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When I was in second grade, a few months before we had our First Communion, my class took a field trip to the bakery where our parish’s Communion wafers were made. This field trip was just one part of the First Communion preparation process, and I suppose that our teachers hoped that it would illustrate the power of the act of Transubstantiation. In other words, if we saw that the wafers were made in the same way as any other cracker, we would more clearly understand and respect the mystery and significance of the fact that these normal, everyday crackers, via Transubstantiation, were transformed into the actual body of Christ.

For eight-year-old me, though, witnessing the process by which these crackers were made stripped some of the mystery away from it all. Although I was afraid to even consider the thought that the Church’s teachings were fallible and subject to doubt and criticism (it would have been sinful to do so), I remember feeling disappointed by the banality of the process. I had spent years looking forward to First Communion, wanting to partake in the mystery, wanting to know what Jesus’s body and blood tasted like, and wondering how consuming them would change me. In retrospect, I can see that this trip to the bakery brought about my first twinges of doubt regarding Catholicism’s teachings, even though it took me another eight years to permit myself to express those doubts.

Although I didn’t understand this at the time, what I was doubting and questioning (despite my best efforts not to do so) was the Church’s teaching regarding substance theory and how it applies to the Eucharist. I was finding it difficult to reconcile how a physical object (in this case, a cracker) could transform into something completely different without its physical characteristics changing in any way. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is obviously a ridiculous one, and that ridiculousness is apparent to anyone who stops to question it, be they a child or an adult. The fact that I felt the need to suppress these doubts and questions (to even ponder them would have been sinful) and the fact that millions of adults continue to profess belief in a doctrine that even a small child with the most basic of critical thinking skills can easily debunk is a depressing reminder of the effectiveness of childhood Catholic indoctrination.

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