Mother Church, the Roman Catholic and all branches of it that spread out like the roots of an ancient tree, is — and I say this with humor — like the Mafia.

Once in, there is no out.

I speak from a position of experience. Like many others across the rusty face of time, I drifted toward the calmer shores, to quieter beaches far from the tumultuous seas of Mother Church.

Yes, I returned, not to fully engage, but to stand in the back away from the polished pews of the truly faithful, to inhale the scent of nostalgia, to remember Mother Church when, for this wounded and still bleeding heart, it was truly a sanctuary.

But this is not about my pilgrimage or the holy battles. Rather it is about the many sweet and lovely ceremonies that Mother Church still embraces.

Tomorrow I have been honored by an invitation to attend the first communion of the magical triplets: Jackson, Giselle and Lauren Jabar, blessed issue of my good friends Jason and Heather Jabar.

This is the grand moment when they, in the rich tradition of the Maronite Catholic Church, receive, as it is spoken by the priest, “The body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

As one who participated in the ritual as a child, I can tell you that next to the marriage ceremony, or being ordained a priest or elected Pope, this is a really big deal.

This is, as many have written, a very beautiful, personal and intimate act. Despite the gifts and parties, it should never be taken for granted. It is something a child never forgets, nor do the mamas and the papas. I sent my own two exquisite daughters down that first long aisle.

The Jabar triplets may grow, as they stumble through the urban chaos of the planet, and are dazed and stunned by the madness of life and sometimes the changes in the rules that were once carved in marble.

But that first communion with the white dresses and veils; the boys’ white jackets, stiff collars and silk ties; the smell of incense and flowers; the brand new white missile and rosary beads attached, that’s drama, baby, that’s the first Academy Award, the first blue ribbon. It’s the real thing.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet prepared me for my ceremony, and it was intense and detailed. There were weeks of preparation. The history of the ceremony was written on the big blackboards in white chalk and studied.

But the best part for this inchoate actor-drama prince was shopping for the wardrobe. I loved then — as I do now — brand new, sparkling wardrobes. Oh, if only Ralph Lauren had been around to offer choices.

I can see it now, that holy, blessed costume laid out across my mother’s white chenille bedspread: the white linen jacket with matching shorts, knee-length white stockings, white shoes and the powder blue (Blessed Virgin blue) tie that took my breath away.

How cute I was then with my sparkling, baby-green eyes, still pure and unblemished by Hollywood’s evil, and wet shiny black hair, surrounded by clicking box back Kodaks.

Then there were my classmates: sweet Mary Lister, who gave me my first valentine and my first kiss (in the amber light of the cloak room); Paddy Carr with a Band-Aid on his knee; Gene Aubuchon, who died too young; Ronnie Kelly; and — wait for it — the magnificent, iridescent and splendid Rosemary De Branco, who when she passed, trembling nuns made the sign of the cross.

A mini parade it was, one that started with our assembling in front of the ancient red brick church. We shuffled nervously around while families attached the tiny white carnations to our lapels. (Mary Lister straightened mine.)

Then we lined up, girls in one row, boys in the other, a virtual snowdrift of pre-puberty, angelic faces and chapped lips. We walked slowly down the street past the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph, with all the nuns along the walk like a flock of grounded crows, smiling and touching our heads as we passed.

Then around and back up to the church and the altar with Monsignor Keating waiting with the freshly baked and imprinted hosts.

I’ve learned in letters that most of those paraders are gone now and that the parade has sadly thinned. But I hope that as they stand on the other side, watching the first communion of my new young friends, that I remember each of them, white garbed, sunburned and eager for the coming breakfast of cake and ice cream.

“Wasn’t it grand?” my mother often said. “Wasn’t it grand?”

Go forth Jackson, Giselle and Lauren Jabar, and give a smile to the old writer at the back of the church.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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