Gifts of Communion

Apparently a surprise cold front is moving through because we woke up to more drizzly skies and a notable dip in the temperature.  So, maybe not the best day to attend two sporting events but we’re going to make a go of it anyway.

When we were in Ennis a few days ago, Ted noticed an old cathedral and thought how cool it would be to attend mass there on Sunday.  I grew up Episcopalian and Ted Catholic, so we felt it would be very meaningful.

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On the streets of Ennis with the town’s cathedral in the background

As we were waiting for the service to begin, a sweet lady from the congregation approached us and asked if we would like to help with the gifts of communion.  I was ecstatic (are you kidding me!  Of COURSE we’d like to!).  When she heard our accents, she asked where we were from and who we were visiting.  I suppose the majority of the people who come to this area are visiting relatives or tracking down ancestors since Ennis is definitely not a typical tourist destination.

When the dear priest, Father Tom, first started the service, he introduced us as “Maureen and Ted, our friends from America, who will be helping with communion today.  Please welcome them as we do our greeting.”

It also happens to be Mother’s Day here so they included heartfelt gestures to mothers throughout the service.  One young girl read a tribute to mothers and asked God to bless mothers of all circumstances.  This included, “the single mothers who need the energy to get through each day, the mothers who have children with disabilities, and the women who would like to become mothers but have not received that blessing from you…”

As if the experience wasn’t sentimental enough – being in a beautiful cathedral, hearing the sweet young girl read the blessing with her innocent Irish accent – but then that last one in particular made tears (which had been pooling in my eyes up until this point) begin to roll down my cheeks.

So there I was (“our American friend, Maureen”), crying in the front row.  So sad.  They probably thought I’m a barren yankee, over here in the mother land, looking for some shamrock remedy to help me get pregnant.  I always make a scene.

When it was time for communion, Father Tom called us up to the table where the sacraments were laid out.  Ted took the wafers and I took the wine.  Now, I served as an acolyte in my episcopal church during middle and high school, so as soon as I saw the fine linens folded over the silver chalice for the wine, it came directly back to me.  I confidently unfolded the cloth, draped it over my arm, and held my head high as we walked to the altar.   I assumed we were going to serve communion (like I did in my acolyte days)…to the entire cathedral.

It was when we arrived at the altar and Father Tom kindly took the sacraments (and cloth from my arm) that I realized, ugh, they didn’t actually mean for us to help SERVE communion.  It turns out, “helping with the gifts” just means bringing the HOLY sacraments to the altar.  Whoops.  So awkward.

But Father Tom was an absolute dear to us!  He asked where we were from and on which coast of Florida we live.  He told us he going to be visiting the states in a few months and he asked our trip to Ireland – all from behind the altar as the congregation was looking on!  He was so personable and so genuine.

After the service, he encouraged the congregation to meet us and right away, an elderly woman named Eileen approached us.  She was as kind as she was Irish and she had so many warm things to say about Tom.  Then Bella, a middle-aged woman came up to us and she told us about a teen outreach program she’s involved with.  We spoke to her about the national climate regarding Christianity, and the youth in particular.  Bella informed us that their church has reached a lot of teenagers in recent years, which was comforting to hear as the European churches have struggled with that for quite some time.

On our way out of the door, Father Tom greeted us and we chatted with him about our trip and what we’ve seen, as well as my ancestry.  He said my family name is prevalently found in two counties north of here, Rosscommon and Sligo, so we will have to visit both on our next trip to the Emerald Isle.

It was such a warm experience for us and it’s honestly one of our favorite moments of the trip so far.  We have found the Irish to be such genuinely kind and interested people and this mass is probably the greatest example of that.  We feel incredibly fortunate to be here, but more importantly to be able to see the best side of Ireland: the people.

Now I know why people’s eyes lit up when we told them we were going to the west coast of Ireland.  Those who have been here knew we were going to have a deeply enriching trip.

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