Saturday, September 24, 2011

This is My Blood ...

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has announced that Phoenix laypersons will no longer receive wine in the Eucharist.; they will receive bread only.  The weirdly conservative Roman Catholic bishop has explained that (1) wine is not necessary, as someone who receives either the bread or the wine is considered to receive the full benefits of communion; (2) the change is required by a new translation of the Roman Catholic missal; and (3) receiving wine was an innovation after Vatican II, and he is returning to an older (presumably purer) tradition.  There has also been some whining among commentators who agreed with the bishop, about wine spilling and suchlike, but let's just agree up front that a few careless accidents are not good reasons to deny to people what Jesus has already given them.

Of the bishop's arguments, (1) is certainly correct.  I have parishioners who receive either bread or wine, but not both, for reasons of their own, and they are considered to have received the full benefits of communion.  Not a problem.

Argument (2) is not something I am qualified to comment on, but since no other Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have announced plans to emulate the good bishop's stance, and he has come under strong criticism from a number of Catholics, I find it a highly suspect rationale for the change.

Argument (3) is patently absurd, since  the practice of laypersons abstaining from receiving wine was an innovation in itself, dating to the high Middle Ages.  Giving communion in both kinds (bread and wine) to the the entire assembly has been the longstanding tradition of the church, with the exception of a detour in the Middle Ages.  I suppose the bishop and others of his persuasion might look to the medieval period as the Golden Age of the church, but really, most Christians would look to a Golden Age much earlier than that, much closer to the time of Jesus, for authoritative practice.  Jesus gave both bread and wine to everyone at the table; Jesus invited everyone, saints and sinners alike, to the communion table; Jesus ate at the Last Supper even with his betrayer.  Surely ordinary Catholic laypersons are qualified to receive what Jesus poured out his life to give.

The fact is, the bishop's decision is nothing more than rampant clericalism - the idea that clergy rank higher in the church than laypeople, so clergy should get wine, but not the hoi polloi.  If you believe that being a priest is somehow a holier calling than that of the layperson who works, raises a family, and does the best he/she can to live a holy life and follow Jesus, then you reserve the expensive stuff for the priests.  But don't forget that this way lies danger: Jesus says the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  This high idea of clerical authority can even lead to the extreme kind of sin we see in the inexcusable scandal of clerical sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.  

If, on the other hand, you accept your priestly vocation with humility, you begin to realize that the church is only the place where people come to be nurtured in their faith.  Outside the church is where they live it out.  Every single day of a lay person's life is a holy day, and every day presents opportunities to live out the vocation of the baptized Christian in a remarkable, miraculous, sacred way.  We clerics need to understand our role as servants of all God's people.  As servants, we should be the last to be served, not the first.

As a priest, I pray that I may never forget who I am called to be: the servant of Christ, and the servant of all Christ's people.  Amen.


  1. I have parishioners who receive either bread or wine, but not both, for reasons of their own, and they are considered to have received the full benefits of communion. Not a problem.

    It is a problem, if you believe that Christ is present in the bread and wine. The scriptural claim of Christ that the bread and wine are his body and flesh are accompanied by his instruction that we should "do this" for both the bread and wine. If you use scripture to prove the real presence of Christ in the eucharist then you have to follow his instructions literally as well.

  2. Hi MadPriest, thanks for the comment. I certainly agree that the real presence of Christ is in both bread and wine, and that generally we are commanded to "do this" with both. But I don't believe that 1/2 of Christ is present in each. Christ is Christ; you can't divide him. Where Christ is present, he is wholly present. So, for instance, people with gluten allergies can take wine only and still receive the full presence of Christ. Newly baptized infants or folks with medical problems who are unable to eat can receive a tiny drop of wine on their tongue and have the benefit of communion. Recovering alcoholics who are rightly afraid to touch wine can receive bread only, and so forth. If one is able to receive both, one should, but I don't think Jesus holds back part of himself from those who for good reason cannot. I think that would include Roman Catholics whose bishop has denied them the wine; Christ will not deprive them even if their bishop will.

  3. I agree with you entirely. I am arguing with this crazy bishop's theology. On the one hand he insists on the real presence because that is what a literal interpretation of Christ's words would indicate. But then he refuses to take Christ's commandment literally.

    Personally, I'm sure Christ would be present in a donut and soda if that was all that was available.

  4. I'm with you, MadPriest! Maybe the bishop in question should start a blog called "MadBishop." After all, this is the bishop who excommunicated an entire Catholic hospital because they performed an emergency abortion to save a young mother's life.

  5. Oh no. The last thing we need is some psycho catholic giving mad people a bad name. We're only just recovering from the Hannibal Lecter unpleasantness :-)