In second grade, I felt sorry for the poor Protestants who had no idea of what our Holy Communion was all about. Father McCain explained it perfectly. “Boys and girls, only the Catholic Church has the Truth with a capital ‘T.’ Our Holy Communion is a sacrament where the real Jesus Christ exists in the bread that you receive in the Holy Eucharist, which is another name for Holy Communion.”
Since we were going to make our First Holy Communion next week, Father McCain had come to the second grade classes to make sure we knew what this sacred event was all about.
“Those poor Protestants think that the giving of the bread and wine is just a symbol, which means it isn’t real. No, my young Catholic men and women, the transubstantiation which as you all know means that the bread and wine are really changed into the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is real. Jesus Christ is fully in each and every Host [bread wafer] that you consume. You are taking Christ into your body to cleanse you and to make you strong spiritual Catholics so if the atheist Communists conquer the world you will have the strength to never deny your religion even if they torture you to death by putting burning spits on your skin, poking out your eyes and cutting off your heads and doing even worse things. Remember that the Communists are the most murderous people on earth.”
How could those Communists make their spit burning hot? How did they do such a thing? Did they spit in a pot and boil it and then throw it on your exposed skin? What animals those atheists were!
And those poor Protestants, too; they had no idea of the Truth with a capital “T.”
“The Communists and the Protestants are all going to Hell,” reminded Sister Elise Martin in her stern voice.
“Sister,” said Father McCain, and then he broke with the Catholic tradition of that time by saying, “there are some very good Protestants who just don’t know any better. God is all merciful and I think some will be saved.”
“But all the Communists are going to Hell,” scolded the sister. Disagree with that was her tone.
To forestall a theological argument in front of impressionable minds, Father McCain said, “Oh, yes, all the Communists are going to Hell.”
“And most Protestants,” added sister forcefully. Father McCain gave her a look out of the side of his face but he didn’t say anything. This nun always wanted the last word and she always got it.
“Father?” asked Joel, one of the two Jewish kids – yes, some Jewish kids were in our school. “If this bread is the body and blood of Jesus when you bite into it does it bleed?”
“No,” said Father McCain. “The miracle is that the bread stays bread but is transformed on a real and spiritual level into the body and blood of Christ.”
“If you examine the bread then it is still bread?” asked Joel.
“Yes and that is where faith comes in,” said the priest.
“The true faith Joel, the true faith, not like some others,” added Sister Elise Martin.
With these big questions of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine; with Hell dangling over the heads of most people on earth (and on Catholics who sinned), with atheists who could put burning spit on you, many of the girls had religious questions.
“Father,” asked the love of my young life, Mary Sissallo, “if we are eating the real body and blood of Jesus Christ does that mean there will only be two people in the Blessed Trinity instead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost since Jesus is being eaten piece by piece?”
“God’s ways are not man’s ways,” stated the sister.
Mary Sissallo looked confused.
“Sister,” said Father McCain, “let me answer the questions, please, as that is my job as a priest.”
Sister Elise Martin’s face turned tight and she nodded slightly. Most of the boys were delighted that Father McCain had slapped her down. This nun favored the girls. She always told the class that the girls had the fast route to heaven because the mother of Christ was a woman and even though Christ was a man, he was also God which meant that other men were inferior because they were not God. This made sense to her but I had no idea what she was talking about – except I understood that girls had a better chance of going to heaven and boys were in trouble.
“Mary Sissallo,” said Father McCain who knew all of our names, “that was a very good question. You used logic to try to understand something that seems impossible – that Jesus could be consumed by man and still exist in other forms at the same time. But that is the power of God, to do the impossible. God created the Universe but He is not subject to the laws of the Universe as we are. He can do all things that He wishes to do even if they seem impossible or illogical to us.”
That was as good an explanation as any I had heard even though I had no idea of what it meant. Most of religion made no sense and that is why you needed faith.
“If the Host represents Jesus,” said Catherine Elizabeth O’Connor.
“No! No!” jumped in Sister Elise.
Father McCain held up his hand indicating that sister should be quiet.
“Jesus is there fully in the flesh. The Host does not represent Him; it is Him.”
“I am sorry,” said Catherine, adjusting her thick glasses. “Here is my question, Father. What if the Host falls to the floor?
“Since the Host is the sacred body of the Most High, Jesus Christ, the priest is the only one who can pick it up off the floor. No one else can touch the Host, only a consecrated Catholic priest.”
Now you would think that at this stage in our development the boys too would be in awe of the sacrament we were about to receive, and in some ways I guess we were. It was, after all, an absolutely amazing thing to be eating Jesus Christ Himself. But we had other concerns; much more immediate practical concerns that were far easier to understand and took up more of our mental time.
Oh yes, there was a BIG other thing in our minds, Big with a capital “B,” which overshadowed everything Father McCain was telling us.
