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.