It is Easter Sunday. The air was clear and smelled like the new white linen of the Resurrection. Christ was risen! Christ had walked in hell for three days and then came back to life after which he rose to heaven and sat down on God's right hand. Antonio stands in line outside of the church. The girls are divided from the boys and their line is neat and straight while the boys' is uneven and nervous. Their parents stand around them proudly. Horse and Bones are acting out as usual. Someone says, Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. Antonio knows this.
Horse asks Lloyd what his penance was yesterday in confession. Lloyd informs him that he is not supposed to tell. Horse laughs that Bones got the whole rosary. The children see Florence standing against the wall in the sun. Rita and Agnes whisper to each other that Florence will be going to hell. Amid the other children's talk, Antonio thinks of Christ having risen and of the holy communion waiting for them inside. A high school girl is responsible for keeping them in line. She hits Bones hard on the head. She tells them not to forget their instructions. Bones yells out that they should be careful not to drop God on the floor and she hits him again. Antonio remembers his instructions about taking the Host (the communion wafer) into his mouth. They are supposed to swallow it immediately. Horse interposes, Don't go bite on God. Antonio remembers he his supposed to swallow God carefully, not chew on Him. He wonders how God feels to be going into Horse's stinking mouth.
Antonio hears the choir singing. The two rows of children move forward and take their seats. Mass begins. Antonio prays all during the mass. He thinks about his confession the day before. He had mixed feelings about revealing his thoughts, but had nonetheless told everything he thought was a sin. He feels as though he had cleansed himself completely and is now ready to take God into his body. He had only spoken to Ultima and his mother since the confession so he feels as though he had kept himself pure.
The children kneel and softly beat their hearts, saying they believe in the mystery taking place. Abel whispers, It's blood now when the priest raises the chalice (cup) with the wine in it. Horse spits on the floor in disgust at drinking blood. Antonio thinks of the blood of Lupito, the blood of Narciso, winding its way along the river, crying on the hills of the llano. He overhears Lloyd telling the others that Florence had said the priest drinks the wine because he's a wino. Bones says Florence refuses to eat God. Antonio looks up and sees the priest holding the wafer. He thinks the wafer is becoming God. As the has this thought, Bones growls, Meat. Antonio corrects Bones, saying No Bones, not like that! He feels as though the mystery is beginning to escape him. He shuts his eyes and prays for forgiveness. He hears someone say it's time and he hears someone say Chingada! (god damn).
Antonio stands up. He isn't sure if he's ready. He kneels at the altar with the others and continues to pray. He prays for forgiveness. He hears a high school girl quieting everyone. The priest moves quickly placing the wafer on all the boys' tongues. He sees Bones jump up and push his finger into his mouth. The host had stuck onto the roof of his mouth. He was jabbing God with his finger, trying to free Him, choking on Him. Suddenly, the priest is in front of Antonio. He sees the wafer and feels it on his tongue. I received Him gladly, and swallowed Him. He thinks at last he will have all the answers. He bows his head and waits for God to speak. He hears someone calling his name and he thinks for a moment it is God. Instead it is the Vitamin Kid telling him to move along. Bones passes him still fingering his mouth. When he gets back to his pew, he calls out to God. Ernie pokes him and calls him a dumb ass for holding up the line. He closes his eyes again and tries to concentrate. He thinks God must be inside him. For a moment he thinks he feels God's warmth, but everything happened too fast. There wasn't time to just sit and discover Him, like I could do when I sat on the creek bank and watched the golden carp swim in the sun-filtered waters.
He asks God why Lupito died, why He allowed the Trementinas to do evil, why He allowed Narciso to be murdered when he was doing good, if the golden carp will rule, and a thousand other questions. The Voice doesn't answer. He only hears silence. He wonders if he has failed in preparing right. He opens his eyes and sees the priest cleaning the chalice and the platters. The mass was ending, the fleeting mystery was already vanishing. He asks Lloyd if he felt anything. Lloyd says he feels hungry. Antonio also feels hungry. They had fasted before mass. He looks around to see if someone can give him an answer, but sees no one. He just wants to get home to breakfast.
The priest tells the children that they are Christians now and that
they should remind their parents to contribute to the collection box on
Sundays so the new school building could be built. Antonio calls to God
again, but gets no answer. He looks at the stature of the Virgin smiling
with outstretched arms. The mass is over.
Readers not familiar with the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation will be surprised to hear the Catholic boys talking about taking God into their mouths. The Catholic doctrine holds that during every communion a miracle occurs and the communion bread (wafer) literally becomes Christ's flesh and the wine becomes Christ's blood. At the Last Supper, Christ instructed his apostles to eat the bread and drink the wine in memory of Him. The Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist (holy communion) follows these instructions.
If it hasn't been clear before now, it certainly is now. Antonio does not get the spiritual sustenance he craves from the Roman Catholic Church. Anaya uses the occasion of Antonio's first holy communion to show the break in Antonio's faith. As he did with the confession, Anaya has the boys of the barrio make light the seriousness of the sacrament of communion. All the elements of the communion that can be brought into the mundane world are. Flesh is called meat. Boys talk of biting and chewing God and dropping God on the floor. In the midst of this carnival of the communion, Antonio tries earnestly to maintain his seriousness, his sense of purity, but he fails. No one seems to take the communion as anything but another step in their maturation, another sign of their membership in the community, or another test to pass or fail. When Antonio asks the literal minded and legalistic Lloyd if he felt anything after having taken God into his mouth, Lloyd says he feels hungry. Antonio realizes he does too. Crucially, Antonio compares the taking of holy communion unfavorably with sitting on the bank of the river and watching the golden carp. If these systems of belief are competing for Antonio's faith, it seems as though the golden carp has won.
Anaya once again uses the literal mindedness of a child to deal with the promises
of the Catholic faith. Antonio has been told all his life that God knows
everything and that on his first communion he will be with God and hold
God inside himself. Therefore, he logically assumes that all his questions
will be answers. After taking the communion, he asks God his questions,
but receives only silence.