Last night I served as the Lay Eucharistic Minister (LEM) at the Vigil Mass at my church, St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood. This means that I robed up in my black cassock and long white cotta and spent the majority of the mass standing to the left of the priest (Canon Ian Elliot Davies) at the altar, either turning the pages of the prayer-book, holding the book when Canon Davies turned from the altar to face the congregation or else holding the Gospel book during the Gospel reading. I also shadowed Canon Davies when he censed the altar – done twice during the mass – right at the beginning and right before we began preparing for Holy Communion. Most importantly, I prepared everything for Holy Communion, meaning quickly counting Communion wafers and placing them on the plate and pouring the wine and a splash of water into the chalice. I was also a chalice bearer during Communion, which means I went from person to person at the communion rail and said “in sanguine Christi,” (the blood of Christ since this was a Latin mass) as I either dipped the communion wafer into the wine and then placed it into the mouth of the communicant or else lifted the chalice up to his/her lips so he/she could take a sip.
I guess a natural question would be, “Why in the world, Len, would you want to do any of that?”
The answer is that it has been a long process to get me up there at the altar, but it feels as if I am doing what I am supposed to do.
When we first starting going to St. Thomas the Apostle, I sat on the back row with my family and cried most of the mass because one of my brothers had just died of AIDS and the other was next in line. It was 1994 and St. Thomas the Apostle was my brother Jim’s church. It was filled mostly with gay men, many of whom either had HIV or active AIDS or else had a partner who did.
I remember hearing all those male voices rise up during the singing of the hymns and I felt touched to my core. I needed comfort and guidance, a sense that life was not just one painful loss after another, and the people at St. Thomas the Apostle, the priest, Father Carroll Barbour at that time, and the mass itself provided just that. I also needed a place to come where I could let down my defenses and feel all the sadness that I was keeping at bay during the week. I was flooded with emotion almost every Sunday for a year and a half as I watched my second brother grow thinner and weaker in the prime of his life from a disease no one had ever heard up just twenty years before. I came to church the Sunday morning after Jim died on Saturday night and I stood with my children, husband and younger brother as again those male voices washed over me. My soul felt connected to the souls of those men and I felt bolstered once again.
Since that time, I have moved slowly through the ranks of the acolyte corps, from torch to crucifer to thurifer at the Vigil Mass, the 8 o’clock low mass and finally the 10:30 high mass. About eight months ago I was trained for LEM for those same masses. I believe next I will be trained for Masters of Ceremony at the high mass.
My soul continues to be touched by the ritual of the Holy Eucharist and the love that is a key element of my Christian faith. I feel happy to be part of a community that is based on guiding principles such as loving our neighbor, turning the other cheek, and serving the least among us. I am especially grateful for the concept of grace, which boils down to being loved despite all the baggage I drag with me through this life.
It is a gift to serve as a LEM in my church. It is also the natural next step for my spiritual growth.
I am happy to don that cassock and cotta. I feel connected with all those who are there, those who have come before us, and those who will be there long after we’re gone.
Connection. Love. Grace.
That is the reason I choose to serve at the altar.