Harper Catholic Communion: IT *IS* A SCANDAL!

Near as I can tell from the NY Times’ unusually dense syntax, self-righteous Canadian theocon minority Prime Minister Stephen Harper received, and an archbishop administered to him, Roman Catholic communion, a no-no since Harper’s Evangelical Protestant, specifically the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.

The fact that it was at the funeral for former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc July 3 just magnifies the technical scandal — theologically speaking — of this joint action by Harper and the unnamed “archbishop,” identified by Canada’s Catholic Register (a weekly newspaper owned by the Archdiocese of Toronto) as Moncton, New Brunswick, Archbishop Andre Richard, who ISTM (they don’t say) may have been chief celebrant of the Mass, since it took place in his archdiocese.

I don’t know why they’re “covering the controversy” rather than the main story; maybe I just missed that.  ISTM that putting the consecrated host in his pocket might have been the least-worst thing Harper could’ve done, especially if afterward he or a flunkie returned it respectfully to the Church, which regards it as truly though mystically (and not symbolically) Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood.  After all, it’s not exactly a State secret that, with very few exceptions applying mostly to certain Eastern Christian Churches,* NON-CATHOLICS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO RECEIVE CATHOLIC COMMUNION!!!!!  In the U.S. an announcement to this effect is commonly made at mass vocally or in print, especially if a significant number of non-Catholics are known to be in attendance, such as would have been the case at His Excellency’s State funeral (presumably in Both Official Languages … and I don’t mean Latin!).

As the Register tells us:

During the Mass, Moncton Archbishop Andre Richard approached the front row where Harper and other VIPs were standing and distributed Communion to everyone, including the Protestant Harper. Though video shows Harper receiving Communion, it does not show him consuming it. Harper insists he did and told CCN in a July 11 interview he made a decision when entering public life not to seek Communion in Catholic churches but to accept it if offered.

Having served in my Catholic days as an altar boy or music minister at many “big Masses,” and also as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, I can easily imagine Abp. Richard being preoccupied with many things that day.  In addition, Latin Rite clergy aren’t commonly tasked with “guarding the chalice” in quite the same way Eastern clergy are (unless Democrats in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania are concerned! [scroll down]); it’s just a different approach or attitude toward administering communion, though the fundamental principles are outwardly similar.  Nevertheless, IT’S THE FRIGGING PRIME MINISTER, NATIONAL TV, A “STATE” FUNERAL, WITH AN ARCHBISHOP, not some summer cottage chapel in the woods with some anonymous guests of uncertain affiliations wearing cutoffs and flipflops!  A deacon or “master of ceremonies” could have taken some of the worry out of the occasion for the Archbishop and helped guide him discreetly around ‘landmines’ such as prominent non-Catholics in the VIP pew.

Ironically, although many of today’s “conservative Catholics” attack the Latin Rite’s modern option of communion-in-the-hand, receiving it in his hand instead of right on his tongue left Harper with the option of saving the Archbishop’s face as I’ve suggested above, even voluntarily taking some temporary heat himself from attack-dog media and politicians, coming up roses in the end if he returned the host respectfully at an opportune moment, even a “teachable moment.”  IOW, Major Brownie Points with Catholic voters!

Of course, more points if Harper had been able to say not that he made himself a unilateral theological decision to receive forbidden Catholic communion if mistakenly (or improperly!) offered, but that he’d consulted his local Latin Rite bishop in Calgary “when entering public life,” and even gotten a second opinion when he became a national figure from, as the kosher hot dog ad used to say, “an even higher authority.”  Don’t they have Protocol people in Ottawa anymore?!!!  In any event, Catholic authorities would have kindly and gently explained the impropriety to him, ways to politely decline or step aside when approached by a priest or EM, even thanked him for his concern to inquire … and probably gossipped about it, increasing his “cred” in their midst!  (Not that I want to help the man politically or anything!)

Now, I’m not a Latin canon lawyer or approved theological ethicist, though I have plenty of background and training.  But ISTM holding the host for later respectful return would have been at worst a mild sacrilege in Catholic eyes, with good intentions.  Eating it is pure scandal, the worse because of how publicly it was done (even if not shown on TV, but hyped in the media for days afterward).  And there are really considered to be no other options: Even dissolving it in water would require disposing of the now-sacred water in a sacrarium, a special sink in a Latin church’s sacristy that empties directly into the ground by sacral arrangement, rather than the sewage system or septic tank.  (‘Can’t dump Jesus in the sewer, dawg!’)  While water may be more easily portable, as in an empty bottle, if it had to be returned in another city … bottles of water are too easily discarded or otherwise mishandled.  An undissolved host is unmistakable, and can be carried reverently in any suitable container. 

