When people ask me why I serve as a Eucharistic Minister, I usually just give them the short version of the story: Because I felt called to do it. In church-going circles, this language is understood, and the conversation usually stops here. But if I dig deeper, I can trace my call to serve back to my Italian heritage.
There is a stereotype associated with Italians, and I can attest that most of it is based in solid reality. The majority of Italians are known for their overwhelming desire to feed their families (i.e. everyone), their service-centered hearts, and their exuberant affection. Technically, I am Canadian (proudly born and raised in rural Caledon), but having immigrant grandparents allows me to be immersed in this rich European culture.
As it turns out, a lot of what Italians do instinctively is what Eucharistic Ministers are trained to do:
Feed the flock.
If you have ever experienced an Italian family gathering, you will understand what I mean when I say there is always enough food. Never have I known my family to make “too little” of anything. My parents will even joke about showing up to my great-grandmother’s house by surprise for the sake of not inconveniencing her, only to realize she had secret stashes of food in nearly every corner, “just in case” company showed up. The same is true with the Eucharist: The bread never runs out. I have experienced situations when the sudden crowds at Mass scare us into thinking there will not be enough for everyone, and then by some miracle, there is but one host remaining. One can compare Eucharist (from the Greek word eucharistia which means to give thanks) to a family meal, in which we are all gathered for Mass to give thanks together. The innate desire to feed others, fueled by my own spiritual hunger, is what drew me toward this ministry. Nothing compares to momentarily meeting the gaze of a stranger and being able to bring God to them.
Serve the community.
To put it simply, serving is in an Italian’s blood. Introducing my Indian boyfriend into the family was a delightful paradox because in his culture, you initially refuse food as a way of respecting your host. But as he quickly learned, the more you let my family serve you, the more open they become and the more loved they feel in return! This mirrors Christ’s acts of welcoming the stranger and inviting them to eat with Him. Jesus held His love back from no one. So to feed is one thing, but to feed with the spirit of love and service, even and especially to strangers, is also what Eucharist is about.
I have always been affectionate, so the desire to connect to the Eucharist in a hands-on, physical way should come as no surprise. And yet, it goes deeper than the nature of Italian physical expression. When I was first trained as a Eucharistic Minister back in my university days, I remember the indescribable fear of dropping the host. Suddenly my confidence left me, and I was so scared that I felt myself shaking in the sanctuary. I thought for sure I would drop the ciborium. I felt weak from the acute awareness of what (rather, who) I was holding in my hands as I raised the Eucharist to the first person in line. By some miracle, I was able to serve every person in line without dropping Jesus anywhere. But the whole time I felt as though I wasn’t even touching the bread. It’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “Be gentle with me, and with yourself!” I have kept that experience in mind every time I have served. As I treasure that feeling, I grow in awareness that Jesus is in the eyes of each person who reaches out their hands, asking to be fed.
As Christians, we know that service is an integral part of living our faith in the world. As an Italian, my deep desire for love and belonging moved me to find a way to serve God and others at Mass. Becoming a Eucharistic Minister allows me not only to put my true gifts and talents to use for others but also shows my gratitude toward God for blessing me with those gifts. Once I realized that my calling was more about connecting with my most authentic self instead of a false image of what I assumed I should be, service became more meaningful. I think everyone has a calling within them to serve in some special way — we need only search to discover the most joyful way for us.