Friday, June 27, 2008

Christ on a cracker

Come and get it!

My colleague's brow clouded up as he recalled his outrage: “I was about as angry as I've ever gotten. I couldn't believe the rudeness of it!” The event had been his son's wedding, and the incident that had sparked his indignation was being denied communion.

“When they told me I couldn't participate, I almost did it just to spite them!”

Ah, yes. That's certainly the spirit of communion, all right.

His son had agreed to his fiancée's desire for a church wedding. She was a Roman Catholic, so the ceremony was one of those hour-long rituals, complete with nuptial mass and Holy Communion. The groom's side of the family was not Catholic, so the guests in attendance were a decidedly mixed group. Under such circumstances, the celebrant normally speaks the words prescribed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to introduce the communion service when non-Catholics are present:
“We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us.... Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion.”
In other words, don't get in the bread line. Stay seated and mutter your Protestant prayers, if you wish. My colleague described it as a slap in the face, especially when he realized that his son was also denied communion.

I tried to hide my amusement at my colleague's reaction. Most Protestants seems to pride themselves, at least a bit, for belonging to Christian sects that have supposedly cast off the superstitious excesses and mummery of Roman Catholicism. Frankly, though, once you cross the line to talking to an imaginary friend and expecting him to listen to you, any ancillary mumbo-jumbo doesn't seem to me like a major distinction. In particular, I was puzzled that my colleague didn't recoil from participating in the formal cannibalism of the Catholic rite, since Catholic dogma stipulates quite seriously that the communion wafer become actual human flesh through the miracle of transubstantiation. He wanted his share of cracker-barrel Christ and was damned if he would take its denial lightly.

Reading James Wolcott's blog post about Tim Russert's funeral put me in mind of my colleague's close encounter with Catholic communion. Wolcott described how a clueless Sally Quinn marched up to participate in the communion service during Russert's requiem mass in some kind of wacky tribute to the late journalist:
I wanted to see what it was like. Oddly I had a slightly nauseated sensation after I took it, knowing that in some way it represented the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Last Wednesday I was determined to take it for Tim, transubstantiation notwithstanding. I'm so glad I did. It made me feel closer to him.
If you're not familiar with Sally Quinn's work, don't worry. Her specialty is superficiality. While she has a certain entertainment value, as in this comic communion story, Quinn's special talent lies in projection. She, for example, likes to hector people for perceived failures to adhere to high moral standards. Quinn can do this because she, at least, has risen above her tawdry origins as a non-writer who became a Washington Post reporter as well as the mistress (and later wife) of Post editor Ben Bradlee. Was that social climbing or merely job advancement?

When she's not presiding as arbiter of D.C. social standards, Quinn devotes time to her new hobby of being religious. She is a leading contributor to On Faith, the Washington Post blog devoted to religion. Fortunately for Quinn, just as she didn't need to know much about writing to become a Post journalist, she apparently doesn't need to know much about religion to be a Post religion blogger. Good for her!


Anonymous said...

I have to say, that's a bit weird. Every time I've been to a "mixed" mass (or even, regular Mass at college, for example) they say something more along the lines of:

We welcome Catholics who have participated in First Communion to take Communion. All others -- and the ones who are too young for communion too -- are invited to cross their hands over their chest and receive a blessing from the priest instead." And thus, it's a much more private affair whether you're taking communion or not. (Of course, you can still opt not to stand in line at all.)

I've heard this speech, or read it in the Bulletin at several different Churches, but all in Boston. Is it a Boston thing?

The Ridger, FCD said...

The thing is, most Protestant denominations let anybody come to communion; some let anybody baptized come; a few let any body confirmed. So your friend's in-laws could have communion at his church. Thus the insult.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Well. I notice Woolcott missed that point, too. Most Protestant churches do not require you to be a member to take communion. Quinn is a complete ditz, but it's not surprising she didn't know that.

Karen said...

The real rudeness was in having a Mass to celebrate the wedding. It isn't necessary, and it just makes the family of the non-Catholic partner uncomfortable or even angry. What a way to start out married life!

Anonymous said...

qI know that the tone is generally anti-religion here, and I'll agree that religions do some pretty silly things, but Karen you simply cannot lay that at the feet of the Church.

The couple chose to have a Catholic wedding. The Church did not hold a gun to the bride's head and say that if she didn't have a church wedding she couldn't get married at all. I know plenty of Catholics who have had non-Church weddings.

And yes, at that point you do have to have a Mass. That's what a Catholic wedding is. It's a sacrament -- a religious ceremony -- and those are always celebrated as part of a Mass. If you're saying that the ceremony as such is rude then your quibble is with the bride, who asked to have a Church wedding, and with the groom, who agreed to it.

The upshot, Karen: point out the foibles, but don't be an ass about it.

As to the post itself, I think the statement was in poor taste, but the Eucharist has been increasingly politicized in more conservative parishes and sees of late. In most of the parishes around Baltimore where I was raised, they take the view that while technically the other denominations are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, there will be ultimately no harm done in being generous. Who knows? The Eucharist might influence someone else to join up!

Anonymous said...

And yes, at that point you do have to have a Mass. That's what a Catholic wedding is. It's a sacrament -- a religious ceremony -- and those are always celebrated as part of a Mass.

Actually, no. Marriage is a sacrament, but you certainly can celebrate the sacrament without the full Mass (there are plenty of other sacraments this applies to...confession, last rites, etc)...that's what my brother's wedding was last summer. No communion there (both he and his wife are catholic, but her parents are not), although there was Church/priest/all that good stuff.

But, I do certainly agree with you. It's not like any couple getting married are going to be *surprised* that it's a Mass (or not). No couple should have to apologize for the how they choose to bless their marriage.

Zeno said...

Anonymous is correct: The marriage rite is separate from the nuptial mass. When two Catholics wed, the nuptial mass is almost always included because the bride and groom can take communion together and presumably are being married in church because they take their religion seriously. In a mixed marriage, if the Catholic partner is devout enough to want a nuptial mass he or she usually gets it, although it turns a fifteen-minute ceremony into an hour-plus marathon, which can be bewildering to non-Catholic guests.

The story about Sally Quinn caught my attention for two reasons, of course. First of all, I was raised Catholic and I've been to many nuptial masses that celebrated mixed marriages (including my sister's). Second, Sally Quinn epitomizes what is brain-dead stupid about the traditional mass media and institutions like the Washington Post today. The Post used to try to shine a light on things so as to inform its readership. Washington Post stories used to tell us the truth (or a good approximation of it) about what was going on in Washington and exposed the machinations of the Nixon White House. Now the Post merely tries to entertain its readers and puts vacuum-heads like Quinn in charge of part of its religion coverage, even though Quinn appears to know very little about what she is allegedly covering.


Karen said...

Unapologetic, you read far more into my comment than was there. I did not imply that the church was at fault. I myself was married in the Catholic church, to a non-Catholic, and we had a simple ceremony. It struck me then, and strikes me now, that it would have been very rude to insist on a Mass that at least half the attendees would have been unable to celebrate fully.

If that makes me an ass, then what does that say about you?

Anonymous said...

Mea culpa.. the rite is separate, as I verified from my favorite Catholic M.Th.

However, I also verified with her that the canon law states that there are occasions where, despite the lack of full communion, it is acceptable for non-Catholics to receive alongside Catholics. And I checked against Msgr. Tillman (pastor of the parish in which I was raised) that avoiding exactly this situation would be one of them.