On One Hand

December 25, 2004

The Body of Christ

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:44 am

I went to Midnight Mass as I always do on Christmas with my family, and this time I invited April along. She, in turn, brought somebody else.

About halfway through Mass I realized that neither April nor Chris are Catholic and probably don’t know much about the Communion ritual. I asked April if she planned on recieving Communion, and she asked why not. It hadn’t even occured to her to pass on Communion. I told her that non-Catholics usually don’t go, but that it was her choice, since I don’t consider myself an authority on other peoples’ rituals, and said non-Catholics can go if they believe the right things. In several whispered sound bytes I tried to explain the doctrine of Transubstantiation and the difference between that and the Real Presence, but I was having a hard time speaking over the “In Excelsis Deo” chant rising from the choir, modified into a synthesized modern pop version of the traditional hymn. April asked me if I was going to Communion, and I said no; I haven’t gone to communion in over three years, not since I decided I wasn’t Catholic.

She and Chris decided to go, and I watched them wander naiively into the procession along with the experienced partakers. Only after they were down the isle did I realize that April and Chris don’t know how to take communion even if they think that they should. They both come from churches that pass out grape juice in little plastic shot glasses, who don’t hold the ceremony in nearly as high importance. I watched them, fingers crossed, as they fumbled through the motions of the Most Blessed Sacrement.

When they got back I briefed them on the ritual to make sure they did what they should have done. “You hold your hands out like this,” I explained, “and then the Eucharistic Minister says ‘the Body of Christ,’ and you say, ‘Amen.'”

“Oh,” April whispered, “I said ‘thank you.'”

Sigh. That’s a mark of a pretty obvious non-Catholic. I wondered what the Eucharistic Minister must have thought, handing the embodiment of God to ignorant hands, knowing it will be defiled in the digestive track of a nonbeliever. I’m not exactly sure how the process is supposed to work, but I gather that Jesus only gets absorbed by True Believers who are in a state of Grace. For everyone else, it doesn’t work; Jesus dares not leave His consecratd Host to merge with the rancid body of a Fornicator or Methodist – the Lord remains a chewed, dissolving wafer, to be passed through, to end up, well, on the other side. But April wasn’t denied communion, even in her blunder. I’ve never seen a priest or anyone giving Communion turn a communicant away.



  1. Although I was baptized Lutheran, I was raised Catholic and had only gone to Catholic churches for most of my life. I think the second non-Catholic church I went to was a Baptist church when I was 16. That was the year I first began thinking of myself as a non-Christian, but I was still kinda confused about my faith. I had spent the night at a friend’s house and had to accompany her family to church the next day. I had never taken communion before, being a non-Catholic and not having been confirmed and all; I just knew somehow it wouldn’t be right for me to do so. I was pretty sure communion was a purely Catholic thing, so imagine my surprise when at some point during the service, these Baptists started passing around some blood of Christ in tiny plastic cups and body of Christ crackers. It seemed wrong to me, but curiosity got the best of me and I figured if Baptists could eat Jesus, then it was prolly okay for me too. I spilled some of Christ’s blood on my pant leg and had Jesus stuck between my teeth for a good fifteen minutes after eating Him (He tasted a lot like saltine crackers) and decided that I was unfit to be consuming the Lord and Savior, ever. Whenever I went back there with my friend, I would politely decline the Jesus flesh and blood.

    I always thought Communion was a beautiful ritual.

    Comment by empressme — December 25, 2004 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

    • Baptists

      Baptists don’t believe that Christ is present at all in the bread and wine. They subscribe the notion that Christ said, “Do this in memory of me.” Therefore, it is merely a memorial. Ulrich Zwingli first proposed that Christ could not be present and be at the right hand of God at the same time.

      Comment by buddyoverstreet — December 25, 2004 @ 5:12 pm | Reply

    • I feel that way about Communion too! It’s sad that Communion is the ONE thing I can’t do in a Catholic church anymore, now that I’m not Catholic.

      Baptists consider it blasphemy to believe that the wine (grape juice) and crackers (which are often store-bought saltines) are actually the body and blood of Jesus, or that Jesus is even there. They consider the Catholic belief that a wafer could be God to be worshping an Idol, so I gather. I think it stems from a need to get as far from Catholocism as possible, which is okay I guess, though I’m sure most Baptists would rationalize it in other ways. Communion, to a Baptist, is more of just a little unnecessary ritual like singing a particular hymn or putting up a Christmas tree, and I don’t think all Baptist churches even do it.

      Comment by ononehand — December 26, 2004 @ 9:44 am | Reply

      • We Are Very Similar

        When I do go to Mass, I don’t receive Communion, even if I’m the only one left in the pews. I left Catholicism over the bullying of the prelates (evident in 2004) in 1991, and I left only when I realized that I no longer believed in transubstantiation. I also joined the Unitarians, although I am far from one where I now live. I am essentially churchless, although my discussions on Matthew’s (Shepard) Place have given me a few ideas where to go. All this happened before I finally realized that I am gay in 2000.
        Matt, I enjoy your writings. I should have gone through those stages when I was your age. Well, better late than never!

