It is one of the lessons I learned that the quiet days of Christmas and the New Year are quite suitable for re-evaluating your own life compass. Where am I heading towards? I tried again this year. Incidentally, however, there is no tomorrow without today and no today without yesterday. Consequently, my pondering led me back to my roots. This is about things that particularly moved me during my course of life. And I remembered times long past. Now, in order to put a lid on them as well, I will publicly describe those times. Maybe others who experienced similar things can benefit, too.
When I was eight years old, they prepared me for Holy Communion – also known as First Holy Communion (Erstkommunion). After a fairly normal catholic upbringing (not very intense, more sanctimonious), I – along with other Catholics in my class – was massively instructed during religious education lessons at primary school.
We were in the third form. After Christmas, the preparations for the momentous event got really under way. The first step towards First Holy Communion was to make us all extremely familiar with the martyrdom of Christ. I remember highly sadistic self-adhesive pictures. We had to buy them and then illustrate hand-written texts in our “Passion Exercise Book”.
After Easter, the “bootcamp” gained momentum. First came confession. We had to practice intensely for this. Confession would make us clean. Since confession makes us free from all sin, it must happen shortly before the First Holy Communion. For example on Saturday afternoon if you intend to take the Holy Communion on Sunday. And then you have to do everything in order to prevent sinning during the night from Saturday to Sunday – for example against pinching a bit or having unchaste thoughts (in fact, at the age of eight the latter was not yet a problem). We also practiced doing penance after the confession. You had to say the Pater Noster and the rosary slowly and humbly.
The re-education continued. After the confession came the Holy Communion. We learned that, for a good Catholic, it is the highlight of the week. Even if the week was really bad, it does not matter. Because we live for the Sunday, when the Lord comes to visit us. For an eight-year-old, there were quite hard weeks in 1958. Except that mostly Sundays were no better, either.
But this was not a problem, because, after all, we only had to suffer the misery of this earth until death would deliver us. And then we, as chosen Catholics, would get to heaven. To be sure, it was not easy, because the devil was after us pure souls everywhere. Always and everywhere, sin and atonement were present. So first and foremost, we had to get through. Which is why there was confession and Holy Communion.
Then we practiced Holy Communion. You were not allowed to eat breakfast before the Holy Communion. Mental purity and physical abstinence were absolutely indispensable requirements if you wanted to host the Lord.
He came in the form of an oblate, the Host. The pastor put it onto our tongue. That was also something we practiced. We had to let the body of the Lord melt in our moths, because “you cannot bite the body of the suffering Jesus with your teeth“ – said our religious instructions teacher.
Well, that is what it was like. Those were all things they pushed into our childish brains. For a certain span of time, they were even a success. Because when you are nine years old, you still believe what the grown-ups tell you.
Today, I am glad to have discovered shortly after my First Holy Communion that I cannot really find much use for the “punishing variant” of God. Neither did I, at the time, think of a ”loving one“. However, it did not take long for me to discover that God was easier to find between the massive trees that grew in the quiet of the Wittelsbacher City Park than in our Church of St. Antony. And my decision was made. When I had confirmation – that is the second certification a true Catholic has to suffer – I already was in a state of inner rebellion. I only suffered the ceremony under protest.
That is how I experienced it. Today, I wonder what would have become of me if I had ”purified myself“ every Saturday and then “received the body of the Lord” on Sunday. How would I then have been supposed to suffer life?
Consequently, I am very happy to have put a lid on my Catholic past when I entered puberty.
(Translated by EG)