Denying Communion to a lesbian

This story marshalled so much outrage that it made the front page of the Washington Post:

Deep in grief, Barbara Johnson stood first in the line for Communion at her mother’s funeral Saturday morning. But the priest in front of her immediately made it clear that she would not receive the sacramental bread and wine.

Johnson, an art-studio owner from the District, had come to St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg with her lesbian partner. The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

“He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

“You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me,” she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo. “I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

Late Tuesday, Johnson received a letter of apology from the Rev. Barry Knestout, one of the archdiocese’s highest-ranking administrators, who said the lack of “kindness” she and her family received “is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.” . . .

Johnson called the letter “comforting” and said she greatly appreciates the apology. But, she added, “I will not be satisfied” until Guarnizo is removed.

via D.C. archdiocese: Denying Communion to lesbian at funeral was against ‘policy’ – The Washington Post.

So church discipline is now the business of the news media, the public, and people who do not belong to the church.   I wonder if the person who was denied communion could sue for having her rights violated.

Having said that, the incident seems to bring up some differences between the Roman Catholic use of the Sacrament and that of, for instance, Lutherans.  (I’d like to hear from Reformed, Baptist, Orthodox, and other traditions about how they would handle this.)

For Catholics, one should be free from sin–confessed, absolved, penance performed–before receiving the Sacrament.  Lutherans, in contrast, see the Sacrament as being specifically for sinners.  To receive the Sacrament unworthily is to receive it without faith (Small Catechism vi).

And yet, I’m not sure how this is handled pastorally.  Perhaps someone living in open and unrepentant sin is likely not in a state of faith.  On the other hand, perhaps she has repented.  If she confessed her sin in the rite of confession and she was absolved, hasn’t she, in fact, been objectively forgiven?  Lutheran pastors, how would you have dealt with this woman?  Again, I’d like to hear from pastors of other traditions also.  (For those of you who think communion is only symbolic, would this not be an issue at all since it doesn’t really matter?)

For this discussion, please do me a favor:  Please leave out complaints about Lutheran churches that practice closed communion!  (“You’d commune that lesbian, but not me because I’m a Methodist!”)  We have had that discussion.  Your complaint is registered.  Let’s stick to the issues raised in this story.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Lutheran pastor attacks Lutheran view of Lord’s Supper

An article on the Christian Post website and picked up by RealClearReligion is an in-your-face attack on the Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper.  The thing is, the author,  Dan Delzell, is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.

The church website says that it rejects membership in any synods, as being hierarchical like Roman Catholics, but it is affiliated with the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), which broke away from the ELCA for being too liberal.  The LCMC says it holds to the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism, both of which have clear teaching on the Lord’s Supper.

Here is Rev. Delzell’s article:  The Lord’s Supper Helps Christians ‘Keep it Real’, Christian News.

It is so full of misunderstandings and theological bloopers that one does not know where to begin.  I know, of course, that other theological traditions reject the Lutheran understanding of Christ’s real bodily presence in the Supper (not “consubstantiation”!) so that the bread and wine are the true body and blood of our Savior given for the forgiveness of sin.  I don’t, however, expect a Lutheran pastor to reject this teaching or to misunderstand it in such a spectacular way.  In what sense, I wonder, can he still consider himself a Lutheran?

How would you answer what he says, setting the record straight for the readers of the Christian Post?

Eating for death vs. eating for life

Our church was not one of the 10% of American churches that cancelled Sunday services on Christmas day, I’m happy to say.  We had a wonderful service.  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon was on the “great reversal” of the Fall of Adam and Eve that God worked through the gift of His Son.  Especially striking was something that I had never thought about:  Our fall took place when mankind ate the fruit of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.  So the reversal of this curse also involves eating.  We eat the fruit of the Tree of Life; namely, the body and blood of Christ crucified.

The Word who became flesh is flesh still and comes to you, for you, in that same body and blood today on this altar. And that final, dreadful part of the sentence once spoken to Adam has been reversed – and now the fruit of the Tree of Life is ours again! And so while Adam ate and died, for you and me it has been proclaimed: the day you eat of this, you shall surely live! This is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. And we feast upon the Lamb of God. The flesh and blood of our Lord is truly the first – and best – Christmas gift.

And so the darkness of our sin is enlightened by His glory. The glory of the Creator dying for his creatures. The glory of the strong become weak. The glory of God in the manger. The glory of Jesus. The glory of the Word made flesh. The glory of God who gives Himself to us. Is this not a marvel?

But perhaps there’s even one more marvel for us this happy morning . . . that your Saviour didn’t just redeem you from your sin that you may serve God as a slave, or be an indentured servant, or to be on parole to see if you’ll live up to it – the Son of God came to make you a son of God. A full son! With all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto! For that’s what His forgiveness does. It doesn’t just restore part of the way, but all of the way. . . .

Today, marvel at that. Rejoice with the angels. Kneel with the shepherds. And take the body and blood of Jesus not in your arms, like Mary, but in your mouth, and depart in peace. Your sins are forgiven, dear child of God; your exodus complete.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Christmas Day Sermon.

Keep the “mass” in Christmas

Last time Christmas fell on Sunday it came out that a number of churches had decided to cancel services, which provoked some controversy.  I haven’t heard of churches doing that this year, whether because they have all come to their senses or because it has become no big deal.  (Does anyone know of churches that have cancelled Sunday services?)

