There is magic in the moment of stepping into The Church of the Ascension in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The scent of incense is warm and delightful. Candles are burning in glass bell-shaped jars decorating dainty wooden gold-trimmed tables, illuminating the body of a crucified remembrance of Jesus Christ nailed to the wall. Stained glass colorful rainbow reflections dance around the marble arches of the cavernous hall. The only definitive sound breaking the silence of the solemnity is the creak of the pews as the Faithful gently fidget in expectancy of their father’s daily liturgical rite.
In the Catholic tradition, to receive Holy Communion is a sacred and solemn moment when worshippers receive Christ. The rite of transubstantiation – the religious act by the priest of transforming the host and wine into the body and blood of the Son of God – is a moment of one-ness and refuge for worshippers. Blanca Acayla, a nurse at the local Amsterdam Nursing Home, is a devout believer and has been her entire life. She sits up front, as she does everyday, intently waiting. Eyes closed, head bowed, knees bent, patiently she waits. Holy Communion is the moment when she becomes one with Christ her Saviour and friend. With an “amen” from the priest comes the signal she has been waiting for.
In single file and solemn silence the worshippers emerge from their pews in obedient and reverent motion towards the altar. The glistening silver plate that carries the host and the ornate chalice filled with fragrant wine is blessed and prayed over by the priest at the altar table. “The body of Christ, the blood of Christ. The Body of Christ, the blood of Christ”, he whispers in a rhythmic chant over and over in perfect beat to the expectant breaths as each worshipper gingerly takes the host into their mouth and sips from the Chalice.
Acayla says, “When you’re receiving Jesus, you believe in him, for me he is the only God.” But for Acayla, Communion for the last two years has become a moment of greater poignancy and reflection. An immigrant from the Philippines, she has been coming to this Church since she arrived in June 2012. She comes to Church everyday to be close to her son. 16 year-old Jomar was killed in a motorcycle accident back home on 28 January 2012, just months before he was to move with his Mother, Father and sister to America to start a new life.
For Acayla, she is not only taking the body and blood of Christ during Holy Communion, but of her son too. “I feel his presence here,” she says. The two-year anniversary of Jomar’s death was just two days ago. Acayla’s tears run freely down her face that is contorted with the pain and heartache that comes with the shock of losing a child. “All of a sudden he was gone, that’s why I ask for God’s strength to continue with my life,” says Acayla.
In the moment of Holy Communion Acayla says she talks with God and asks him to look after Jomar. “I thank Him for everything. He makes sure we’re safe and in good health.” The look in her eye is one of pained hope. As worshippers leave the hall, Acayla returns to her pew, where she once again kneels in quiet prayer and Communion with Jesus her Saviour and the spirit of the child she longs for.