Today I drove across town to attend the 11 a.m. mass and witness my niece’s first communion.

Never mind that I’m not Catholic. It seemed important to my sister that I be there. So I went.

From the moment I walked in, I felt like an outsider. I don’t mean that as a criticism; everyone was welcoming and friendly. But I didn’t know what to make of the dozen or so altar boys swinging incense-filled urns. I felt out of step with the unfamiliar liturgy, with the repetition of memorized prayers and responses. I was confused by the rhythm of kneeling, standing and sitting.

But one thing was clear: This rite was very important to the children and their parents. The girls were decked out in white dresses, complete with sheer veils. Most of the boys wore tuxes or dark suits. As they were paired and sent to kneel before the priest, I couldn’t help thinking that they looked like miniature brides and grooms.

I found myself wondering whether they’d been taught that the communion wafer literally becomes the body of Christ, or whether they believe that it’s merely a symbol—a remembrance of the last supper.

I’ve always been fascinated by the subtle differences that have sprung up in almost every belief system. How does an idea go from being a new scriptural interpretation to a deeply held belief? And how does anyone know what is true, or who is right?

After mass, I realized that this question is imponderable. Faith is imponderable.

I hope that one day my niece will reflect on this day, look past all the pomp and circumstance, and explore what this ritual means to her. And I hope that she will find comfort in her faith.

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