The church was full. Seats were taken before the priest climbed solemnly to the altar and began Mass. Midway through the celebration, he lifted the host and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his banquet”.
The response was made more from memory than from reverence, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive thee but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”.
“May this Eucharist cleanse us and bring us life everlasting…”
Gingerly, the voice of the announcer could be heard, “We welcome everyone to this Eucharistic celebration. The Eucharist is ‘only’ for baptized and practicing Catholics who are in a state of grace, and have gone to confession recently. If you are not in this category, please remain in your seat and pray. Our Lord Jesus will visit you personally. Thanks.”
What followed this rehearsed speech was a long line of people who solemnly walked to the altar to consume the ‘lord’. This was the time to separate true Catholics from Sunday-sunday medicines. They would clasp the hand, bend the head solemnly and take measured steps to the altar. Saints!
For a church as big as Saint Anne’s parish, Okpara Inland, a few drama was bound to happen occasionally. Imagine having walked solemnly to the pew and waited for your turn… the body of Christ suddenly finished! God, what a shame! Too bad! And as you turn to return to your seat…a sea of eyes would wash you over like hot water on a sunny day… some bearing smirks, some bearing wry smiles and others just staring indifferently at your rotten luck that Sunday. Eyes would lead you to your seat- you may even miss your seat in the process. It is not a funny thing to experience, though some people do not seem ruffled. I wonder how they are able to make it to their seats without slumping because of the sea of eyes. Seriously, I wonder!
That Sunday however, a mild drama played out yet again. Five minutes after the announcer had spoken, no one came out to receive Jesus Christ. The woman repeated that the worthy ones may come forward to receive the Messiah, yet no one moved up. The priest’s
face registered his surprise and disappointment at the communicants. He tried pulling them off their seats with the sheer power of his Puritan countenance… but failed. After standing awkwardly for another ten minutes he sauntered back to the altar and continued with the closing rites. He was visibly shaken to say the least.
The good people of Okpara Inland had received the gospel message with their heart. Being a people of wonderful hospitality, they opened their arms in welcome to any priest posted to the parish. As a result, every departing priest left with fond memories. Father Tobore’s posting to the inland was nothing out of the ordinary. The people gave him a warm welcome. But at the reception held in his honor, he drank only bottled water and gave them buckets of smiles. He did not taste the food that were painstakingly prepared for him. A few days later he visited some members of the church and still took nothing from them. Baffled by such actions, the community decided to express their opinion on the issue. They arrived at this conclusion, “If we prepare food for him with a clear conscience and he refused us, we will not eat his own meal prepared at the altar”!
A few hours after gleaning the cause of their refusal to partake in the sacred
mystery(from the altar servers of course), the priest changed into a casual outfit and was deep in thoughts. He went visiting the next day. In every home he entered, he ate something albeit a little. He did this for a whole week. The next Sunday, the line returned to normal during the reception of the Holy Communion.