Saturday, April 28, 2007

Catholics and Communion AGAIN!

Yesterday we said farewell to Natalie's gran. She was Catholic, but more important, as she always reminded us, she was Greek - from ATHENS!

Sadly, as we wished to express communion with her, the priest - as is his right - reminded the congregation that only Catholics in good standing were allowed to receive the sacrament. Not only did he remind us, but he rubbed it in, for about three minutes!

I found two statements interesting:

First, he said: "If you do not believe like we believe, then please do not come to the altar".
Second: "If you remain in your seats, please commmit yourself to praying for church-unity".

To me, communion is about community. Community is not about uniformity, it is the celebration of acceptance in the midst of divesity. How can I believe like you believe? How dare you or I exlude each other from celebrating God's act of love based merely on whether we agree or not?

What is church-unity? Once again, did he mean that I should pray that I may reach the point of becoming a Catholic?

I do not understand.

Out of about 250 people, only about 50 went up for mass. This is a statement in itself!

But, as Pete Grassow says, anyone is welcome to receive the elements at the church at which I serve. In fact, the more broken you are, the better.

Ciao nonna. Sorry about the church.


digitaldion said...

Hey Wes!

Once again, I am so sorry for your family's loss.

I have not wanted to respond to this post right-away... I needed time to think my initial impression through. I also did not want to come across as flippant or callous (as I so often can!)

Let me comment on the 'communion element' of your post, if I may. I can see that this bothers you deeply, and I want to try and empathise with that. So please do forgive me if I say antything that is out of line here.

I haven't been back to check my comment on your last post in this regard, however, I am fairly certain that I would have said something in defense of the Catholic position of only allowing Catholics to receive the sacrament... Then again, I may not have...

I can't recall why I would have taken that position THEN, but here's what I'm thinking NOW - Please forgive me since it could be absolutely at a 90 degree angle from my previous thought!!! I can be that way too!!! In fact, as you know me, I can be so many ways!!!

After reading your post, I was thinking, that for you, the sacrament of the Eucharist (at least according to what I can get of your understanding by reading your post) is fundamentally in keeping with the Methodist theological perspective - which is GOOD, since you are a Methodist! (i.e., Eucharist as communion, a sacrament that celebrates and remembers, in visible form, the unity that Christ's death and resurrection wins for us in grace. That is, unity with God in Christ, and of course a unity with all others who are in Christ). The Catholic priest, of course, was approaching the Eucharist from within HIS tradition, and fundamentally in keeping with his perspective from what I read in your post (i.e., as a sacrament that communicates grace through actual body and blood of Christ that are present in the trans-substantiated elements for all those who have shown themselves worthy of receiving something as precious as the 'actual' body of Christ (not very many Catholic Churches share the cup even in this day and age). So, for him it is not about communion (as you express it), but about receiving the 'blessed host').

What may be required is some kind of conversation between you and the Priest so that you start on the same page. Of course we had to do this on Justification by Faith in order to sign our three way agreement (between the Methodists, Lutherans and Catholics). Once we realised that we had the same loving intent, but all spoke different languages about it, we could start trying to 'find one another', and we eventually did!

The point of my diatribe above, is that as I thought about it, you may both have been in the same room, at the same service, with a love for the same Lord, yet you were not celebrating the same sacrament...

Perhaps, even if you were allowed to receive the host, you would STILL not be receiving the same sacrament because your advanced theological understanding of communion 'covers' the elements he presents. The two of you did not share the same understanding of what the consumption of the elements meant, and so he may have served you assuming one thing, while you were understanding another. That is surely not communion, or true grace?

It is fairly likely that few Catholics will ever accept the sacrament as mere remembrance (i.e., communion), and few astute Methodists, such as yourself, will ever accept the sacrament as the actual grace that facilitates the forgiveness of one's sin.

What do you think!? Am I missing something?

Rock in the Grass said...

Hi Wes - and Dr D
I would be the last to contradict the esteemed and venerable Dr D. But is there space for a sacrament that is bigger than the church? Or is a sacrament the posession of the church? If it is the posession of the church then we do not share the same sacrament! But is the sacrament is about something that God does - then it is indeed a mystery. And as such is the work that God does within our lives. And sharing this sacramental moment with another person becomes the God-connection with my community. And this is something beyond my understanding. In fact I do not have an adequate explanation for this, and my only response must be one of awe. So if I share a sacramental moment with another person then i am sharing a moment of faith that is beyond my explanations. It is a moment of God's grace. All that I need is awe.

Rock in the Grass said...

