Would You Like Some Precious Blood with That, Sir?

I’ve found at least one advantage in having the Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted as my prelate and prince. The man has a rep. Over the past eight years, since he first succeeded the Most Reverend Thomas J. O Brien as bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, his stern approach to governance has given rise to a regular black legend, or at least a long string of lurid, Chuck Norris-like factoids. At water coolers from one end of the diocese to another, you might hear, for example, that:

Bishop Olmsted does not suspend priests a divinis; he suspends them by their necks.

Bishop Olmsted hates relativism so much, he disowned his entire family.

One time, a Burger King cashier asked Bishop Olmsted, “Add fries?” He answered, “Ad orientam, baby,” and donkey-punched her.

Bishop Olmsted tolerates Opus Dei, but he despises its founder, Don Escriva de Balaguer, for wearing “stupid hipster glasses.”

Bishop Olmsted is suing the band King Missile for appropriating his nickname — only Bishop Olmsted spells it “King Missal.”

Bishop Olmsted is so conservative, he once condemned the Hypostatic Union for not operating on a right-to-work basis.

Full disclosure: I met Bishop Olmsted once, and found him to be a perfectly nice guy. Still, tall tales like these have spread so far beyond the reach of His Excellency’s writ that my out-of-town friends, upon learning who’s holding court in my local chancery, transfer some of his street cred to me with no questions asked. Olmsted crazy; therefore, so must I be, or else I’d make the 90-minute drive to Tucson every Sunday, in order to be wet-nursed by the likes of Bishop Kickanas.

This past September, Olmsted very nearly lived up to his own press releases, when he restricted the reception of Communion under both species to priests and altar servers, couples at weddings, first communicants and their families. If your average layperson wanted the Most Precious Blood, he’d better show up for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Otherwise, he’d be taking the Body alone. Olmsted justified his decision by citing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd Edition, and on practical grounds. As the diocesan website pointed out, the new norms would “protect the Sacred Species from profanation (careless treatment, spillage, swilling, etc.).”

Not all observers approved. “Can a heart that truly desires to drink from the cup or offer the cup to the community really ever profane Christ’s blood?” Asked Jamie Manson in National Catholic Reporter.

Today, in the Arizona Republic, Michael Clancy reports that Olmsted has completely reversed himself, apologizing for “for his own misunderstanding of church documents, including new guidelines and translations for the Catholic Mass, and for any confusion arising from his previous statement made at a priests’ meeting in September.”

Clancy quotes Fr. Anthony Ruff, an expert in Mass translations, that he’s never heard of a bishop “retracting so quickly.”

I’ll be glad to start receiving the Most Precious Blood again, no question. But I also have to wonder what this volte-face will do to Olmsted’s good name. Will there be any reflected glory left for me to bask in? Bishop Olmsted is so flexible, he invented Kundalini adoration. Bishop Olmsted is so humble, he changed his name to “Bishop Instead,” explaining, “I’m just succeeding an apostle, people, nothing to fuss over.”

None of it’s sticking to my bumper.

Ah, well. The Lord giveth, etc.

  • jkm

    This is yet another place where the weird interface between our theology and our praxis raises the risk of misunderstanding. Whether you receive one Sacred Species or both, you never receive “the Body alone” or “the Most Precious Blood alone.” Christ is really present, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, even where reception from the Cup (whoops, Chalice now, or in a couple of weeks, anyway) is restricted, but people can be forgiven for missing that important point because there hasn’t been a lot of Eucharistic catechesis going on. (Mea culpa, mea culpa, my most grievous fault.) But as the GIRM (even in the new translation) notes, the sign value is most complete–and the commemoration of the institution of the Sacrament most in line with the experience of the Last Supper–when we receive both. I’m glad Bishop Olmsted performed that reversal, the spinning grace of which resembles nothing so much as a Chuck Norris top kick.

    But enough with the make-up catechesis. I’m off to kundalini Adoration.

  • Billy

    I really like what you said about Bishop Olmstead in a previous blog, something like – “Tom? He’s not so bad once you get to know him.”

    That was almost ringing in my ears when my priest asked us to give Olmstead break relative to this news.

    Love your blog and look forward to more.


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