As I mentioned in my first post, I had a pretty memorable first Ash Wednesday service at Messiah College. What I failed to mention, however, was my most recent Ash Wednesday service experience (last year) which was equally memorable.
Since I can't very well commute 2 and 1/2 hours to Grantham, Pennsylvania for the Ash Wednesday service at Messiah, I had to root out my own services here in Salem County. For the first couple of years, I went to the local Catholic church. Having been raised Protestant my entire life, I had a simple philosophy to get me through all the unknown Catholic traditions during a service: do whatever the little old ladies with head coverings do. When they sat, I sat. When they knelt, I knelt. When they crossed, I crossed. Those first few years of services were pretty packed, so I blended in fairly naturally with the other short, Italian women who dressed like librarians (no offense, Trish). One year I actually double dipped and went to an Episcopal service about 15 minutes after the Catholic service had ended. I'd like to say that I did this as an act of dedicated, religious discipline but, in the spirit of Catholic tradition, I have a minor confession to make: when I spoke with the Episcopal church secretary to inquire about service times, she maaaaay have mentioned a hot cross bun afternoon tea following the service (hangs head in shame). Needless to say it took me all of 30 seconds to cross myself out of the Catholic service and book it across town where I quickly wiped my forehead off (along with most of my dignity) before walking into the small Episcopalian parish. I'd also like to say that I felt deep remorse over two-timing the Catholic service, but I have a very long and complicated history with refined carbohydrates and the hot cross bun incident was just the tip of the iceberg, really. I spent my Episcopalian tea surrounded by a dozen old ladies who were more than happy to stuff me with big, gloppy hot cross buns and offer up their eligible great-grandsons. They absolutely loved me and were fascinated as to how I, being raised Pentecostal and later Methodist, knew so much about the Episcopal church. (Answer: The Mitford Series) Despite having attended two church services that both emphasized repentance and fasting, I'm pretty sure I gained about 20 lbs that Lent. All I can remember are gooey buns with big white crosses made out of frosting. It all gets a bit blurry after that...
The following year, I decided that attending Ash Wednesday services with the Episcopalians was too dangerous, so I've been attending the (healthier) Catholic services ever since. Which brings us to last year's debacle. In retrospect, I have no idea how my Methodist self managed to slip by undetected by so many devout Catholics for so long, but last year I got my comeuppance. I went to church early and followed my usual regimen: Follow the old lady with the head covering in everything she does. Everything was going fine until the call for Communion. I lined up for my little wafer'n'wine and waited my turn. And then, when I took my wafer, I did my cross/curtsy before the Crucifix, paused, and then sat back down. With the wafer. You see, in the Methodist church (which I attend), you get the Wonder Bread and wait until you're given the thumb's up by the pastor before you eat altogether as a congregation. Clearly this is/was NOT the case in the Catholic church. With my wafer in hand, awaiting the go ahead, I received a very sharp nudge by the old lady beside me.
"Did you not eat the body of Christ?"
"Um, I'm waiting to eat it"
(gasps) "...that...is the BODY. OF. CHRIST. You will eat it NOW!"
"Oh ok (stuffs the wafer in) Mmfpphsorrymmmpf...We do it different at my church"
"You're not part of the 'mold', are you?"
"Yes. I am. I am in...the mold..."
"The CATHOLIC mold?"
(Mentally debating that the definition of 'catholic' is 'universal', so what I'm about to say isn't technically a lie. On Ash Wednesday. The day of repentance. In a church.)
"Yes. I am part of the catholic church."
(Eyes me suspiciously before walking over and lighting several deliberate candles in my direction)
I'd like to say a couple things about both stories. First, it's clear that bread and I are often not...well, "simpatico". Second, this actually isn't the first time I've been scolded about disrespecting the Body of Christ. Years ago, I casually threw a muffin across the table to my sister and my mother yelled at me for throwing bread, in particular. When I asked where the harm was in tossing a muffin, she said, "Because bread represents the Body of Christ. You do not throw the Body of Christ across the kitchen table!". This opened up a huge family debate as to which breakfast food really constituted as "the Body of Christ". I mean, did this rule encompass pancakes and waffles as well? How did she feel about French Toast? Or cereal, for that matter? I later learned that the "No Throwing the Body of Christ" rule originated, not surprisingly, with my great-grandmother Carmela Racite. Who was Roman Catholic.
Finally, I should state here that I don't tell these Ash Wednesday anecdotes at the expense of the Catholic church. I tell them at the expense of my own ignorance and occasional gluttony. In fact, whenever I recall this story to my Catholic friends and family, they all immediately gasp or say "You TOOK the wafer?" and burst out laughing at my ridiculously obvious blunder. And I didn't fare any better with the Methodists either, because a week after my Body of Christ debacle, I was scolded at my own church for eating the Wonder Bread cube before Pastor Doug gave the go-ahead.
Like I said, carbohydrates and I have a very long and complicated history.