        Comment by buddyoverstreet — December 26, 2004 @ 12:46 pm

  2. Consubstantiation

    Matt, you’re far ahead of me when I was your age. It took me some time to figure out the Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence. I had similar difficulties with Justice Sandra Day O Connor’s position on Miranda rights in NY vs Quarles. Now I understand both.

    Comment by buddyoverstreet — December 25, 2004 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  3. I was raised a Catholic, but I stopped being Catholic somewhere around six years old.

    Last night I went to mass (with a JEW) and I totally forgot how to take it. I copied the person next to me with the hands, but I didn’t say anything. I completely blanked out.

    I must have looked like such a moron.

    Comment by sahara_dreams — December 25, 2004 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

    • I’m sure that at a Chrismas Service there were hordes of people who haven’t been around a church in years, who didn’t know what they were doing, either. Unprepared people recieving communion is supposed to be a big deal, and maybe to many Catholics it is, but I told my grandparents about April and Chris going and they didn’t even flinch. They just laughed about her mistake. My grandparents probably fall on the liberal side, but I think that most Catholics, upon seeing non-Catholics taking part in Mass, are just happy to see someone new there.

      Comment by ononehand — December 26, 2004 @ 9:55 am | Reply

  4. Haha, back in high school, I said “thank you” at my girlfriends Catholic church. Of course, just as you did, she explained it to me *after* I had gone up.

    Comment by ruevergniaud — December 25, 2004 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

  5. A year ago today I was in London and actually went to Christmas day mass at St. Paul’s cathedral there.

    Knew it was not my place to go up for communion but considered getting on line and requesting a blessing from the religious officiary instead.

    Found it fascinating to watch everyone take communion though. There was really crazy variety in the ways in which people prefered to recieve the transubstantiated foodstuffs. Some dipped the wafer in the wine, some insisted on getting fed wine and wafer, or one or the other. All the different communion traditions present in one ceremony was really a powerful image to me.

    Comment by not_a_freak — December 25, 2004 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

    • Is St. Paul’s Cathedral a Catholic church or an Anglican church? I’ve only seen two ritual ways of recieving communion in Catholic churches: the first is practiced by most Catholics, who accept the Host in their cupped hands, left over right. Then there is the old-fashoned way of recieving Communion, practiced by traditionalists (at my church it was only the older people who did it this way), who are from a time when the Host was considered so sacred that you couldn’t touch it with skin; you had to recieve it directly on your tongue, and let it dissolve slowly in saliva, since chewing the Host was also forbidden. I’ve never actually seen anyone dip the Host at my own church, though once when I was visiting a Protestant service with the Boy Scouts, that’s what they did.

      I love how communion traditions are so symbolic of the culture that practices them. Protestants, believing firmly in individualism, drink out of shot glasses. It’s more sanitary that way, but it strikes me personally as very sterile. I only see it that as sterile because I grew up Catholic, in a religion that puts a lot of importance on community. The whole “one bowl, one cup” thing that Catholics talk about so much when you’re training for your First Communion is symbolic of their attitude that all people are dependent on each other. And you would never see a Catholic culture come up with a phrase like “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Catholics tend not to be prude about such things as saliva and dirt. If you look at the economic voting records of Catholics vs. Protestants, you can see the differing attitudes come through: Catholics tend to vote for social programs and welfare (though they’re more and more conservative on social issues), highlihgting interdependence, while Protestants are economically conservative, highlighting individualism. But the more “American” Catholics become, they more they lose their old cultural attitudes. Then there are the Christian denominations that are not specifically Protestant. Anglicans are sort of a cross between the two. And Non-Denominational Evangelical churches tend to fall on the Individualistic, Protestant side, while Greek Orthodox Catholics are almost identical in practice to Roman Catholics.

      Comment by ononehand — December 26, 2004 @ 9:30 am | Reply

  6. hahaha I went to my first Midnight Mass last night. I am not Catholic and have only been to a mass one other time before with a choir, and I was asked last night to be the bass for the pretty weak choir they had, so it was certainly an eye-opening experience. I was raised Methodist but don’t usually consider myself Christian exactly, I’m not sure, that’s a different subject. However I started to get nervous when Communion time of the service started approaching because I thought “Am i just gonna sit up here in front of the congregation all by myself while the rest of the choir is taking communion…?” and I imagined everyone watching me from the congregation and wondering why I was all alone. Was it because I believed in Satan? Or just stubborn? I know I shouldn’t have thought about it that much but I really started to freak out. And just as we stood up to file into the communion line, the bass next to me said “Just cross your hands and don’t take the bread and wine and they will bless you anyway…that way you can walk up there with us.” So i did and everything was fine of course. I love Catholic services…they are so ritualistic and I love to hear the congregation singing that “In Excelsis Deo” in a beautiful cathedral where even a knuckle-cracking echoes profusely. It’s humbling. Anyway, I’ve rambled. Merry Christmas!

    Comment by edwilson26 — December 25, 2004 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

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