Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Last Communion

So when Rudy Giuliani took Communion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the Pope’s visit to New York, lightning did not strike him dead on the spot?

I have a terrible confession to make. Even as a nonbeliever, I have sometimes been tempted to take Communion. You feel left out sitting there in the pew, conspicuous in your lack of faith, your sinfulness, your apostasy. Nobody likes to feel left out, least of all the guy who used to be in charge of it all.

It’s a bit of a quandary, even if you’re not a former mayor of New York City eager to hobnob with the Pope and his bishops, and don’t have a complicated history of marrying your cousin (though that was annulled) and divorcing your second wife (if the first one counted at all), not to mention going public in support of a woman’s right to choose (Good God, this is New York City, not Indiana—how’s a guy supposed to get elected unless he has a liberal streak?). Like Rudy, I was taught that it was a sin to receive Communion if you were not in a state of grace, and even though I am not now a believer, I hesitate to commit this sin. Why dread the offense if you are no longer of the faith that counts it an offense? Because they got me when I was young.

Once in Venice, I stumbled onto a Mass in Latin—I believe it was at San Giorgio Maggiore—and avidly followed along in “The Companion Guide to Venice,” the Gospel according to Hugh Honour. In an effort to get a closer look at the paintings in the sanctuary, I took Communion, eyes wide open. It was the first time I had ever dared. I felt quite evil, combining mortal sin and art history. Afterward, browsing a table set up with postcards and literature—I was probably angling to get a look at the cloister (I love cloisters)—I attempted to compliment and ingratiate myself with the priest, a Benedictine, seated behind the table by saying something like “Nice Mass.” I fumbled it, got the gender wrong or something, and maybe it was not such a good thing to say anyway, but when another priest came up and said to me in Italian, “Do you speak Italian?” the seated priest spoke up, and said “No,” emphatically. Until then I had not realized that Benedictines took a vow of cruelty.

The last time I received Communion was at the requiem Mass for my father, when my mother, newly widowed, seemed to want the support of her children as she headed up to the Communion rail. We all went along with her—it was a spontaneous gesture of solidarity, of coming together over my father. It felt right. Lightning did not strike.

Poor Rudy. He’s not even running for anything anymore. He was probably just trying to make the Pope feel at home. If he had decided not to take Communion, and stepped humbly aside, letting everyone pass on the way to the center aisle, the Post headline would have read, “RUDY TO JESUS: NO THANKS.”

Speaking of the Eucharist, I guess it’s almost time to put my Last Supper pillows away for the season. I don't have an Ascension pillow.


tricia said...

Maybe he was just trying to emulate John Kerry--didn't he take Communion during his campaign, despite his less-than-spotless soul?
My daughter Zoe, raised a heathen, went to a nice friendly Catholic church for the first time with her girlfriend, and assumed she was welcomed to the refeshements, too. She made to take the host out of the priest's hand and this did not go over well, she says.

lucette said...

I've been tempted to take communion, too, but more in a sentimental way; or maybe even in a writerly way, to re-savor the experience.