Thursday, 24 February 2011

Cold Dogma and Nice Feelings.

It was my privilege the other day to celebrate Mass in a house of contemplative nuns. One sister approached me in a little distress just before Mass (it was the feast of the Chair of St Peter) to point out a guest-house resident who had made the most enormous fuss just before Mass because she had discovered that we wouldn't give her Holy Communion, she being Anglican. This is not an uncommon problem, and to obviate it, the sisters have made a little notice which outlines the situation charitably and carefully.

Throughout the Mass this lady (for such I assume she is) sat quivering in righteous outrage and created the most horrible atmosphere. At Communion she approached me, sidling up. She waited. I waited. She (barely) crossed her arms, and I blessed her. And that was that.

Except it wasn't. We all went out from Mass feeling, well, dirtied in some way. Certainly the Mass was spoilt for me and for Sister Euphrasia of the Paschal Candle Extinguished (for it was she) who knew of the situation. I didn't help matter by expressing my feelings to Sister Euphrasia more strongly than I should.

What is so galling is the natural assumption that we were being deliberately cruel in some way. Why does this lady assume that she can be a guest in a Catholic monastery and expect everybody to conform to her, Anglican, doctrine (or at least custom)? As Sister Euphrasia said, 'when we go to the Orthodox Liturgy, they don't give us Communion, and we don't expect it.' Is it because said lady thinks that, since she belongs to the Established Church, we all ought to conform to her views because they are naturally right, being By Law Established?

Why does she expect us to set aside what our Communion has held from the time of the Apostles (just you read St Ignatius of Antioch [c.110AD] on the subject!) because she didn't want to walk 50 yards to the Anglican Church for Holy Communion?

It didn't help that this lady is a dedicated Benedictine groupie. Triumphantly she revealed that she had been not just given but was invited to Communion at both Bec and Solesmes Abbeys. It did no good to explain the feeble half-way house that the Church has permitted reception where there is no access for a substantial time (ten years? half an hour? five minutes?) to one's own communion, when Pope John Paul II could give Communion to the still-Anglican Tony Blair, half a mile from All Saints Anglican Church in Rome. We were simply imposing our cold, cruel dogma to keep her out.

When I was a seminarian, for a few brief years we occasionally used (among a plethora of hymnals) a sort of supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern called 100 Hymns for Today: I'm sure some readers will have encountered it. In it is a corker, called 'God of concrete, God of steel' (just imagine!) in which it lambasted 'dogmas keeping man from man' (itself a splendid own goal as the hymn aged). I also remember a visit of some exchange students from a Methodist theological college in Bristol. They came to a Fundamental Theology lecture I attended. The lecturer (called, remarkably, Michael Jackson, [no relation] by no means an arch-traditionalist) kindly explained to them at the beginning that he was addressing the subject of 'dogma'. There was a collective (somewhat camp but nonetheless genuine) gasp of horror from the Methodists. We all gazed at them, bemused.

Dogma. Feelings.

Dear me.

22 comments:

Kelso said...

Reverend and Dear Sir: Speaking as a traddy Anglican, I can only say that for the last 30-odd years all the nuts and wackos have been joining the Episcopal Church. You did the right thing. A stiff spine helps one kneel better! Very respectfully, Kelso

Jane said...

Oh Lord! God help us all in situations like this.

Scott said...

The Anglican guest obviously didn't understand the standard Roman Catholic position on who can receive Holy Communion and thought she was getting treated badly. Better to make the nicely worded position available to all guests before the situation develops. I'm an Anglican oblate of a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery where all is clearly explained; I understand and make my spiritual Communion instead of receiving. If people know, they can act and react appropriately.

Pastor in Valle said...

Scott; thank you, but the point is that the position was made available before the situation developed. It was simply challenged.
And thank you for your courteous approach in your own practice.

Sir Watkin said...

The lady might profitably reflect that such was the discipline of her own church until recently. Indeed it is hard to understand why that discipline was set aside, for it surely is self evident that Holy Communion can only be shared among those who are "in communion" with each other (the clue is in the word "communion").

The situation in France, however, is peculiar, as the Bishops' Conference has for a long time permitted Anglicans living in France to avail themselves of any of the sacraments, should they be geographically far from an Anglican chaplaincy.

Joshua said...

I had a similar experience when serving a weekday Mass: the celebrant rather unwisely asked for anyone who had a prayer intention to voice it as part of the ad libbed intercessions, and we were treated to a prayer against "exclusive language" (I had acted as lector also, and had read the word man as printed). The rest of Mass was a hideously painful experience as an emotional temperature of well below freezing descended. It was wretched, and frankly, whatever of the woman's subjective feelings, I and others present found that they had been accused of crimes that don't actually exist, and that in an odd way her declared self-victimhood had actually abused the rest of us. This must have happened almost ten years ago and I still remember it vividly, and how gut-wrenchingly awful it was.

Mater mari said...

Joshua: I recall reading somewhere that all bidding prayers should be written out in advance to preclude just such an event as you describe, although in some parishes this is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Alan Harrison said...

I don't think that it has anything to do with the C of E being established, Father. You might well find the same reaction from members of the non-establshed C in W or SEC.

You are too gentlemanly to tell us the lady's age:-) , but she may perhaps be too young to remember the days when Anglicans would have taken an equally exclusive atitude towards reception of Holy Communion by protestant nonconformists. A hypothetical RC or Orthodox communicant, being validly confirmed, would have been welcome.

