Getting his rite role all wrong

2004_08_mcgreeveyI realize that it’s a bit strange to discuss a news story from the New York Post on this here weblog. That urban tabloid isn’t exactly the kind of institution that one associates with nuanced writing about a complex news topic like religion, let alone the fine points of liturgy.

As it that weren’t enough, this particular story is about a controversial public figure, the kind of man who has endured events that inspire those famous tabloid headlines that the Post pros love so much.

So hang on. It’s time to pay another visit to Jim McGreevey, as the former governor of New Jersey continues in his quest to become an Episcopal priest.

Here’s the top of the short Post report Angela Montefinise:

“Gay American” Jim McGreevey is spending his Sunday mornings with a new man — Jesus.

The former New Jersey love gov has gone from Turnpike rest stops to the church rostrum as part of his training to become an Episcopal priest, working each weekend at All Saints Church in Hoboken.

That’s a lede that readers are either going to love or hate. Just skip over that, please. Instead, note that McGreevey is still training to become a priest. There is no indication that he has been ordained, even as a deacon. But it is precisely at this point that the story goes off the rails.

This isn’t a matter of Associated Press style or anything. It’s a matter of journalists not knowing what’s going on in a scene that is part of a news story.

McGreevey — who resigned from office in disgrace in 2004 — isn’t far enough along in his seminary studies to actually give sermons, but he assists the Rev. Geoffrey Curtiss at three Masses on Sunday and participates in parish programs, donation drives and activities.

During services last week, McGreevey, wearing a white robe, carried the cross during the processional, helped Curtiss bless the Eucharist and helped baptize a group of babies and young children.

Did you catch the problematic word? That would be “bless,” as in, “McGreevey … helped Curtiss bless the Eucharist.”

It would be accurate to say that he helped “during” the Eucharist, describing what he did as an acolyte after his role as the crucifer in the procession. Based on the descriptive material, that appears to have been his role in the service — not that different from the role that a senior altar boy or girl would have played in an Episcopal Church liturgy.

But “blessing” the Eucharist, which would have meant serving as a concelebrant in the Mass? How could he have done that? If, in fact, someone who has not been ordained as a priest did that, then the New York Post missed a very interesting story.

Otherwise, the newspaper simply needs to run a correction. Somebody got the rite wrong.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    t-there are such differences in the Episcopal Church from high church to low church, from evangelical leaning to ritual leaning, from Catholic embracing to Protestant enthusing, etc.,etc.—how can any reporter get straight the proper terminology –maybe this particular parish is so “low” church the Post’s words apply.

  • Richard T. Nolan

    It is not clear whether McGreevey has been accepted by a bishop as “in process” toward ordination or whether he’s simply a candidate for the basic divinity degree. The latter does not imply the former.

  • Elizabeth Evans

    To me, this one falls into the “it’s so bad its good” category, almost like an awful country music song. I’ve never heard, in any part of the Episcopal Church, stewardship called a “donation drive.”

  • Jason

    Related to Deacon John’s comment, who the heck knows what was going on at that particular parish? I could easily see an Episcopalian priest–esp. in the “low” church tradition saying, “Aw heck, you are close enough, say these words with me. We’re all part of the priesthood of believers.” Or some such thing.

    Far more interesting is the comment about going “from Turnpike rest stops to the church rostrum.” Surely the reporter doesn’t mean to imply that the location is different but the activities are the same?

    Bad like a country song indeed.

  • Jeremy Lott

    >I realize that it’s a bit strange to discuss a news story >from the New York Post on this here weblog. That urban >tabloid isn’t exactly the kind of institution that one >associates with nuanced writing about a complex news topic >like religion, let alone the fine points of liturgy.

    Don’t be such a snob, Terry.