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!