I was nominated by head-nodding acclimation to ask the BIG question.
“Father, if someone pukes…” All eyes immediately turned to Mary Louise Roncallo, who had puked enough times since kindergarten to make us fully aware that First Holy Communion could be an amazing stage for a spectacular performance by the vomit-comet queen.
“That is disgusting, Francis,” yelled sister aiming her deadly eyes at me.
Riding right over her, Father McCain said, “Yes, Francis, if such a thing happens, and it has never happened in my thirty years in the priesthood so don’t worry, the priest would have to take the elements of the Host out of the, ah, uh, stuff.”
The only ones who didn’t know we were talking about Mary Louise were Father McCain and Mary Louise herself. Mary Louise didn’t seem too self-aware or she wouldn’t eat like a hippopotamus, often bullying to steal the other kids’ food. She would do this to the smaller kids who were afraid of her massive hairy body; she would loom over them until they sheepishly handed over their sandwiches, cookies and pies; and she would also steal food from the tougher kids when they weren’t looking as she had lightning-fast hands when it came to food.
Mary Louise Roncallo seemed the size of a horse; had the appetite of an elephant and the hygiene of a pig, and she was now fully coated with small black hairs all over her reddish skin.
“So,” I continued in order to make sure I had this exactly right. “If you were the priest and someone puked all over the place…”
“Francis Scoblete!” shouted the sister. Father McCain put his hand up to silence her again.
“Yes, if I were the priest that is what I would have to do. It is one of the Laws of the Church.”
So for the next week the boys set up a notebook guessing at what time in the First Holy Communion Mass Mary Louise would let loose. I figured she’d launch sometime after receiving the body and blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Up until then her stomach would be empty since we were supposed to fast from after dinner on Friday evening until we ate Christ at Saturday’s First Holy Communion ceremony. Since there were 23 boys in the class, the times were spread out all over the place.
All the girls, except for Theresa Blodgett, refused to participate in our lottery because it was disrespectful to the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. I tried to explain to some of the girls that the Lord wasn’t the issue; it was Mary Louise. The girls disdained me. Maybe Sister Elise Martin was right after all; girls were better than boys.
The big day finally arrived.
My mother dressed me in the special First Holy Communion suit with a carnation in the lapel. The girls all wore white dresses to symbolize that they never got dirty. I didn’t realize at the time that the white dress symbolized that they were marrying Jesus Christ. When I was told that a few months later I said, “I thought Jesus Christ never got married?” Later I was told that being the bride of Christ was not what marrying Jesus really meant. These nuns could drive you crazy with their “it means that but it really doesn’t mean that” routines. After a while I just shut my ears – and that made Catholic life a lot easier to handle. It could drive you crazy knowing that everything that was was also everything that wasn’t.
The nuns lined all the classes up in Our Lady of Angels school yard, with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, each group forming their Holy Communion line. We were lined up in height order; the smallest boy, Hugo Twaddle, first, all the way to the two giants of our class, Kenny Peterson and the towering Patrick Heelan being the last two. I was in the middle of the line.
The girls were lined up with itsy-bitsy Maria De Cardinale first and the humungous Mary Louise Roncallo last.
The parents filled the massive Our Lady of Angels church, which was on Fourth Ave between 73rd and 74th Streets. Once all the parents were inside, the organist began the music and we were slowly ushered into the massive church.
If you faced the altar, the boys were seated on the left side of the church; the girls were seated on the right. Nuns patrolled the aisles, making sure no one talked as this was, as one nun reverently put it, “Your entrance into Life Everlasting through you own free will given to mankind at the dawn of creation when we were perfect but made all the wrong choices from then on.” That seemed formidable…whatever it meant.
As we entered the church the shortest kids were seated in the front rows; the tallest kids in the last rows. A couple of parents dared to take pictures in the church as the procession entered and they were quickly tongue-lashed by the nuns nearest them. “This is a house of God!” loudly proclaimed Sister Elise. “Not a photography studio!” Since Our Lady of Angels was a huge church anything that was said, even when whispered, would echo. So everyone in the church could hear sister’s admonishment echoing throughout the building. “NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO! NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO! NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO! NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO!”
The boys and girls had somber expressions on their faces. This was not the time for levity, even when Ladislav Hamlin ripped a rather loud and disgustingly smelly fart. We ignored it, except for a couple of giggles from some of the boys. Every girl completely ignored it even though it could be heard and then smelled for quite a distance. All the girls had their heads bowed – God were they religious.
Once we were all seated, Father McCain and several altar boys entered the altar area and the Mass began. In those days the Mass was said in Latin which sounded mystical and the priest faced the altar so no one could quite see what he was doing. That made the Mystery of the Transubstantiation even greater since it was all so secretive.
