I share a common bond with every Catholic child in the western world. We were all brought up under the perils of sin, both venial (minor) and MORTAL. The use of capitals is deliberate. If anyone died with a MORTAL sin on their soul then they bypassed any chance of redemption and went straight to HELL.
I had Nuns, Priests, Brothers and all kinds of lay teachers stressing just how incredibly dodgy life was as a Catholic – and yet we had it easy compared with any other religions. Protestants were 50% more likely to end up in hell than us Catholics and as for any other religion, well basically forget them because they were all consigned to hell – apart from the odd martyr and good type, here and there.
And so it came about that at seven years old I was finally going to make my first confession and first Holy Communion. This WAS a big deal, make no mistake about it. My entire life (and death) depended on what happened in the run up to this activity and I was subjected to high level brainwashing – ooops Catechism. We were made clear that we were the ones who had brought about Christ’s need to suffer and die. Every one of our sins added to his personal suffering. Every extra minute of his pain was due totally to our inability to stop being sinners. Each of us was probably liable for an hour of torture and torment on the cross.
When you are seven years old and have had this kind of message thrust at you for a good eighteen months – then you believe it. So it was that when I came up to the last few sessions before making my First Holy Communion that panic set in. How could I be sure that I would remember every sin I had committed in my life up t0o this point. I was Ok with all the general ones, such as using the name of the lord god in vain and stealing and so on, but there were many more areas where I was just unsure. Yet, if I was to confess everything to the priest then I would be in the confessional for well over twenty four hours, and by then the Nuns and priests and, worse still, my fellow first timers, would know what an evil person I was.
I chose the easy route and confessed to everything. I used catch-all phrases which would encompass anything from lying about who ate the last slice of bread to who was the mass murderer in Kiev. And so it was that I was able to approach my First Holy Communion with a clear conscience. So, why was it that my mouth was so dry that you could give it a full steam bath and it would still be as arid as the Gobi desert?
The critical moment arrived. I was up at the altar with all my other first communicants and the priest descended on me. My stomach had been growling with pain for hours – because you could not eat before Holy Communion. And now I was faced with the big moment. I opened my mouth and took the host on my tongue and closed my mouth dutifully. Then the nightmares began.
The host immediately leapt to my bone dry upper palate and stuck there as if attached with super glue. The mass continued and we duly filed out. People gathered round me and asked me how I was. I said nothing. I was literally struck dumb, because the host was still stuck to the top of my palate. I dared not move it with my tongue. Sister Angelica had been most clear about that. Any attempt to move the host would bring down hellfire on me – and I was not about to do anything THAT foolish.
I nodded and beamed my way through what seemed like four hours of people wishing me well and wondered how long this would all continue before God let me out of my misery and simply smote me with a thunderbolt.And then I discovered something amazing. The host had dissolved and I was free to speak. God had surely saved me from death. My death had surely been put off till I was ready as anything to go to Hell without passing go or even the Pearly Gates.