At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.
May I apologize to you? You don’t know who I am, and I barely know you. I saw your grandmother take you to the front, offering your strong young arms in service. I watched as the kind young teenager, wearing his glistening robe, prepared himself to help hold the cloth at the chalice, and leaned over to hand you the basket of bread. But he was told no, one man was sufficient at the cloth. The other cloth, still hanging from the hand of the priest, was soon taken up not by this same, available teenager but by an older gentleman forgoing his ushering duties in order to fill in the gap left by a dearth of alter boys.
I stood in line, arms crossed to receive the eucharist, watching you shift awkwardly on your legs back and forth as you stood next to your teenage friend holding the basket. I saw the apologetic look the young man flashed to your grandmother, his sad and gentle smile at you. And your confusion, should you stand by him, next the basket you almost held? Should you just return to your seat? Get in line for communion?
May I apologize for something that you experienced, but did not see and probably don’t understand? All you know is the embarrassment of standing conspicuously in front of the whole church, your service turned down. It isn’t that your arms are too weak to hold the basket, because you know you could have done it just as well as the young boy holding the basket on the other side of the church. It isn’t that you weren’t up there in time, you were right there as they were setting up. You were just told no, and no one was quite sure what to do with you, either your teenage friend or your grandmother. Maybe all you had is that niggling sensation that you really aren’t supposed to be up there. It is a sensation that may grow, affirmed by repetition in a church that cannot seem to imagine an alternative.
Or, perhaps you, your grandmother and your teenage friend, knowing this, will simply never allow the situation to repeat itself. She will not bring you up, he will not lean over to hand you his basket. And you will learn that this is how it is. You will learn to live with it. Maybe you won’t think about it. If you do, maybe you will just be puzzled and move on, accepting that this is a part of our one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
But if you think about it too much, you will realize that these people who love you would not do this without reason, so there must be a reason, and that reason is you. You simply are not fit, not worthy to hold the basket. It isn’t your job, it isn’t your place, it isn’t your role.
You are just a girl.
I am so sorry.