In the Eastern Catholic Church, the Eucharist is distributed with both species together. The priest or deacon places the Lord’s Body and Blood in the recipient’s mouth saying “The servant/handmaid of God, [Name], receives the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting, Amen.”
I’ve grown up with this. At my home parish, I’ve always heard my own name. When I’m a guest, I usually just get “The handmaid of God receives…” because most priests that I’ve encountered don’t ask guests their names. My deacon dad always asks guests at our parish their names, and I always thought this a bit odd because no one else seems to do it. As someone who was used to being an anonymous guest, I didn’t see the point in asking the name. I had gotten used to anonymity.
Then I recently was a guest at a parish where there were many guests and several guest priests, and the priests were asking the name of each recipient. You went up to the priest, whispered your name, and he included that in the prayer of distribution. It didn’t take but an extra few seconds, and it touched me. I attended two liturgies at this parish, and two different priests each did this. I walked up, I whispered “Cecilia” softly, and they said “The handmaid of God, Cecilia, receives…” I was deeply touched by this.
Initially, I couldn’t figure out why I was so struck by this. Why did it mean so much to me that two priests I’d never known and I’ll probably never meet again in this life asked me my name? The answer is simple: It gave me a sense of belonging. I felt welcome and wanted. I wasn’t an anonymous guest. I was a wanted and welcomed guest. Those priests will probably never remember that they gave the Eucharist to a dark-haired young woman named Cecilia, but I will remember that they asked me my name. I will remember that they made me a named guest rather than an anonymous guest at the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord calls us to welcome the stranger. He asks us to receive all guests in His name. That’s what this gesture was. That was a simple gesture, but it was a welcoming one. It was a gentle voice saying, “You are wanted here.”
It is easy to find and stay in our comfort zones. It’s easy to overlook the guests or strangers in our churches. It’s easy to assume that someone else will welcome the guests. But that’s not what Christ asks of us. Christ asks us to step out of our safe boat and engage the world around us.
I’ve slid in and out of countless churches unnoticed over the years. I may not be planning to join a parish that I visit while on vacation, but it’s always nice to have someone come up to me and welcome me, to help me find pew books and such. When I studied in Spain, I attended the same church almost every Sunday for three months. No one from the parish ever spoke to me. I nodded and smiled at an older gentlemen who sat near where I always sat. But no one ever engaged me in conversation. No one ever even learned my name.
I’ve been struck by a desire to change that for people who visit my church. I’m only one person, but the world is made up of many people who are “only one person.” I think that we all need to work in our own way to stop letting people slide out of our churches unnoticed. Let’s learn names. Let’s offer hospitality. Let’s offer friendship. Let’s strive to offer a home and a welcome to all those who enter our churches. Let’s offer the loving hand of Christ to all those we meet.
Let’s welcome every person who walks into our churches in the same way that we’d welcome Jesus if he was a guest in our churches.