The chilly winds swept over the Lake Erie ice. The mist and damp, of an overnight cloudburst, lingered and added to the feeling of late autumn. It was May 1st in Western New York.
We arrived early at Nativity Church, the brick-fronted, Georgian style edifice, in suburban Orchard Park. The cars were already strewn about in a scatter of empty metal carriages. Each awaiting their occupants with the patience of inanimate obedience.
Our godchild, was about to make her first Holy Communion. It is an esoteric ritual, clouded in antiquity. It represents the transubstantiation of matter into being. Most of us never understood the concept, but it was a right of passage that each of us went through in turn, uncomplaining, generation after generation, reaffirming a two thousand year old ideology.
The pews were crowded with grandparents and beaming relatives. Our own seats were a glimmer of polished and contoured wood, with red-padded kneelers and racks for hymnals and bulletins. It contained the proud parents. The grandparents were observant representatives of a generation past. Mary and I, the godparents, finished out the row. Many, many families stood similarly, row upon expectant row of communal celebrants, participating in a familiar and age-old ritual. Thoughts of our own first communions, and the accompanying well spring of memories, lent an air of nostalgia to the proceedings.
The children were bedecked in a patterned array of white lace and sober blue broadcloth. They looked as miniature brides and grooms marching two by two, down the aisle of tomorrow. Anxious parents, equipped with a dazzling array of expensive photographic equipment, jockeyed for line of sight positions to capture a moment of memory. The mood was festive. The occasional squawk of younger siblings seemed to punctuate and enhance the familial and communal nature of the event.
The Mass, the most arcane and mystic of Catholic rituals, proceeded through its time encrusted stages. The language had evolved from Latin to English, but the ceremony itself was little changed from antiquity. The kiss of peace and a handshake with those nearest you, was a pleasant and modern addition to the rite.
The communicants filed solemnly to the altar and received, for the first time, a small wafer of bread, which was reverently placed in their cupped hands by a berobed and properly officious member of the clergy. The children responded, each in turn, "Amen" to the incantation "Body of Christ," and placed the host upon their tongue. It represented a receiving, in spiritual form, of the body of Christ. They, each of these junior Catholics, were nervous and expectant. They did not fully understand the ceremony, but were aware in a visceral sense, of the import and seriousness of the rite in which we were collectively engaged. They sang, in the clear ringing pitch of young children, a song of happiness and devotion.
The flicker of photographic flashes and the whirring of motorized camera drives added a background of subdued, high-tech opera, that curiously complimented the solemnity of the ritual. Next, the congregation rose and proceeded to the altar, in a similar fashion to the children, and partook of the spiritual banquet offered. It had a swaying and familiar regularity, not unlike many primitive, American-Indian ceremonies.
Lastly, a small loaf of bread was distributed to each child, to share with their families. It was a poignant reminder of the Nazarene, and his last supper, asking each of his followers to share with him the bread of life, in a spiritual communion.
The service concluded with a round of applause for the communicants and we parted, in tributaries of steel chariots, to the many family celebrations at various homes and restaurants throughout the area.
The family had chosen brunch, at a nearby Country Club, in the Town of Hamburg. We arrived, chilled with the cold, and chatted in happy tones, as we removed our coats and readied for brunch and pleasant conversation. The collective aroma of many breakfast foods was a seductive lure into the bright and airy hall. The Lake Erie Ice and the slate gray sky were visible over the green expanse of the First Fairway, on the adjacent golf course. Some few intrepid souls were pursuing this ancient Scottish custom in spite of the weather.
We sat and talked of many things, like all families and friends similarly gathered. Our god child was uncharacteristically subdued in the presence of adults and "out in public.” It is strange for us to see these children develop so quickly. Many brief visits over the years give us some perspective on how fast they grow. Their personalities emerge distinct and unique with the passage of time. Inexorably they grow towards maturity, spreading their wings and testing their boundaries. They appear more confident each time we meet.
We finish a leisurely and enjoyable brunch and take various photos of each other. It seems, on each of these occasions, that we try to preserve the moment for future enjoyment and capture in time the visages of each other, that we fear will soon pass on. Too soon will come the graduations, weddings and births that highlight the passage of time in the continuing evolution of a family.
We part reluctantly, each at sea on a life of our own. God speed, safe voyage and quick return.
Joseph Xavier Martin