September 1, 2006

One of the things I like so much about National Review Online’s Corner blog is the wide variety of topics discussed there on a daily basis. Sure, they occasionally get bogged down in boring debates over social issues and politics, but then again, don’t we all? Yesterday, there were a couple of interesting posts involving what is proper and improper behavior at church altar rails. Pretty eclectic, huh?

It all started with Kathryn Jean Lopez’s observation of President and Laura Bush’s respectful behavior towards the Holy Eucharist while attending Mass at a Roman Catholic church recently. She then contrasts their actions with those of our last one via a link to The Anchoress, who has more than few pointed observations about respect, protocol and observance when it comes to non-Catholics who attend Mass. In the linked post her brother writes:

Non-Catholics and Catholics who have not yet gone through the process of formally receiving the sacrament of reconciliation and their first communion, but who wish to “participate” in that part of the Mass are invited to process to the minister dispensing the Holy Eucharist with their hands crossed upon their chest (not a humiliation, but a practical measure, so that there may be no confusion on the priest’s part that they are NOT receiving the Eucharist), whereupon the priest will simply touch his hand to their head and ask God’s blessing upon them. Here we see President and Mrs. Bush doing it the way we ask it to be done, and believe me we surely appreciate and honor their respectfulness.

He then notes former President Clinton’s receiving of the Eucharist while attending a Roman Catholic church while on a previous visit to Africa as a prime example of how one (intentionally or unintenionally) disses the faith:

A Southern Baptist with a penchant for carrying around big bibles took communion during a Roman Catholic Mass in Africa in 1998. When New York’s Cardinal John O’ Connor, doing his job, called Clinton on it, he was told that his (Cardinal John O’ Connor’s) understanding was deficient. “They do things differently in Africa,” was the answer from the Clinton administration. When pressed on the fact that even the African Bishops Conference complained about it, things devolved into “well, we understood it this way…”

I think her brother has it about right. One of the ways you can tell the measure of a person is the way they respect another’s religion and religious practices while attending a church or denomination different from theirs. You may or may not agree with what you see and hear, but you ought to show it the respect it is due while you’re there.

Whenever I attend Mass at a Roman Catholic church in my area, I go up for the Eucharist with my arms crossed. It’s not because I don’t believe that I would receive is the represented Body and Blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine once consecrated (as opposed to, say, a purely symbolic representation of same, as most Protestant denominations believe) – I do. And it’s not because I’m afraid if I receive the Eucharist as a non-Catholic lightning will strike me, or God or Christ will be dishonored – I don’t. It’s just that I know the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t observe the practice of “open communion”, and I respect their teachings, doctrine and religious practices.

And, while I might miss the physical act of receiving the Eucharist, I don’t believe it’s the only way one can receive Divine Grace during Mass – after all, we receive grace not only through being blessed by the priest during the Eucharist, but also by being present during the reading and hearing of Scripture proclaimed, communal prayer, and simply being present in the fellowship of a community of faith. The grace we receive helps opens our hearts and minds to the actual Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament, which can only help us in our desire towards cultivating a more pure and holy relationship with God.

But I digress….

Following Lopez’s post, Iain Murray then posted a link to this poignant retelling of another, most impressive and honorable example of altar rail behavior – this time involving an Episcopal church – that speaks volumes about the heart and mind of the man it involves: one General Robert E. Lee. It’s worth a read, and it makes you wonder if our nation is capable of producing such an impressive man today.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 16:53 | Comments Off on At the Altar
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