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voices joined to­gether in prayer and song. The ge­nial priest as­sured ev­ery­one he’d be brief with his homily. The week be­fore, he had been at a grand­niece’s Com­mu­nion in Kerry ‘and, would you be­lieve it, the priest went on for 20 min­utes? I was like this on the al­tar be­side him,’ he said, mim­ing nod­ding off to sleep. There was the laugh­ter of recog­ni­tion at that fig­ure of fun — the priest with a weak­ness for the lengthy ser­mon, the old quips about the pop­u­lar cu­rate who does ‘the quick mass’, and what is un­der­neath that, I found my­self mus­ing, the sense of duty in mass at­ten­dance, the ‘Ah,

‘There was laugh­ter

of recog­ni­tion for that fig­ure of fun: the

priest with a weak­ness for the lengthy ser­mon’

don’t make more of it than you have to, there’s the Sun­day chicken to put in the oven’. Mass might be sym­bolic of the great mys­tery of our ex­is­tence, and an elab­o­rate be­lief sys­tem evolved to frame that mys­tery, but there’s no need to bang on.

‘Do you know what hap­pened to­day?’ he asked the chil­dren. ‘A lit­tle girl from Bray be­came cham­pion of the world. You are cham­pi­ons too. You are lit­tle stars; you are very spe­cial, each one of you.’ My mem­ory of Com­mu­nion, and its com­ple­men­tary sacra­ment, Con­fes­sion, was the ac­com­pa­ny­ing les­son that Je­sus had to die for you be­cause you’re ter­ri­ble al­to­gether, and never for­get: The Guilt. This was purely pos­i­tive, a cel­e­bra­tion for a group of chil­dren who’ve reached the ‘big eight’. That my niece didn’t join the line to ac­tu­ally take Com­mu­nion didn’t seem such a big deal then.

At the end of the ser­vice the priest re­minded the con­gre­ga­tion that it was called ‘First’ Holy Com­mu­nion, that the next day, be­ing Sun­day, was the op­por­tu­nity for the sec­ond, and that hope­fully it would be the first of thou­sands. No men­tion of such a no­tion back in my day, no need. Be­ing a Catholic meant church ev­ery Sun­day, it be­ing a small ru­ral com­mu­nity. Ev­ery­one com­plied (even if for some fel­las it en­tailed read­ing the pa­per down the back).

There were sand­wiches and cake in the school af­ter­wards. I got talk­ing to one of the Com­mu­nion dads who said, if it was from a purely in­tel­lec­tual stand­point, he would never darken the door­way of a church; he ab­so­lutely loathed the in­sti­tu­tion, ‘but what I see here to­day is com­mu­nity and struc­ture’. A mother said the priest had told the chil­dren that Con­fes­sion was about get­ting it off your chest if you were wor­ried about some­thing, or had done some­thing wrong. A nice idea, but link­ing it with the no­tion of ‘sin’? Not to men­tion the com­pli­ca­tions around what con­sti­tutes ‘sin’. I’m told one lit­tle girl hit her sis­ter so she’d have a sin to tell for First Con­fes­sion (and an­other Katie Tay­lor is born?).

What I took, from those I spoke with, was their prag­ma­tism. I’d won­dered, watch­ing the large con­gre­ga­tion re­ceive Com­mu­nion, if each one be­lieved in the doc­trine of tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion? That’s one of the rea­sons I don’t prac­tise — when I re­ally thought about it, I dis­cov­ered I didn’t be­lieve, at all. Maybe in to­day’s put-upon church, that’s a moot point?

It’s the be­long­ing, the com­mu­nity, the cul­tural con­ti­nu­ity that mat­ters. Though my niece didn’t re­ceive, she ex­pe­ri­enced Com­mu­nion, in the ‘shared ex­pe­ri­ence’ sense of the word. I found the cer­e­mony sur­pris­ingly mov­ing. I’m glad she is gain­ing such close fa­mil­iar­ity with Catholic doc­trine, and the nu­ances of its par­tic­u­lar, prag­matic, Ir­ish prac­tice.

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