Hi Wes - and Dr D
I would be the last to contradict the esteemed and venerable Dr D. But is there space for a sacrament that is bigger than the church? Or is a sacrament the posession of the church? If it is the posession of the church then we do not share the same sacrament! But is the sacrament is about something that God does - then it is indeed a mystery. And as such is the work that God does within our lives. And sharing this sacramental moment with another person becomes the God-connection with my community. And this is something beyond my understanding. In fact I do not have an adequate explanation for this, and my only response must be one of awe. So if I share a sacramental moment with another person then i am sharing a moment of faith that is beyond my explanations. It is a moment of God's grace. All that I need is awe.

digitaldion said...

Ah Peter (rock of the Church) you make a good point!

I am enamored by the idea of a sacrament that is bigger than the Church! That is indeed a wonderful and mysterious truth.

In reality though, the Catholic Church cannot be separated from the sacraments that define it (just like one cannot be a Christian without being in some way truly related to Christ and other Christians). Perhaps in Calvin's understanding of the church that exists within the Church (and of course Barth's refinement of that idea which drives home the point that there is a true Church that is present both within, and sometimes beyond the churches) there may be some room for truer, and less true, expressions of the sacraments. However, church is THE custodian of the sacraments.

Of course we no longer adhere to the Roman Catholic notion of Vatican II that said there was no salvation outside of the Church, (which was, of course, an adoption of St Ciprian's much earlier statement Nulla salus extra ecclesiam')

However, we DO still maintain (at least in orthodox Christian theology) that God reveals God's self in a through God's Church. The Church is not incidental to God's plan for humanity (as if it was an afterthought, or some concession made by God to appease our human need for structure, women's organisations, and get togethers for Bingo and tea!) No, rather we have adopted the more contemporary stance of Deus revelans et ecclesia proponens, i.e., The Church proposes (or represents) what God has revealed.

The Church (Catholic i.e., in terms of the true etymology of the word Catholic, from the Greek kata 'concerning', or 'about' and, holos 'whole') is still God's chosen means of expressing the mysteries of God's revealed will and desire for humanity in all of that mysterious complexity. We make a grave mistake when:

1. We try to divorce something as fundamentally mysterious as the sacraments from the Church which God has created to mediate and reveal these gracious realities, and,

2. When we deem to suppose that one expression of that mysterious revelation (in the form of ANY of the churches) is the only true and legitimate expression of what it means to be Church.

It is for this very reason that Methodists, unlike many other protestant Churches, have not opted for Calvin's ideal of 'sola scriptura' (which as an aside neither have many Calvinists). We have taken the lead of our founder Wesley and held scripture as the clearest and most direct source of general revelation for God's perfect will. Yet, we also accept within the 'Wesleyan Quadrelateral' that God's permissive will can be found through the tradition of the churches, reason, and experience.

So, what does all this mean? Well, it means that you are probably right. I can sit in a movie theater and watch the same movie as my wife, she loves it, I think it's hideous! It's the same movie, we both watched it, that binds us in some way. Yet at the same time it is also NOT the same movie, since my experience of it for whatever shallow (and sometimes complex reasons) does not allow me to attach the same value and meaning to what I saw as she does from her perspective.

If our starting point was mere pragmatism we could conclude "You were together in the movie theater, saw the same film, so let that be enough". However, if one's starting point is the movie itself, and the intent of the director, script writer, and actors (which is surely something similar, or at least that each viewer should leave with a positive experience), then we would have to conclude from THEIR perspective we have not experienced the same thing. She had a positive experience, whilst I did not.

So, the question is, what is GOD'S intended expectation of the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus (for Catholics and Methodists, in this context)? Is it salvific efficacy, or remembrance? Is it Church Unity, or is it the openness of accepting that whilst it may mean one thing to me (which I hold dear), it may mean something completely different to someone else (which they too have a right to hold dear).

That's my testimony your honour, and I'm sticking to it!

Wessel Bentley said...

Hi Dion and Pete

Thanks for your comments.

Dion: Do not apologize for challenging my thinking. I really appreciate your input. I concede, I do not understand everything concerning Catholic Doctrine, but there are things that I do understand that bug me. I need to discern the difference between these two points. So, please feel free to teach me where I need to be taught, and challenge me where my mind is already made up.

I speak from a Reformed point of view, a Protestant one. My protest is one of pro testare, testifying to my own faith. By default, it becomes a secondary form of protest. I do not try to slander the Catholic Church or the priests involved, but I am testifying to what I believe to be a Christian perspective when it was made so bluntly clear in that service that to be Christian is to be Catholic. I object to that — and to the excluding power exercised in the Name of the Lord, the One whom we all claim to serve.

