Communing a dog

Consider not only this unspeakable sacrilege but the reason given for commiting it:

St. Peter’s Anglican Church has long been known as an open and inclusive place.

So open, it seems, they won’t turn anyone away. Not even a dog.

That’s how a blessed canine ended up receiving communion from interim priest Rev. Marguerite Rea during a morning service the last Sunday in June.

According to those in attendance at the historical church at 188 Carlton St. in downtown Toronto, it was a spontaneous gesture, one intended to make both the dog and its owner – a first timer at the church — feel welcomed. But at least one parishioner saw the act as an affront to the rules and regulations of the Anglican Church. He filed a complaint with the reverend and with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto about the incident – and has since left the church.

“I wrote back to the parishioner that it is not the policy of the Anglican Church to give communion to animals,” said Bishop Patrick Yu, the area bishop of York-Scarborough responsible for St. Peter’s, who received the complaint in early July. “I can see why people would be offended. It is a strange and shocking thing, and I have never heard of it happening before.

“I think the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming.”

via Can a dog receive communion? – thestar.com.

HT: Joe Carter

I realize that many churches do not have a high view of Holy Communion and so would not think this is a big deal. But Anglicans DO have a high view of Holy Communion! Not as high as Lutherans, but still. . . .

The sacramental imagination

A common notion in studies of Christianity and the arts  is “the sacramental imagination.”  It goes like this:  Christians with a high view of the sacraments believe that spiritual realities are mediated by means of physical things.  Christian artists with those beliefs, therefore, can easily employ images derived from the material world in order to communicate their faith.  This is also why so many Christian artists are Roman Catholics, a church whose sacramental theology encourages this kind of imagination.

That may be.  But it occurred to me–while contemplating that “Luther and the Body” article I blogged about earlier in the course of this road trip that I’m still on (driving long hours giving time for just thinking)–that Lutheran sacramental theology offers a basis for this sacramental imagination more than Roman Catholicism does.

The Roman Catholic view of Holy Communion teaches that the physical bread and wine is no longer present. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood only.  We perceive the “accidents” of bread and wine, their appearance, but the only “substance” is that of Christ.   This take on the physical material reality seems to be more that of Eastern monism–that the physical realm is an illusion–than an actual affirmation of the physical as a vehicle for the spiritual.

The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence, though, teaches that the bread and the wine, in their physicality, are still present, as is the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  (Again, don’t call this “consubstantiation,” which is the Roman Catholic attempt to explain this  teaching in terms of their own “substance” and “accidents” distinction that Lutheranism rejects.)

The mode of Christ’s presence is explained not in terms of different “substances” but in terms of “the ubiquity of Christ.”  That is, just as God is omnipresent without displacing the existence of other objects, Christ, because of His personal union of the divine and human natures, can be, in His body, present in bread and wine.   Not that He is in the Sacrament only in the sense of God being everywhere, but in a unique sacramental union in which He is present specifically through the Word of the Gospel, his body and blood being given and shed “for you.”

Now, this kind of teaching first of all is going to encourage those who believe it to think of God in Christ as being not far above the universe, looking down, as the imagination of many Christians has Him, but, rather, as being very close.  God, of course, is both transcendent and immanent, but the latter often gets minimized, which it can’t in Lutheran spirituality.

Furthermore, Lutheran theology also teaches the presence of God in vocation.  (It is God who gives us this day our daily bread through the vocation of the farmer and the baker; God milks the cows through the work of the milkmaid; God creates new life by working through mothers and fathers; vocation is a mask of God, etc., etc.)  This again encourages people to see the spiritual dimensions of the physical world.

For artists, it means that not only physical images can manifest the spiritual realm, the very act of creating–whether by paint, words, film, or whatever medium one’s vocation involves–manifests not just the presence of God but His activity, that He creates by means of human creation.

“Here, as broken, is presented”

The Banquet

by George Herbert (1633)

Welcome sweet and sacred cheer,

Welcome deare;

With me, in me, live and dwell:

For thy neatnesse passeth sight,

Thy delight

Passeth tongue to taste or tell.

O what sweetnesse from the bowl

Fills my soul,

Such as is, and makes divine!

Is some starre (fled from the sphere)

Melted there,

As we sugar melt in wine ?

Or hath sweetnesse in the bread

Made a head

To subdue the smell of sinne;

Flowers, and gummes, and powders giving

All their living,

Lest the Enemy should winne ?

Doubtlese, neither starre nor flower

Hath the power

Such a sweetnesse to impart:

Onely God, who gives perfumes,

Flesh assumes,

And with it perfumes my heart.

But as Pomanders and wood

Still are good,

Yet being bruis’d are better scented:

God, to show how farre his love

Could improve,

Here, as broken, is presented.

When I had forgot my birth,

And on earth

In delights of earth was drown’d;

God took bloud, and needs would be

Spilt with me,

And so found me on the ground.

Having rais’d me to look up,

In a cup

Sweetly he doth meet my taste.

But I still being low and short,

Farre from court,

Wine becomes a wing at last.

For with it alone I flie

To the skie:

Where I wipe mine eyes, and see

What I seek, for what I sue;

Him I view,

Who hath done so much for me

Let the wonder of his pitie

Be my dittie,

And take up my lines and life:

Hearken under pain of death,

Hands and breath;

Strive in this, and love the strife.

via George Herbert: The Banquet (1633).

The table as altar

Columnist Sally Quinn , writing about entertaining guests, tossed off a provocative comparison:

When you think about it, there is a sacred quality to the sharing of a meal. Just think of Jesus's last supper as an example. The table can be a kind of altar, with a cloth, candles, wine and bread.

This, I believe, is a valid connection. As we exercise the priesthood of all believers in vocation, we serve at different altars, where we perform sacrifices of ourselves in love and service to our neighbors. We present our bodies as living sacrifices at these altars–which may be a computer, a desk, a diaper-changing table–and they are also places where we can offer up the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. But a table is especially a kind of altar, and it is fitting to adorn special meals, such as the Thanksgiving Feast, with cloths and candles and offerings.

In a meal, we receive the benefit of life sacrificed for us so that we may live–the turkey gave its life for us; so did the vegetables on our plate–life being impossible without the sacrifice of other life. Every time we eat a meal, we experience that truth, which points to the gospel of Christ, who, in turn, gives Himself to us in a meal.


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