corpus christi

image via Microsoft

Yesterday was Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is central to our Catholic identity. It is the `source and summit` of our faith life and liturgical worship. Sadly, the theology surrounding this sacrament separates us from other Christian denominations. Ironically, it also divides us within our own Church.

When we receive Holy Communion under the appearance of bread and wine, we believe that it is really and truly the body and blood of Jesus and not just a sign or symbol of remembrance. We use dense words such as transubstantiation to try and explain the unexplainable. As with most mysteries, there are many layers and meanings beyond this core belief. Our theological or ideological leanings often determine which aspect is highlighted in our worship style. At the risk of over-simplifying or generalizing, traditionalists focus more on the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. Liberals or progressives focus more on the communal banquet table that feeds and unites us.

A focus on the real presence tends to place great importance on devotional practises and liturgical rites such as Eucharistic Adoration, Benedictions, and Corpus Christi processions. Individual piety and acts of devotion center on the Tabernacle and the consecrated host itself. It can be more exclusive, with high standards of who can and who cannot receive.

A focus on the communal aspect of Eucharist focuses on gathering in fellowship around the table of the Lord. The worship style is less formal and more communal, less focused on the person of the priest and more focused on the community. It tends towards inclusivity, with a desire to welcome all who come to the table.

A previous pastor used to focus on the real presence. His strong devotion was apparent in both his worship style and homilies. He often wore a Cope, a liturgical cape, changing vestments mid-way in the mass. After Communion, he dramatically kneeled in long prayer in front of the Tabernacle while we watched from the pews. Lengthy rules concerning reception of the Eucharist were repeatedly read in homilies and printed in bulletins. We had to bow – and he kept correcting how we bowed.

He preached that the most important place in the world was inside the four walls of the Church. Missing Mass was a grave sin. One First Communion Sunday, when pews were filled with non-Catholic family and friends unsure of when to sit and stand, he preached about Eucharistic miracles – hosts purportedly turning to real flesh and blood. I squirmed in the pew wondering what our visitors were thinking. What were the young boys and girls thinking? At the heart of his efforts was a deep devotion. But his methods were turning people away rather than drawing them in.

As with many aspects of our faith, the truth can be found in the middle of two extremes. If we truly believe in the sacramental presence of Jesus in the Eucharist then yes, we must receive with respect and devotion, ensuring that certain standards are in place. If we truly believe that it is a sacrament of love and unity, then we must also reflect this in how we welcome our sisters and brothers to the table.


the clericalism of the laity

Jamie L. Manson has written another thought-provoking blog on the National Catholic Reporter web-site. In Priest`s pornography case reveals clericalism of the laity , she challenges the laity for remaining silent in the midst of the abuse scandals. She claims that even progressive voices are hesitant to openly challenge and report priests, and blames it on the “internalized clericalism of the laity.” Even when the evidence is staring us in the face, we are as guilty as clerics in giving the offending priest a “pass.”

Is this true? We have heard of the stories of days gone by, when a child’s word was seldom believed. Even when it was believed, a family was too ashamed or afraid to openly accuse the priest. But have we not moved beyond the old protectiveness of our clergy?

In my own parish life, I have never had to experience the unique betrayal of a sexually abusing priest. But I have experienced the effects of authoritarianism and abuse of power. I have seen some past priests treat a parish as their own fiefdom, bullying others to do their will. Parish councils and finance and liturgy committees were mere pawns, ensuring that all Father’s plans and wishes would be fulfilled.

I have also seen the diocesan-wide effects of a now long-gone bishop who was absolutely crazed with control. In his last years he had heads rolling among clergy and laity alike.

These priests and bishop were also abusers, though not sexually. And what did we do? Well, those of us who spoke out quickly found ourselves on the margins. Friends shared our feelings of anger and injustice, but felt they could do nothing beyond offering a shoulder to cry on. Priest friends, while sympathetic, distanced themselves from the situation out of fear for their own positions.

Since then, I have sat back and observed how a parish reacts to a pastor who abuses their power. The one constant seems to be that most of the faithful inner circle remains faithful. Oh, they will grumble mightily about how difficult Father is to work with. But they will continue to do his bidding. On Sunday morning, he is still surrounded by his minions. During the busy liturgical seasons, he still obsessively controls every detail despite the extra time and energy required of already over-worked volunteers.

And then it came to me. It`s so simple. The reason that priests can behave badly and get away with it, is because we enable them! And when we do, are we any better than the priests and bishops who cover up the abuses of their fellow clergy? My wise husband is fond of saying that a person can only have power if you give it to them. When will we learn to just say no?!

Manson concludes her article with the following,

As the tales of the institutional church’s deception and negligence continue to mount, lay Catholics must stop making themselves subservient to their imagined notions of the power of the hierarchy, and must instead allow themselves to be channels of the power of God that is made manifest through sacrifice, courage, and truthfulness.

They must recognize how their internalized clericalism may be impeding their prophetic participation in the Spirit’s unfolding work in our church.





sunday tourist

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

My husband loves to attend new churches while on holidays. I do too…now. Things were much different when we travelled with five energetic children in tow. Sunday mass was enough of a challenge in the familiar surroundings of our home parish. In a new church, I couldn’t relax until I had mapped out a quick exit to the basement or the crying room. And, I definitely had to locate the washrooms for the quick dash with the potty trainer of the moment. A large church offered some anonymity. With our crew, it was hard to slip in to the pews of a small, half empty church without all eyes turning towards us.

On our recent trip to Ottawa, our friends arranged for us all to attend Sunday mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame. Its beauty befits our capital city, and the grandeur contrasts to the simplicity of our rural church. The liturgy itself was a musical treat, thanks to the pipe organ and soaring voices of the cathedral choir. There was a nice balance between songs for the full congregation, and exquisite choral pieces to inspire moments of prayer. And when the organ belted out for all to sing, it was easy to raise your voice with no worries of sour notes. You were lifted up by the glorious sound, and could almost believe that you, too, sounded this good!

When on holidays, you don’t have to take a holiday from Sunday mass. For those who are actively involved in their home parish, being a tourist is an opportunity to sit back and enter into the worship space without the temporal worries of liturgical preparations. And if you really want a taste of the local color and culture of a place, enter into a church and join a community in prayer.