The reason given was that if people don’t have to go to church they can spend more time with their families, and Christmas, after all, is a family holiday.  Do realize that this way of thinking secularizes Christmas just as much as crass commercialism.   Christmas is about Christ.  Specifically, it is about worshiping Christ and receiving Him sacramentally–hence the “mass” in “Christ+mass.”

So I urge you to go to church on Christmas.  Traditionally, this was the day that even casual Christians–a.k.a. “Christmas and Easter Christians”–would go to church, some of whom could be reached.  So more serious Christians certainly should go, if at all possible, whether Christmas falls on a Sunday or not.  Christmas Eve services count, since holy days technically begin after sunset of the day before, but I also urge you to receive Holy Communion if you can, the sacrament being traditionally offered on that day even in traditions that don’t celebrate it often.

The whole point, however you conceive this happening, is to not only celebrate the gift of Christ, but to receive the gift of Christ.   You don’t just celebrate the fact that people gave you presents.  You open them.

Some Catholics will be denied the Cup

A huge issue during the Reformation was the right of the laity to receive Holy Communion in “both kinds”; that is, to receive both the bread (Christ’s body) and the wine (Christ’s blood).  The practice of Roman Catholicism up until Vatican II in the 1960s was for the laity to only receive the bread.  Clergy were the only ones allowed to receive the wine.

I never understood the rationale for that.  People, such as John Hus, were burned at the stake for insisting on both kinds.  And now at least some dioceses (specifically in the United States, Phoenix and Madison) are going back to the practice of denying the cup to laypeople, except on certain special occasions:

While Catholics across the United States are getting their tongues around the new translations of the Mass, Catholics in two U.S. dioceses will also be taste-testing another change: regular communion from the cup will be disappearing.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s new directives for communion from the cup, according to the diocesan website, will allow the assembly to receive the blood of Christ “at the Chrism Mass and feast of Corpus Christi. Additionally it may be offered to a Catholic couple at their wedding Mass, to first communicants and their family members, confirmation candidates and their sponsors, as well as deacons, non-concelebrating priests, servers, and seminarians at any Mass,” along with religious in their houses and retreatants. Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin made a similar decision.

The effect of the change, intended or not, is that the blood of Christ will separate some members of the assembly from others, notably priests and deacons (whether they are functioning in their liturgical roles or not), and seminarians and servers.

A close reading of the Phoenix rationale for the decision quickly makes clear a primary purpose: to eliminate extraordinary (lay) ministers of the Eucharist, because too many of them result in “obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers.”

This fear of “disproportionately multiplying” communion ministers is then applied to the feast of Corpus Christi, one of the few times communion under both species will be permitted. In that instance if a parish is lacking enough “ordinary ministers,” “it is common sense that [the pastor] would not be able to judge the necessary conditions as met,” because he would need a “disproportionate” number of lay ministers to distribute the blood of Christ. In other words, no cup—even on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—all for the sake of reinforcing the distinct (and obvious) roles of the ordained.

The diocesan reasoning invokes the 2005 expiration of a Vatican permission granted in 1975 that allowed wide use of the cup but disregards the more general liturgical law that allows the diocesan bishop to make the cup widely available. The diocese even bizarrely argues that communion under the form of bread alone is a greater sign of Catholic unity because most Catholics in the world don’t get to receive from the cup. Because the faithful of the rest of the world are robbed of the fullness of the eucharistic symbol, the reasoning goes, Catholics of the Diocese of Phoenix should be, too.

via You’re cut off: No more cup for the people. | USCatholic.org.

Could some of you Catholics explain why the laity–not just in these two dioceses but apparently in other places in the world– would be denied the cup? I know about the priest/layperson distinction, but what is the rationale for manifesting that in this particular way?

UPDATE:  Thanks to Jonathan for alerting us that the Bishop of Phoenix has reversed his decision.

The Black Rubric

I’ve been studying Anglicanism lately.  But then I’ve run up against the Black Rubric, so-called because it was printed in bold type in the Book of Common Prayer.  It enjoins kneeling while receiving the Sacrament, but goes on to deny explicitly any kind of real, bodily presence of Christ in the elements:

“Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.”

via Black Rubric – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Now I know that many Anglicans do believe in the Real Presence, with some sounding almost Lutheran in their affirmations.  Indeed, some are Anglo-Catholics with a very high view of the sacraments.  I’m curious how those folks handle the Black Rubric.

According to the article, this has come in and out of various editions of the Book of Common Prayer.  (Puritans insisted on it and would go up in arms when it was omitted.)  It isn’t in the 2000 edition used in America today, though it remains in the British prayer book.  It is apparently in the 1926 Book of Common Prayer, the one favored by many conservatives and Anglo-Catholics today.

I realize that this is what I read in a Reformed Episcopal service I once attended, with my hosts seemingly a little hurt that I, as a Lutheran, would not commune with them.  But the liturgy explicitly repudiated my beliefs about the Sacrament as idolatry!  This may also explain to Anglicans who are hurt by the confessional Lutheran practice of closed communion why Lutheran pastors can not assume that Anglicans have the same view of the Christ’s presence in His Supper that they do. And why Lutheran theologians tend to categorize Anglicans as another variety of Calvinists.  Indeed, the Black Rubric seems to be a textbook definition of Calvinist sacramental theology (what with the statement that Christ’s body is in Heaven, “and not here”), which is why the Puritans made such a point of it.

And yet I’m sure this isn’t the whole story.  Someone help me out with this.

HT:  Adam


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