Those who attended the Mennonite Youth Convention in Orlando, FL in 1997, may recall Tony Campolo commenting that ironically, “In the Catholic Church the wine turns into Jesus’ blood, but in the Mennonite Church, the wine turns into grape juice.” This past Saturday, at the wedding of two of our friends my wife and I participated in our first Catholic Mass. Not only did we partake in the ceremony of the Eucharist, but we had been asked to be the “Gift Bearers” (not to be confused with the “gift receivers” who collect presents for the bride & groom). The gift bearers carry the gifts- that is, the bread and wine – to the altar and present it to the priest. We considered it an honor to be asked to take on such an important role in the service.
I became a little aprehensive a little before the ceremony began. We had skipped the rehersal so I could study for an exam and suddenly I was fearful of messing up or offending someone by my ignorance of Catholic customs. This was afterall not one of the lesser practices of the Catholic church (nor the catholic church for that matter).
Fr. Joe however was not worried. When we arrived at the altar he quietly and graciously whispered instructions to us and our fears were allayed. In fact, one of the most profound elements of the experience was that despite the fact that we initially felt out of place – not knowing the moves, the responses, the ritual flow, etc – we sensed that everyone was at ease. The only uptightness in the place, so far as I could tell, was that which I brought with me.
Equally profound was Fr. Joe’s message to the newlyweds and his prayer(s) for unity. It was obvious he was not only praying for Catholics, but all seeking to serve God with their lives. In fact, he thanked God for the lessons in forgiveness that the “churches in the Amish country of Pennsylvania are teaching us,” and extended prayers for those serving God in churches, synagogues and mosques around the world. I must say, this Mennonite boy from Lancaster Co. was nearly blown away.