by Miss Lola Belle
I never had my Holy Communion. Shoot, I never dragged feet to even one Catechism class. So, when I was sent to an all-girls Catholic boarding school in 11th grade, I realized partaking in weekly Mass and receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist might prove morally… tricky.
The penguins, bless ‘em, would provide me with individual attention, positive reinforcement and a healthy raise in my 1.79 GPA: things my family and I presumed were more substantial than God’s green light to eat a cracker.
My parents weren’t religious, just strict. They figured the nuns could whip me into shape. At school, we were required to attend Mass every week. On Sunday I would sheepishly line up among the throngs of worshippers to partake in the Eucharist (a huge, blaring Catholic no-no if you didn’t have your Holy Communion ceremony), but I just couldn’t help myself. And If Jesus were so darn forgiving, perhaps he would overlook this slight indiscretion and allow me to…blend.
Eucharist- n. A Christian sacrament in which bread and wine are consecrated and received in commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus.
I was always a bit paranoid that once I joined the line, expecting someone to point and yell and rat me out: “You can’t be in line! You faker! Lola is trying to eat the body of Christ! Do you even know the significance of this, you heathen?”
Thankfully, I went undiscovered. I would step up and enter the aisle when my pew rose for their turn and follow the line to the altar. When reaching the front of the line, I’d put out my hand to receive the Eucharist instead of having the priest place the host directly on my tongue. Somewhere in my mind I thought it might soften the criminal act, but I also felt weird about a priest placing something in my mouth. (Go figure.)
With host in hand, I would walk innocently back to my pew, coveting the thin wafer, feeling it adhere to my sweaty palms. As I sat down, I eyed my pew companions to see if anyone had read my guilty face and then popped it on my tongue. I loved the taste and texture of those hosts. So crisp! A little salty. Like thin edible Styrofoam. I would push it toward the roof of my mouth and make it stick for a second before probing with my tongue and cracking it. I’d let it melt into mush before swishing it around and finally swallowing it. Sometimes I would even think about Jesus.
Something along the lines of: “Um, hey Jesus…Uh, I know I’m not supposed to be eating you with out going to Catholic boot camp but um…thanks for dying for my sins and stuff. Amen.”
After church on Sundays, I would shuffle over to Father Conrad’s office, which was off the side of the chapel entrance. He had an Uncle Nestor quality about him, but it could have just been the male pattern baldness and flowing robes. I’d knock politely and he’d answer eventually. He’d open the door solemnly, then sit me down and drone on about that day’s sermon in his deep but singsong baritone before I was able to get to my request. So? Did he have the leftover host sheets? He did indeed, and he shuffled back to his desk and picked up a crumpled brown paper shopping bag with the wafer treats.
The host sheets in question were these baked water and flour full-size cookie sheets that the nuns made. The penguins had little round cutter stamps they would imprint into the cooked layer. After they had culled all the hosts from the sheets, the leftovers (with the round Eucharist hosts removed) were kept aside. It looked like a very large Connect
Four board. When and where the tradition stemmed that these would make a tasty snack, I know not. All I knew is that one Sunday during junior year, I saw a Mexican exchange student with that brown paper bag. Once I learned how the goods were procured, I made sure I was the first to hit up Father Conrad.
After grabbing the bag from the Padre, I would make a pit stop at the vending machine for a Pepsi and a candy bar. Then I’d run up to my room, brown bag under my arm, jump out of my Z. Cavarucci pleated black pants and silk paisley church shirt and into sweats. I’d head into the junior dorm lounge that consisted of three very ugly but comfy couches and an old Zenith that actually had cable TV.
Situating myself in the middle of the couch in front of the TV, I’d commandeer the set for the afternoon, hoping to find a John Hughes movie on TBS. I’d sit there till dinner and munch on hosts till my hearts content. I’d savor one sheet at a time, breaking it up in sections, sucking off the paste or playfully crunching it up all at one time. Sometimes a white ring of flour would develop around my lips. My eyes would glaze over. My stomach would bloat.
Other juniors would shuffle by in slippers and ponytails with laundry baskets or bags of freshly microwaved popcorn. Some would recognize the brown bag on my lap and stop to ask for a sheet. I’d casually look over at them and eye them up and down.
“Have you been a good Christian this week? Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?”
“Oh fuck you, Lola. Come on, give me some hosts.”
“That’s not very Christian-like,” I’d say, playfully eating the host sheet in my mouth. “I don’t think Jesus would care for that language, young lady.”
“Okay. Jesus is a forgiving man. You’re lucky there. Come here and let me bless you.”
They would roll their eyes and walk over to the couch. I’d close my eyes for a few seconds and moan some Catholic gibberish to unnerve them. Then I’d make the sign of the cross in front of them and offer up: “The body of Christ. Go forth and sin no more, my child.”
Their shoulders would fall exasperated when I would finally hand over a sheet. I’d chuckle as they walked away, then breathe a deep sigh and dig back into the bag. Ten more sheets to go and Molly Ringwald is finally going show me some real teen angst. I grabbed more hosts and made a solemn vow. I will fill myself with the Body of Christ. So much so…that I might even become Christ-like??!!
Pretty good deal for $9,000 dollars a year in tuition, eh?