Of course, Catholic Church sanctions are useless against non-Catholics, unless they want to try to physically lock Steve-o out of their churches and ceremonies.  From his perspective, it should be about respect for Catholic faith, just like you take your shoes off when visiting a mosque and wear a yarmulke when visiting a synagogue, and if the Orthodox parish you’re visiting stands males on one side and females on the other, going along without protest.

This piece, seemingly drawing from wire copy, suggests there was indeed protocol confusion of an uninformed variety on the part of both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop, who I’m certain doesn’t have such high-level guests in his archdiocese every day!:

Richard said a protocol officer told him before the ceremony that anyone who wanted to take part in communion would signal their willingness to do so.  “I’m sure he (Harper) didn’t mean any desecration or nothing of the sort,” the Archbishop said. “Somehow, the gesture was misunderstood. I think he should have been briefed by the protocol of what has to be done in a Catholic ceremony.”

OK, I have a guess about what’s going on here now.  If there was a huge crowd — and it’s just a parish church, not a large cathedral — and VIPs were seated in the front pew, it was probably arranged, by government staffers, for the Archbishop to serve them in-place, while everybody else who wished and was able to receive, would leave their pews farther back, get in line, and receive from him and/or other ministers in the building.  Rather than have the GG, the PM, etc., standing in line when the missiles come over the North Pole (or the foreign navies intrude in Nunavut).  It’s not a question of special treatment, merely reasonable logistics given the 24/7 responsibilities of these specific attendees, halfway across the country from the National Capital.  Similar accommodations are often made with communicants with mobility challenges.

An added issue would be the presence of M. LeBlanc’s coffin near the front of the church, probably where communion is often administered to people standing in line on normal Sundays and weekdays, etc. … as well as the unfamiliarity of many if not most of the attendees with how to receive communion in this particular building with its architecture, internal furnishings, etc., since it’s not their own parish.

For their part, the VIPs were probably briefed generically by a government (not Church) staffer, without regard for their denominations or (if Catholic) specific communion intentions (which ISTM Canadians more than even Yanks would consider intensely private matters, perhaps not to be “signaled” in advance through a flunkie: a cultural thing).  I could see this adding to the confusion of a ‘principled’ Evangelical Protestant Canadian like the PM who at least once in his life considered just such a scenario … hence his perceived hesitation, a kind of sacramental “decisijig” owing to miscommunication, or what tabloids might style a “miscue.”

This doesn’t appear to have been the only such, if my friends at the Monarchist League of Canada are right.

Last word: While it’s common for Protestants to use the verb take in connection with communion, for Catholics it’s receive — though the actions commonly involved are outwardly the same.  The would-be communicant approaches or in special cases like this is approached by the minister, and the minister gives him or her the communion.  (Unless your denomination does the trays and little cups served from pew to pew like on an airline — no disrespect meant.  Also, sometimes there’s more ‘self-help,’ like the bread and/or wine left on the altar for folks to administer to themselves as invited by the minister.)  If you find yourself about to be given communion when you believe you should not, for whatever reasons, you are permitted, hoped, and/or expected to “signal” your intention not to receive without making a big fuss, yelling, gesticulating grandly, turning your back, running away, or anything of the sort.  Like they say in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, DON’T PANIC.  Remain calm.  “No thanks,” a small but clear hand gesture, fingers over the lips, something like that.  Remember that when you’re in that situation, it’s just you and him (or her), two fallible human beings, face to face.  Most Latin Rite clergy these days are less anal about the flow of the almighty ritual than in former days perhaps, and will be understanding; the Vatican II Mass / in English (I can’t say for sure about French! 😉 ) is less pompous than its Tridentine / Latin predecessor — relatively more laid-back, as its critics will tell you(!).  I received in an Episcopalian cathedral once (while Protestant, on a normal Sunday, even with a “priestess” presiding — a cute one too!), and I’d guess the same there.  Most other situations, even more so. 