Father McCain gave a sermon about the importance of the Holy Eucharist in the life of a Catholic because it was our chance to share in the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Life of God Himself.
Then it was time for us to eat Jesus Christ, the Lord, Himself. The nuns went from row to row indicating when it was our turn to go into the center aisle, our hands in prayer mode, and then we walked slowly and solemnly to the Communion railing. Since Mary Louise was behind me I wasn’t able to see her until I came back from being given a dry, tasteless wafer which I was not allowed to chew – Christ had to melt in your mouth, like M&Ms. As soon as I had that bread in my mouth I committed a little blasphemy when I thought, “Christ doesn’t taste too good.”
Coming back to my pew, there was Mary Louise passing me going to the Communion rail – her face as red as blood. I could see those little heaves starting that if left unchecked would result in horror for all around her and a win for the kid who picked the right time.
I was already seated in my pew, kneeling, supposedly praying to Jesus, and the Father and the Holy Ghost, but I was actually watching the monstrous Mary standing after receiving the Host. She turned to walk back to her pew. Now the white line showed on her forehead. The boys gasped in excitement. The MOMENT was at hand!
Mary started to make her gurgles, “ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg” as she slowly headed back to the last pew. The girls in front of her were now very much aware that danger was in the offing as they heard the prelude, “ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg,” and so they started to walk faster to put some distance between themselves and her, knowing full well that with the projectile vomit of Mary Louise there was really no escaping if the comet headed towards them or over them. With that arcing vomit-comet doom looming, you’d get some, most or almost all of it on yourself and everything around you. It was fate; like Christ having to be hung on the cross to save the rest of us from bad things. It was the way of the world.
The adults started to look at her as the white line now covered her face from forehead to nose. You could see some of the adults pointing, “What is that dear? On that kid?” “I have no idea, honey.”
Loud: “Ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg!” You could hear it echoing in the church. “Ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg.” “Ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg.” “Ugh, ah, urp, burp, blurf, yorg.”
Sister Elise turned towards Mary and stopped in her tracks. The nuns all knew of Mary’s puking prowess and none of them wanted to get in the way either.
Louder: “Ugh! Ah! Urp! Urp! Blurf! Yorg!” (Echo, Echo, Echo.) All heads turned towards Mary Louise Roncallo.
“It’s coming!” I whispered to Arman Carmen Buddy Frasca the Third.
Loud as all Hell: “UGH! AH! URP! URP! BLURF! YORG!” (Echo! Echo! Echo!)
Mary Louise’s head started to sway from one side to the other. Her face was now totally white. Her mustache was highlighted prominently. The girls ahead of her were now sprinting to get away. The boys’ side of the church were all ducking and praying she wouldn’t turn in our direction. The parents looked befuddled.
And then: “Arrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Arrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!” and a HUGE (with a capital ‘H-U-G-E’) vomit-comet rocketed up out of her mouth and sailed majestically up over the pews where the adults were sitting stunned. As the comet dripped on them small multi-colored pink gobs of whatever had been in Mary Louise’s stomach, the comet made its descent into the pews where even more parents sat in wide-eyed awe as the comet landed and splashed gallons of stinking goo all over them.
From the altar I saw Father McCain quickly turn around, look in bewilderment as the sounds of hundreds of attendees echoed in the church.
McCain saw the vomit-comet splash its contents over pews and pews of his beloved church floor, and the kneeling parents and other parishioners and (God save him) he yelled (without thinking mind you of his role as a servant priest of the Almighty God) he yelled right from the altar: “OH, CRAAAP!” which echoed all over the church, “Ohhhhhhh CRAAAP! Ohhhhhhh CRAAAP! Ohhhhhhh CRAAAP!” to the bug-eyed astonishment of all the adults and First Holy Communion recipients.
The parents who had been baptized in the gooey gobs from Mary Louise fled the church uttering low screams; wives and grandmas weeping into their handkerchiefs. All their new clothes had been drenched in dreck. Other adults held their noses as they tried to act unconcerned but they quickly fled the church too. A few of the other kids puked too as Mary Louise had lofted a Godzilla-like blob that smelled like the bodies burned in the never-ending fires of Hell itself. It was hard not to puke. Even I fought the urge.
“That was great,” said Jake “the Snake” Jacobsen.
“That was an atomic bomb!” smiled Billy Bell.
“I think I hit it on the head when she’d do it,” said Hugo Twaddle.
The stern-faced nuns escorted us all out, by rows, in an orderly fashion, and we went into the schoolyard, still in height order.
I could imagine poor Father McCain going through all that puke when everyone left the church looking for pieces of Jesus’ body. It wasn’t easy being a priest in the Catholic Church.
In the schoolyard as we were about to split up and look for our parents, Mary Louise said, “I’m hungry,” and stared at the smaller girls.
(The above is an excerpt from Frank’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! )
Frank’s latest gambling books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.