My column at First Things this week looks at the story of Father Augustin Escobar, the California priest who recently had his priestly faculties suspended for concelebrating Mass with a Presbyterian minister. As few details had yet emerged as I was writing, I stuck to the question of closed communion
There exists an odd double-standard concerning Catholic observances and almost any other ritual. Culturally nuanced and sensitive Americans would never presume to attend a Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or even Orthodox Christian celebration with an expectation of full participation, but when Catholics ask the same respect for their holiest sacrament, they are criticized for being unreasonable and “exclusionary,” and always there is a whiff of that dreaded word “intolerance.” Other cultures and religions are to be allowed their exclusivities with full respect, but Catholics who base their beliefs on Jesus’ own words, and on reasoned theology and philosophy, tradition and supporting scripture, ought not expect the same courtesy.
And then there’s courtesy. Holy Communion is a great mystery of ponderous depth. People like to call it “a meal” and “a banquet,” and if it were only that, there would still be rules about reception. One does not go into a neighbor’s house, open the fridge, and gobble down the food that has been prepared for a family event, with a careless, “What, it’s for everyone, right?”
This morning Deacon Greg notes that Father Escobar has written what appears to be a very heartfully-felt apology to his parishioners and his brother priests:
“Although the great hope for all Christians is that we shall be one body as Jesus has asked us to be, we are not there at this time and it was not my place to take actions which only the leadership of the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches can sanction at such time as they agree to do so. I promise to do all I can to make amends for my actions and I am willing to be obedient to Bishop Brown in whatever recourse he or those at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judge to be appropriate for me.”
“I hope one day to be allowed to serve as a priest again, which I will certainly do with a great deal more humility since I see the confusion and anger my actions have caused,” Fr. Escobar’s letter concluded. “I beg all of you to forgive me.”
Read further down and you will note that the people of St. Norbert’s parish seem very inclined to do that. I pray this incident only makes the whole parish, and Fr. Escobar’s fervor for his priesthood, even stronger.
And since we’re speaking of the Holy Eucharist, here, this might be a good time to read chapter one of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, by Brant Pitre.
My interview with Pitre is here
Max Lindenman on Eucharistic Adoration