeral.
“What ‘cookie thing?'” I asked, baffled.
“You know, where everybody goes up to the altar and the priest gives them a cookie.”
I burst out laughing. “You mean Communion.”
I explained that should the funeral service be a full Catholic mass, then yes, they probably would have Communion. “But technically, you can’t take it,” I said. “Because you weren’t baptized and never made your first Communion.”
“Well how are they going to know?” My husband asked. “I got made fun of in elementary school because I couldn’t make my Communion. Everybody called me ‘The Jewish Kid.’ I always wanted to see what the fuss was about.”
I shrugged. “You’re not really missing anything. It tastes like those flying saucer candies with the little sugary beads in them.” *
“Are you going to get Communion?” he asked. “I’ll just go up with you.”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t received Communion in years.”
We walked into the church and took our seats towards the back, where we sat silently for the mass.
When it came time for Communion, J asked me once again if I was going up. I shook my head and stayed seated in the pew.
J joined the line of Catholics waiting to receive Communion. I spent the next few minutes appreciating the architecture of the giant church and imagining how much prettier the stained glass would be had it not been sleeting and cloudy.
When J returned to our pew, he had a look of utter and complete dejection on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“He wouldn’t give me the cookie.”
I fought a giggle. “What happened?”
“I went up there and he said, ‘the Body of Christ.’ And I said, ‘Thank you.’ Then he looked at me and asked, ‘Are you Catholic?’ And I got nervous because I’m thinking, how does he know? Can he smell it on me? So I said ‘No,’ and he goes, ‘I’ll give you a blessing instead.'”
It took everything in me not to burst into hysterical laughter.
My husband was still flabbergasted. “How did he know?” he demanded.
“You’re supposed to say ‘Amen,'” I explained.
“I didn’t know that,” he grumbled. “I wanted a cookie.”
The rest of the service was agonizing because I had to suppress my laughter at such a somber event. It was only made worse by the dispirited look on J’s face.
After the service, we drove to the banquet hall for the wake, and I laughed through the entire ride. J was still bitter about the priest’s rejection, and probably reliving the isolation of being ‘The Jewish Kid’ in elementary school.
Once we’d taken our table for lunch, our friends came over to us to say thank you for coming. They noticed that J seemed a little off, while I seemed quite amused. They asked what was up, and I relayed the story about J’s failed Communion quest.
Our friends laughed hysterically and immediately called their parents over to share the tale. J was smiling by now, but his face was red.
By the time lunch was served, half the room was pointing in our direction and laughing as it didn’t take long for the story to make its rounds.
Our friends told us it was the perfect relief to a long and sad weekend.
*Note: I am aware that taking Communion is considered a holy sacrament and the act is taken very seriously within the church. This is simply meant to be a light-hearted story about naivety when it comes to organized religion. I mean no offense to anyone.