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!