My frustration is also against the obvious contradictions in Catholic theology that lead to this place of exclusive rights. You touched on a few in your comment. The first concerns the current understanding of transubstantiation. Luther (a Catholic) points to the misuse of transubstantiation as an error of interpretation. This doctrine stems from Plato’s distinction between form and object. A wooden chair has a form, but also serves as an object. It is made from wood, and can be described as a few wooden planks stuck together, but this would do an injustice to its purpose. It is not merely pieces of wood, but a chair. The wooden chair therefore carries, in a Platonic sense, qualities that are both temporal and eternal at the same time. The one does not replace the other, neither does the one give way to the other. It does not undergo a process of metamorphosis, but is a recognition of something’s existence sub specie aeternitatis. Transubstantiation is not called mutation, nor is it called metamorphosis. The host is bread, but at the same time serves as the body of Christ.

This is a subtle, but important difference to the modernist notion of the host as purely the Body of Christ. But what does this have to do with accepting non-Catholics at the table? If the host is interpreted in the original Platonic way, then the Protestant understanding of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament should not be as elaborately different as what is suggested. The pronouncement at Protestant gatherings in the institution of the elements states “This is my Body”, which Protestants understand not only as a symbolic gesture, but as the presence of Christ in the act of the Sacrament.

Another question surrounds the Catholic understanding of God’s relationship with God’s creation. The Catholic notion of analogia entis is the foundational doctrine when this is considered. Catholics have often been accused of bordering on panentheism in this regard, but this accusation is, in my opinion, unfounded. God’s gift to humanity is God’s self-revelation, but to Catholics this gift is enhanced by the fact that there is an inherit relationship between God and humanity which makes humanity aware of God’s existence and presence, even in the event of no isolated and objective self-disclosure on God’s part. Humanity knows God. This is the point. It knows God by being itself. This is confusing, for how can the declaration of analogia entis be made while stating that there are those who are not fully aware of God as we are and therefore unwelcome at the Table? Can the host then truly be wasted on anyone?

Only Catholics “In good standing” are allowed at the Table, which raises another contradiction. Who decides what constitutes this “In good standing”? There is no analogia fidei in Catholicism — this is a Reformed understanding. The only measure to be used, then, is works! But then again, Salvation by works goes against the Catholic objection to pelagianism. So can they make up their minds? Who is welcome at the table? Is it the person who is in good standing? If so, then the objection against Pelagius should be recanted. If not, then there should not be any exclusion.

It is not the first time that these questions are asked of the Catholic Church. Hans Kung was met with excommunication. Vatican II avoided the issue altogether and did not give Barth a solid answer when he raised these points (See Ad limina apostolorum).

As for “God reveals Godself through the church”. I beg to differ. This is where the Barthian hat fits snugly on my head. God reveals. As creation is enabled to receive and respond to this self-revelation (which is the gift of faith given through the work of the Spirit), the Church comes into being. The best the church can do is to testify to God’s self-revelation. The church is therefore the bearer of the testimony of divine revelation, it is not itself divine revelation!

As I said, I need to discern between what I do know and what I don’t know. The point is this: At the service, many of the family members (who are Catholic) felt offended by the imposed exclusion. They did not go up for mass. Some came to me afterwards and expressed this. One statement sticks in my head “Family is more important than this”. Which made me think: If the church of God, by its practice breaks another institution by God (family and community), then its testimony is severely flawed. For God does not contradict Godself.

Thanks again for making me think. Let’s carry-on with the conversation.

Pete: Yep, I agree.

Wessel Bentley said...

Dion, sorry, just read your second post.

Yes, but I do not hink that the analogy you use justifies the exclusion of people from Mass.

Let us use the illustartion of the movies. Just because I appreceiate the movie in a particular manner and know that another person will not see it the same way, does it give me the right to push them out of the ticket-line?

My point is: The Sacrament of Holy Communion is not the possession of the church, it is an institution of fellowship started by Jesus and this Jesus will obviously meet with different people in different ways, even in the sacrament.

Who am I to judge how this expereince should unfold?

Love you, my friend!

digitaldion said...

Now, what we should do is make this debate COMPULSORY reading for our students and see how they can reach a conclusive point of view on the matter that neither understands, nor takes into account, any of the points the three of us have made!

Yet, the one thing we can be sure of is that large parts of the argument (and the text itself) will be copied (without reference to the authors), and misrepresented to say the exact opposite of what we had intended.

In that world, you would agree that you should have been excluded from Communion, I would be reading Karl Barth, and Pete would soft marshmallow thing in a desert, as opposed to a rock in the grass!

Ha, ha! NOW THAT (first year theology students!) is a TRUE mystery of the faith!!!


Love and blessings,