March 16, 2012: If it’s Friday, This Must Be the Body of Christ

            It’s Friday, and Betty’s here. She and my parents are in the next room, chanting.

            Taking care of old people means I’ve got the whole week—every minute—mapped out. Each day starts out the same: Make coffee; wake up Mom and get her dressed; dole out pills and stick The Poetry Book in front of her; make breakfast while Dad makes the bed; eat breakfast; do Old People Exercises for a half-hour. On Mondays and Thursdays, Mom and I follow all this with a post-breakfast game of Gin Rummy and then she and Dad head off for a few hours to an adult day care center, where they take a ceramics class or a cooking class or attend a “discussion group”—no sitting around allowed. While they’re gone, I do laundry and make doctor appointments and argue with the insurance company and inventory the 21 different medicines they take between them. I fill the pill caddy and dust and vacuum and make the menus for the following week.

       Tuesday is Doctor Appointment Day; Saturday I strip their bed and do more laundry and fill out the latest medical forms and go grocery shopping and phone in new prescriptions and trick Mom into taking a shower by telling her the priest is coming over. Sunday I pay their bills and clean the toilets and take the trash out and buy more diapers and clean the gunk out of Dad’s hearing aids and make copies of that week’s medical records and fill out that week’s travel form for the MVD. (Wednesday, one of my brothers comes in the morning for a couple of hours—my “day off.”) Friday, Tevye is at my parents’, to lighten my load and so I can have an extra day off (or so I can take one or the other of my parents to still more doctor appointments without having to haul the other one along).

       It’s also the day Betty comes.

       Betty is what’s known in the Catholic Church as a Eucharistic Minister, which means she’s been sanctioned by God (or someone) to deliver communion to shut-ins. My parents no longer attend Sunday Mass, so I’ve arranged for Betty to visit once a week. She’s a jolly, seventyish spinster who arrives promptly at 10 a.m. to pray with my parents and to give them little white discs of unleavened bread to eat. The little wafers have, if I’m remembering my catechism correctly, been magically turned into the flesh of God’s son, the eating of which somehow makes everything right with the world. Metaphoric cannibalism is big with Catholics.


       Betty always calls my father “Hank” (his name is Nick) and never fails to ask my mother questions she can’t possibly answer.

       “So, Mary,” she’s saying now, “did you enjoy your ceramics class yesterday?”

       Silence. My mother doesn’t know yesterday.

       “Let’s just do the Profession of Faith, then,” Betty chirps. “Ready? Here we go: We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen…”

       It’s amazing. My mother doesn’t know what year it is, but she remembers every syllable of the Catholic Mass. She’s chanting along with Betty now (“…the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light…”), and she’s not hesitating or missing a beat. I’ve decided you could awaken Mom from a deep sleep and demand, “Recite the Apostle’s Creed!” and she’d do it flawlessly—probably with hand gestures, too.

       They’ve finished chanting now, and have moved on to the pretend-flesh-eating part. Apparently my mother doesn’t like the taste of her Holy host.

            “Oh, Mary, no!” I hear Betty gasp. “You can’t put the host down on the table like that. It’s a sin for it to touch anything. It’s the body of Christ! You have to swallow it!”

       My mother sounds sad and more than a little impatient. I peek around the corner just in time to see her pick up the communion wafer and stare at it mistrustfully.

       “What is this thing, anyway?” she asks.

       And just like that, we’re back to forgetting.


Thing I Hate Today: Junk mail.

Thing I Aired Today: On NPR affiliate KJZZ, a review of Phoenix Theatre’s Gypsy.


2 Responses

  1. During communion I always, always want to ask if there is a vegetarian alternative to the body of Christ available. I’m not a very good Catholic.

  2. I was a cradle Catholic and devout until age 25. I was taught that NO ONE (and certainly never a woman!) was to touch The Host but the priest. If we took Communion and the wafer stuck to the roofs of our mouths, tough going! One may NOT stick a finger in there and pry it loose because NO ONE (and certainly never a woman) was to touch The Host but the priest. We’d have to wait patiently for it to dissolve. I love this blog, Robert. Somehow it stopped coming via email. I’ll just resubscribe.

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