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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

First Communion

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/3/2024
Occurred: 5/10/1959
Page Views: 553
Topics: #Vermont #Autobiography
Being groomed into he rituals of my mother's religion.

Catholic kids normally celebrate their First Communion when they are seven; but my Dad's death had thrown that schedule off. So Mary Joan and I attended Catechism classes in nearby Lunenburg at St. Leo's Church, under the guidance of Father Michael Dimassi—"Father Mike" as we called him.

St. Leo's Father Mike, Mary Joan and I on our First Communion day.

I had a little trouble grasping the concept of "sin" but there was one thing I was ready to confess. When I was five, I had gotten mad at my father over something and spanked him. Obviously, that couldn't have hurt him; in fact, he just laughed. But I still felt guilty over it and, now that he was dead, I couldn't even apologize. So, in my first Confession, that was my sin. I confessed it and felt somewhat better, even though Father Mike assured me that five was well before the "age of reason" and therefore I wouldn't be held responsible by God for anything I had done at that age.

I was terribly worried about taking Communion. I was a very fussy eater. What if I didn't like the taste of the Host? Mom made it very clear I could not spit it out. I would have to swallow it whether I liked it or not…which turned out to be an apt metaphor for the entire body of Catholic dogma I was yet to learn.

Typical scenery on the way to Lunenburg.

Finally, we drove to Lunenburg over the "back road" through Granby. Although it's clearly the most direct route, even today the road is too minor to appear on Google Maps. Still, it was a beautiful road, unpaved, unspoiled, through Vermont's gorgeous Green Mountains.

Although I was too young to be an altar boy, Father Mike encourage participation by the parish's younger members. He instituted what he called "observers", boys and girls who got to wear the altar boy's black cassock beneath a white surplice. He had us sit on a marble bench just inside the sanctuary, against the alter rail. There would usually be between six and ten of us, whose only job was to sit quietly during Mass, and to move the marble bench away from the altar rail for Communion and to replace it afterwards.

Mom, Mary Joan, Louise

Even among the more worldly residents of Lunenburg, my Mom was a mystery woman. There she sat, usually in the second row from the front, with Louise and Mary Joan, while I sat with the other observers during Mass. One Sunday Father Mike's sermon was on the evils of drink. As soon as he mentioned Scotch, which I knew was Mom's drink of choice (she had one, or possibly two, shots of it over ice every afternoon), I turned around in front of the whole church and winked at Mom. She was mortified, convinced that everyone would now believe she was an alcoholic. (Which they probably did, thanks to me!)