Even a State funeral on national TV.

This extended meditation on the pitfalls and pratfalls of public life has been sponsored by the letter Q, the number 69, and the word Sniglet!

(*–Without having consulted Eastern Christian bishops or councils!  Orthodoxy, my Church, forbids receiving non-Orthodox Mysteries [“sacraments”], and administering them to non-Orthodox, for reasons familiar to most Catholics my age or older.)

PS: For the record, Catholicism excludes non-Catholics from communion because they believe the sacrament properly reflects the “communion” of the main participants in the church service itself, to wit, Catholics.  It’s not a question of hospitality or inhospitality, “ecumenism,” “liberalism” or “conservatism,” “niceness” or “meanness.”  Catholics consider themselves the Body of Christ “mystically,” and communion as I said, also, though in a different way.  And non-Catholics, in varying degrees of “communion” or out of communion with them, especially with the Pope of Rome at their head.  This is all Catholic theology, not church politics per se.  They take the same attitude towards us Orthodox — as we do them and all non-Orthodox — although Rome permits us in extremis, as well as permitting their own people to receive our Mysteries in extremis, though they did that unilaterally.

PPS: Then again, given that LeBlanc was formerly a Liberal MP and Senator, and/or that Maritime Tories — even Catholics? — are likely to be Red Tories vs. Harper’s Blues (aka “American [GOP] Republicans”), maybe it WAS a conspiracy against Harper!!!  😉  (Just kidding; I know nothing.)

PPPS: Communion-in-the-hand is not an option in Orthodoxy, for the simple reason that Communion is served thusly: The priest has previously sunk a large piece of the Bread into the chalice and poured the Wine and water over it, filling the chalice.  As each communicant approaches, they tip their head back (or their baby’s head!) and open their mouth.  Father takes a long-handled spoon with a tiny bowl at the end, obtains a tiny piece of this mixed Bread and Wine, and tips the spoon’s contents into the person’s mouth.  So if Harper was at LeBlanc predecessor Ray Hnatyshyn‘s funeral in ’02 … well, it wouldn’t have been an issue, because Orthodox funerals don’t include Communion!  I’ve seen Orthodox priests serve communicants in wheelchairs by approaching them, but most of the time we line-up for Communion, so you can’t get in line by accident, so it’s no problem either. 

So … Go Orthodox, sir!

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Political Roundup

Is a rich, powerful White politician like McCain in any position to tell Congressman John Lewis who does or doesn’t remind him of George Wallace and put him in fear of increased racist violence?  Is McCain a mind-reader?

Alaskans rally against Palin!

Palin illegally abuses powers in Troopergate and possibly another matter.  Isn’t 8 years of abuse of power in the Oval Office enough?!  “Political” investigation?  Yeah: BOTH parties in Alaska’s Legislature did it!  How about her expense-abuse and persecution of rape victims?

Who scares you more in the Oval Office, Palin or Obama, OK?!!  At least Obama has Federal, national, and international experience; Palin barely has State-level experience.

A dozen more people for McCain and/or Palin to denounce / repudiate….  And a more poignant look at Palin’s continuing connection with secessionists, from Bobby Kennedy Jr.  (The AIP’s citing of the UN Charter and international law is quite laughable to me as a Native American; maybe if it that party wasn’t so White….)

“Palling around with terrorists” charge is racist … against Arabs.  I think this is only for the Hard Right “base,” not to flip “independents” or such.  So many of them think because Obama has an Arabic name [Named after his father: Can’t get much more “family values” than that!!], he’s a Muslim, so the “terrorists” they first think Palin is referring to are Arab / Muslim, not somebody who belonged to a radical American group when Obama was all of eight years old, and went on to become a respected educator.  McCain is little help when his audiences call Obama an Arab, acting like “Arab” is an insult or something bad!!!  As if Arab men aren’t “family men,” to use McCain’s expression?

A “hockey mom” only briefly, and many years ago?  That tells me what she’s doing is a carefuly-crafted false image for sheer political purposes.  Many politicians do it, of course, but to pollute a hockey game with it by letting her drop the puck is unforgiveable to hockey fans like me!  Of course, pro sports is just another business, teams are corporations.

My mother recently asked me what was the deal with Palin’s “betcha’s” and Slurvian droppin’ of final G’s.  Apparently she’s lyin’, pretendin’, and fear-mongerin’.  Just what we need, another “acting President“!

