Monday, July 13, 2009

Wafergate - a throwback to a shameful past

Last week, while attending the state funeral of former Governor General Roméo LeBlanc, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was administered Communion. The funeral and eucharistic rites were those of the Roman Catholic Church. Prime Minister Harper is an evangelical protestant.

(For non-Commonwealth readers, Canada is a monarchy. However, we share our monarch with a bunch of other countries and she normally resides in a nice palace in London. A Governor General represents the Queen for official purposes in each of the Commonwealth monarchies, which also include Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and several others. When HM travels, someone is temporarily deputed to play a similar role in the UK while she's out of the country.)

Yes, it's against the rules for a non Roman Catholic to take Communion in a Roman Catholic mass. (Rome's rules, I note. While some protestant denominations may have rules about receiving the sacrament in other denominations, I don't know that the PM's Alliance Church does.)

Of course, the biggest problem in the event was that the incident was captured on amateur video and it APPEARS that the PM slipped the consecrated host into his pocket.

Frankly, a slanging match about the rules is simply silly. Arch-Romanists apart, whatever happened was clearly rooted in interdenominational misunderstanding and there is no reason to presume any mischievous intent. The priest should have realized the PM was not a Roman Catholic and shouldn't have offered the host. The PM should have politely declined. Nobody wanted to be seen as making a scene. It was a mistake.

The amount of newsprint, airtime and bandwwidth wasted on this story is a trifle bizarre.

More disturbing is the tone of some of the commentary.

Many "progressives" have used the event as an excuse to let loose a stream of vitriol mocking the Roman Catholic Church and their doctrine about the presence of Jesus in the elements of the Eucharist. Of course, it isn't just our Roman friends who believe that Jesus is present in the elements of the Eucharist. Although Orthodox and Anglicans decline to define how that works, belief in the Real Presence is normative for both.

I confess, I don't quite get the point of the hatespeech. How does it build up support for the progressive cause to insult the hundreds of thousands of progressives who happen also to be people of faith?

There used to be quite a long history of anti-Catholic bigotry in Canadian politics, from he bad old days of the Orange Order in southern Ontario in the late 1800s to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan on the Prairies in the 1930s, Roman Catholics were a frequent target for hatemongering rabblerousers.

Religious bigotry played a direct role in the Saskatchewan election of 1929, including the simply bizarre accusation that a Roman Catholic priest was directing the Speaker of the Legislature on how to rule on points of procedure.

I thought those days were behind us.

Those days ought to be behind us.

Apparently they're not.

(I am sticking to my practice of refusing to link to extremist websites. This is the first time I have had to apply that rule to a website of the secular left. Most disheartening.)

Here is just one example (from "Canadian Cynic"):

If you actually want sane people to take your idiotic ritual seriously, why not have the "wafer" magically appear out of the air each time? That would be wicked cool -- the sudden appearance of the mystical biscuit in the fingers of the priest just before he places it in someone's mouth. It might even convince me to give this Catholicism thing a try.

But if wafers come, not out of thin air, but out of mixing flour and water, then baking at 350F for 20 minutes, then they're not magical representations of the body of Jesus Christ, ready to be transmogrified into His actual flesh. They're crackers.


Brian R said...

I worked as a teacher in Catholic schools for over 20 years. At first I, being an Anglican, abstained from taking communion but then at a staff retreat, the Jesuit priest told me that as a member of the school community I was welcome to partake. From then on I did so although I guess some celebrants would not have agreed if they had known.
I do not understand why he put it in his pocket, a stupid act.

Erp said...

Possibly the simplest way to avoid this mess would have been to print the etiquette for the mass in the order of service (I assume they had an order of service given the importance of this funeral). How many others were at the funeral who were unfamiliar with the proper etiquette? One cannot assume in this day and age that people attending a Catholic funeral will know the etiquette.

Malcolm+ said...

The thing is rather bizarre at a number of levels. I do find it a bit remarkable that in 16 or so years of public life the PM had never had occasion to attend a Roman Catholic funeral mass.

For the record, Brian, much of the subsequent news coverage included specific denials that he had shoved the host in his pocket.

I still don`t get the virulent anti-Catholic (and / or simply anti-religious) rhetoric.

Erika Baker said...

I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that many vociferous religious people and atheists are in reality deeply insecure, and therefore feel the need to criticise everything else that isn't included in their own world view in order to cling on more tightly to their own world view, so it may save them.

What I would like to see in any religious row is the number of people on either side who vitriolically argue the toss, as well as the number of people who do not enter into the fray but just get on with living, loving and believing or not believing.

It would give us a much rounder picture of what people of faith and atheists are actually about.

Country Parson said...

I've been reflecting more on the Canadian Cynic quote than whatever it was that the PM did or didn't do. It seems to me a typical case of confusing God with Dumbledore and Jesus with Harry. I continue to be surprised by how many people cannot separate the magical from the mystical. One of my Unitarian type friends is so stuck in a Newtonian universe that he is unable to apprehend the possibility of any event that contravenes Newtonian law, and, therefor all claims to the miraculous are nothing more than naive magical wishfulness.

Country Parson said...

Don't have your e-mail. Check out my blog. Go to the link. Watch the video. Tell me what you think

Brad Evans said...

Such moral vanity-"The extreme Left cannot, as the morally superior party, ever be bigoted."
What smugness!

Malcolm+ said...

I don't think I ever said that - or anything like that.

What is disturbing is the manner in which the kind of bigotry I read on Canadian Cynic and elsewhere flies in the face of the ostensibly progressive principles they claim to uphold.