The paradox is, of course, that it is RC-friendly Anglicans who are likely to find themselves in this lady's situation. Evangelicals who detest the "Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities" aren't going to be at your Masses.

Delia said...

Am going to a Benedictine convent for Easter. Hope this woman doesn't turn up there - help! Still, forewarned is forearmed for conversations over the boiled eggs.

James the Least said...

Apart from other considerations, such behaviour is sheer bad manners not that such can be expected from such arrogant people. Christian humility is not part of their make up. I worship with the Orthodox and the congregation always includes a number of non-Orthodox like myself. None of us would dream of making a song and dance about not receiving communion.

animadversor said...

Well, people nowadays do have a rather consumerist attitude towards religious rites; they cannot understand why they should be refused communion or matrimony (or whatever it might be) any more than they could understand it if they were refused service at a Tesco or a Sainsbury's: after all, they've shown up at the right place at the right time, they've presented themselves just as the others do. It's their right to receive, they believe, and they are genuinely offended. After all, just about any other place will give them communion—why must this place be so darn difficult?

Many of the readers hope that this woman (or her like) will cross someone else's path, not theirs. Understandable. But there is an opprotunity for affectionate generosity of spirit with her, for patient charity. She is never going to accept the explanations for this unless her soul is prepared to hear them. Was anyone ever argued into believing anything unless his soul was made docile and prepared to receive the arguments?

Pastor in Valle said...

True.

Anonymous said...

Why is it almost always women who cause such a fuss? I think you were far to kind to the old trout...

R. Wyn Jones said...

Very sad to read this, but I thought you coped with the situation admirably. It does spoil a Mass and one has to wonder why this lady with such a bad attitude was there at all?

I am afraid that there are a number of 'Liberal'minded priests who do give communion to Anglicans.
This practice goes on in a Jesuit retreat centre that I know of.
I also know of a priest who distributes Holy Communion to non Catholics on his retreats to Caldy.

While there are clergy out there who will continue this practice, it will make life difficult for priests like yourself.

John said...

This distressing attitude is becoming ever more prevalent among non-Catholics, but especially Anglicans. Did you read Ed Tomlinson's St Barnabss Blog before it closed when he and his people decided to join the Ordinariate? Anglican commentators frewuently harped on 'open Communion' and boasted about receiving It in continental churches where they marched conspicuously up to the altar when it was distributed.

The problem is compounded by relatively recent Anglican regulations admitting to Communion Christians of good standing with their churches. This means that It is distributed like bird seed at Anglican altars. The problem is further made worse when Continental religious houses like Solesme and Bec admit Anglicans to Holy Communion.

But to make a festering row over being denied Communion is, in my opinion, tantamount to blasphemy. I am glad to acted as you did, and would not expect otherwise. At one time well-instructed Anglicans would have known that admission to Holy Communion is the goal, not the means, to Christian unity.

Richard Duncan said...

"From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery. As well can there be filial love without the fact of a father, as devotion without the fact of a Supreme Being."

Bl John Henry Newman: Apologia Pro Vita Sua

motuproprio said...

But Father! But Father! Can you show me where in the Missal or the General Instruction it says anything about giving a non-communicant a blessing at the time of communion? Say the black. Do the red. Don't add anything. Don't take anything away.

Fr William said...

I wonder what motuproprio expects clergy to do when people present themselves at communion time but are not intending to receive the Sacrament? Shake them by the hand and talk about the weather? Or dismiss them with a contemptuous gesture? (I don't think either of those courses of action are specifically commended by GIRM or the Missal rubrics, anyway.)

motuproprio said...

First I would not deliberately invite those unable to receive communion (for whatever reason) to come forward at the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament. Second, I would, at a pinch, concede that a priest (but not an extraordinary minister) might silently make the sign of the cross with a host over someone who proffers neither hand nor tongue. As for the practice of Extraordinary Ministers giving a blessing, that appears to be error compounded!

Joshua said...

Whatever happened to staying in one's pew if one is not going forward to receive Communion?

It is silly, as a moment's thought will show, to come forward if one is not going to receive - for, after all, the priest blesses everyone at the end, and so there is no point in blessing non-communicants singly during the distribution of Communion.

Arguably, pressure on all and sundry to come forward can lead to people being troubled in conscience.

Instead, those who do not go forward can use the time to pray, make a spiritual communion, join in the singing, etc.

Far better!

Pastor in Valle said...

You know; I really can't see what all the fuss is about. Yes, I don't go up for blessings if for whatever reason I'm not receiving, but I've no objection to giving them. At least there is a recognition that it is not appropriate for all to receive.

Katherine said...

It is sad that this particular lady wasn't able to receive Communion at Mass, not because you were "imposing our cruel dogma" on her but because it demonstrates so very, very vividly the great, gaping divisions between Christians! As painful as it may be to admit we are not all one Body, not in communion with one another; we are fractured. If we are to repair these wounds we have to first acknowledge this separation and then try and do something about it. Priests who "invite" non-Catholics to Communion are, effectively, halting any progress or, at the very least, pretending that there is no need for any.

My parish priest, in response to people asking him whether non-Catholic Christians could receive Communion posted the following on his blog...

"Holy Communion is many things to many people. For Catholics it is at least a two-fold experience:

1 The individual's communion with Christ, through receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of that same Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Clearly, communion with Christ is communion with the Trinity and so a full experience of the Living God. (If interested, see Code of Canon Law).

2 The individual's communion with fellow-Catholics through the sharing of their mutual communion with Christ: feeding, as it were, from the same table and of the same food strengthens and signifies the aspect of belonging and community for those who take part."