Rage rising on McCain campaign trail,” fear they’ll lose.  (Even though we know they’ll steal it again!)

“Negative ads”? “Attack ads”?  I think we have to stop equating factual criticism ads with lying, deceiving, or exaggerating ads.  I haven’t heard a single truly negative ad for Obama yet.  (Although somebody in my house usually mutes them on TV!)  OTOH I’ve never heard such a pile of stinking manure as we’re being subjected to from the McCain/Palin camp, so often, so many ways, so constantly.

Morgentaler honour?

Yes, those words will be meaningless to most Americans, but Canada’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Canada – similar to a knighthood – has been given to, among several dozen honorees this month on the occasion of Dominion Day (as it used to be called more meaningfully), July 1, the Auschwitz survivor who got abortion legalized in Canada by performing tons of them illegally, even in front of documentary cameras, and even going to jail for it, before getting the Supreme Court of Canada to outlaw outlawing it in 1988: Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

Whatever one thinks about abortion, it’s inappropriate to give a national honour in Canada to someone who is not only politically controversial – lots of good people are politically controversial – but considered by millions of good, sincere, law-abiding, even progressive,* Canadians – leaving to one side the hate-spewing anti-abortion extremists – to be a butcher of innocent, viable human beings, and at their most defenceless: in the womb, by their own mothers.  Morgentaler is officially cited “For his commitment to increased health care options for women” and for his services to humanism and civil liberties.  I’m not aware of what he may have done for the latter two areas, but throughout Canada his name means one thing, legalized abortion – just like “Jane Roe” in the States.  Can you imagine “Roe” (of Roe v. Wade fame, the appellant being kept officially anonymous at the time) getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom – again, whatever you think of abortion?  Not even the most “liberal” US President would think of doing so, even if s/he wanted to; it’d tear the country apart.

Furthermore, using the Order of Canada to enshrine the abortion euphemism “health care options for women” in the national Honours system is not only offensive, it just demeans Honours; it sounds Nazi or Bolshevik, like something out of 1984.  OK, that opinion may depend on what you make of abortion in the first place.  And clearly I oppose the liberalization of abortion since the 1960s in the US and Canada and elsewhere.  But drawing back to the matter of the honour itself, millions of good, sincere, law-abiding, even progressive, Canadians – leaving to one side the hate-spewing anti-abortion extremists – might consider instead that he worked for decreased health care options for children!  Should someone get an award for that?!

As the newspaper article describes, Canadian Honours are supposed to be apolitical, non-ideological.  (So anti-abortion activists lamenting that it happened under a “Conservative” Party government don’t get it.)  Her Majesty’s Canadian Ministry, aka the government of the day, is supposedly not involved, and neither is The Queen herself AFAIK.  I don’t even know how much discretion the Governor General herself has in the face of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, before the fact anyway.  Honours are supposed to reflect Canada as a diverse yet unified nation.  This kind of thing just divides.  George W. Bush is ‘a divider, not a uniter;’ and so is this honour, for Canada.

That said, I’m not sure that, bestowed, it can or should be revoked just on account of the firestorm of criticism – for the very same, apolitical, reasons.  But it does raise a question, for good or for ill, about the people and/or the process that chooses honorees.  Britain’s recent cash-for-honours scandal was nothing new there,** and Canadians designed their Honours system in the 1960s explicitly to try to avoid scandal and the taint of politics, corruption, etc.  Furthermore, not only are honours in a Monarchy a national feel-good exercise; the Sovereign is fons honorum, the Fount of Honours, so in theory they reflect on her.  Scandal in honours dishonors The Crown itself, and thus symbolically the whole nation.

However you feel about abortion, this bestowal of an honour is dishonorable.

(*–I don’t know what George Parkin Grant thought of Dr. Morgentaler personally, but he bitterly opposed the idea of legalizing abortion, as a signal turn from ‘progressive conservative’ ideals.)

(**–It’s not frequent there, but not exceedingly rare either.)

Passportgate

Outsourcing leads to non-government employees having access to citizens’ confidential information.  Surprise, surprise.  Direct result of government privatization.  Let’s put government back in the hands of government accountable to the people!  Who are contractors accountable to?

It wouldn’t surprise me if these “contractors” were GOP contributors.