Carson Crosby, a student at St. Anthony Catholic School, is one of about a thousand or more children who received his First Communion in the Diocese of Victoria this year. But his excitement – and anxiety -- of participation in the Sacrament is magnified by the challenge he had to overcome to receive the Precious Body of Jesus.
He has a genetic mitochondrial disease that prevents him from consuming food and drink orally, so he receives nutrition via feeding tube and has since infancy. The Church does not allow the Body of Christ to be given via feeding tube.
But on April 24, he received the Sacrament for the first time with the rest of his class at St. Anthony Catholic School. A fraction of the Host was dissolved in a small amount of distilled water which he was able to tolerate.
“I always knew that this was going to be a topic,” Jenna Crosby, his mother, said. “I have had a little anxiety about this.”
Carson also had been anxious to the point that he was suggesting ways he might receive Communion. “He just kept apologizing for not being able to do it and for being the way he is,” Jenna said. “We didn’t want him to think that this was ever his fault.”
The family’s conversations have led to theological discussions that have worked to deepen their faith and his desire to receive the Eucharist.
“He really asks some tough questions about faith,” Jenna said.
After consulting with Christella Alvarez of the Office of Catechetical Ministry at the Diocese of Victoria, and, subsequently with Bishop Brendan Cahill, and with Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), the solution of the dissolved Host was devised, and the Rev. Augustine Asante, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church, prepared for Carson ahead of time. It wasn’t only a solution for his First Communion, but is a sustainable solution for Carson and Father Augustine. The same thing will be prepared for Carson whenever he attends Mass.
Carson is not the first or the last person to face this kind of challenge, and his experience brings to light just one way the Church can accommodate those who cannot participate in the Mass or the Sacraments the way others do.
“God will use him (Carson) to touch other people’s heart,” Katra said. “He’s exactly the way God intended him to be and we have to make sure his faith journey is as joyful as yours or mine.”
The organization Katra leads is dedicated to, among other things, training Catholic communities to help people with disabilities have meaningful participation in the Mass and the Sacraments.
Katra said people with different needs are often underrepresented in the pews and her office is working to change that. The NCPD does assessments and presentations in English and Spanish all across the country. It is not only physical needs that need to be met, but also helping people with autism and mental illness be fully included in the Church, she said.
Alvarez said the Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities states: “Catholics who require nourishment through feeding tubes are encouraged to receive Holy Communion, as are all the Catholic faithful … the norm of receiving through the mouth remains the same for those who otherwise use a feeding tube for sustenance, and Holy Communion is not to be administered through a feeding tube.”
Alvarez said that was the critical point in trying to find a solution for Carson, and Katra, through her experience with another diocese, suggested the dissolved host.
Jenna said as they prepared for First Communion, Carson became less anxious and happy that he was able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist in a different way. But, she said, he is very empathetic and “in tune with things,” so there were also plenty of moments of apprehension for Carson and his family.
“There was a lot of digging and discussions,” Jenna said. “Carson is very smart and very aware of what’s going on. I didn’t want there to be ‘no’ for an answer.”
She said Alvarez worked with her on trying to figure out what the protocols were. “Nobody really knew,” she said.
After the April 24 Mass at St. Anthony, Carson said his experience was good. It was easy for him to consume the Precious Body as it was given to him. His prayer before bedtime on Saturday, Jenna said, was this: “I am thankful to Jesus that I was able to receive my first communion and change the way people like me can do communion and churches can bless the water for us to drink.”
Jenna said that, all things considered, she knows Carson is a special blessing and his story will bless others.
“His life has just been very different and is very different,” Jenna said. She said he is among many “special angels” who teach others to appreciate what they have. “My child has completely changed the trajectory of our lives. I am so much stronger in my faith.”
She also credits St. Anthony School for opening their arms to Carson and his needs. His mitochondrial disease means that he has to have an attendant with him at school to provide nutrition.
“It just really affects everything from head to toe,” Jenna said, explaining that the mitochondria are the “power house” of human cells and Carson’s work at 10-30 percent capacity. “Every time he is sick he could end up in the hospital because he has a weak immune system.”
Jenna attended St. Anthony as a child. She and her husband, Justin, lived in Katy previously and moved to the Eagle Lake area just in time for Carson to start school at St. Anthony
“I just knew St. Anthony’s was the place that he would need to be,” she said. “St. Anthony’s has been super accepting of him. Carson has just thrived there.”
She also feels blessed that he has great doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “You look at him and you don’t think that there’s anything wrong with him. That’s all thanks to his feeding tube.”
Special thanks to Janet Jones for allowing us to republish this story.
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© The National Catholic Partnership on Disability 2021