Last week I attended Mass at St Francis here in the city. It was not a planned thing. I just happened to be in the neighbourhood. It’s a familiar place. In fact, I used to take my students there each year. In an introduction to spirituality, we visited several churches of various brands, St Francis included.
I always leave St Francis both uplifted and mystified. On this occasion the officiating priest was an endearing, slightly grumpy man, past retirement I would think. Yet it felt like I was in good, familiar hands. And, as usual, the place was standing-room-only.
No doubt, there’s something about the Catholic Mass. Though I often feel a bit on the outer — I never do know when to kneel or sit or stand — there is a wonderful certainty in it. Whether I feel anything or not, the ‘magic’ happens, the bell rings, God shows up. None of this symbolism stuff … this is the real deal!
That said, what bugged me this time around was not doctrinal or even profound. It was simply the stinginess of the whole thing — the bread I mean, the wafers they dole out like carefully portioned medications. And the pour souls who attend hold out their hands as if, like Oliver, they come begging for just a little more.
Sure enough, it’s not just a Catholic thing. We Baptists do stingy too. Visiting someplace else only amplifies it. Communion means the tiniest bits of bread, pre-plated and barely a centimetre square. Even if we occasionally share a loaf, we Baptists are conditioned to pick off the slightest morsel. To do otherwise feels almost carnal.
Whatever happened to the feast? Where is abundance? What about grace lavishly given? The unbridled hospitality of God? The pull-up-a-chair kind of welcome that God extends through Christ?
Several years ago, I came across this poem in the journal Daughters of Sarah, written by Lauren Mittermann. It says something of what I feel. It’s called Lunch with God:
I’ve eaten at this private club before.
Maitre d’ promises full satisfaction,
“one size fits all.”
Every week I try to make eye contact
with some man slapping a flat wafer on my tongue.
Never was much for fast food.
Always looking for Mom’s home cooking,
a woman’s touch.
Remember the day
we ate bread in Ephraim?
Standing on the water’s edge
I stretched my arms high over head,
looked into the sun,
offered thick crusts of French bread to the sky.
You, Companion, sent gulls
to carry the bread in their bodies
up into heaven.