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Holy Communion (also called the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, and other names) is a rite considered by most Christian churches to be a sacrament. According to some New Testament books, it was instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper. The Catholic Church teaches that once consecrated in the Eucharist, the elements cease to be bread and wine and actually become the body and blood of Christ[1].

Bellairs Corpus

Commentary

"Catholics are urged to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion frequently, and many people considered it an honor to be a daily communicant. In the past this meant going without eating or drinking until after the Mass at which you received the sacrament. There's nothing awful about this pious habit but some people got so fixated on it that they would get up and go out to Mass, fasting, even when they were sick, a degree of obsession that others noted was not in any good sense religious. John's reference is a neat skewering of this mindset and one of my favorite pieces in this chapter.[2]"

Bellairs's story in the Handbook for Grade School Nuns continues: whenever he got sick he would call a priest, but every time the priest came, the old man would say "You can go away I feel better now." [One night the man becomes deathly ill and no priest answers the phone. The man sends his daughter off.] When she got there the rectory and church were dark and still. Then she noticed a little window in which a flickering red light was burning, but before she could try it a deep voice from behind the windowpane said, "Go home. There will be no priest for this man tonight." [The girl runs home, telling how strange it was for a priest to say such a thing.] Later it was discovered the window was in the chapel, and the old man died miserably.

Bellairs goes to great lengths in setting up the punch-line for this story, one that Myers identifies as the Bellairsian variant on The Boy Who Cried Wolf:  “I think the point of the story is that, because the little girl heard the voice from the chapel instead of the rectory (the priests' residence), it was the voice of God Himself that told her there would be no priest tonight. Not every one of Bellairs attempts at humor hits its mark; in fact some of them miss by a mile.[3]

"Bellairs didn't invent this story as it was told to Catholic kids everywhere that references a basic bit of Catholic symbolism, the red light that is kept burning in the sanctuary of every Catholic Church symbolizes the presence of God.  When bread was consecrated during the sacrifice of the Mass and became, in Catholic belief, the body of Christ, not all of it was consumed by the priest and people in the sacrament of Communion.  A number of consecrated hosts (the name we used for the little wafers of unleavened bread) were kept expressly for the purpose of taking the sacrament to those who were sick or dying.  It was necessary to keep them ready because, if word arrived suddenly that a parishioner was at the point of death, there might not be time to celebrate a Mass in order to consecrate a host for the purpose, and there was no ‘quick way’ to do it. So these consecrated hosts, looking in all respects like little discs of flat, white bread but on the deepest level of reality being the flesh of the Savior, were kept in a little cupboard called the tabernacle in the center of the altar, and the red light was kept lighted to remind the faithful to behave with proper reverence in the church and especially the sanctuary (the area where the altar was, behind the rail which all churches had at that time).  So the point of the story is that the little girl mistakenly went to the window of the chapel (often a room in the priests’ residence where Mass could be said) and what she heard was not a priest but the voice of God Himself telling her that the old reprobate would have no last chance to repent, and would therefore fry in hell as he deserved.[2]

Reference

  1. Wikipedia: Eucharist
  2. 2.0 2.1 Correspondence with Charles Bowen.
  3. Correspondence with Alfred Myers.