Holy Eucharist, Humility and Flannery O

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

Reviews by Julie Davis, Rick Rice, Simcha Fisher, J. Carl Gregg (taking the Protestant view)

Related:
Max Lindenman on Eucharistic Adoration

“A parish on fire!”

Heather King: Speaking of Flannery O’ Connor
(which I sort of was…)

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett T

    I’ll echo some of these thoughts from my place on the “imperfect” wing of the communion ;-) I’ve attended Mass often enough that, were I to enter a parish where the priest did not know me, I would have no difficulty “passing” as a communicant. And as a United Methodist, I follow the teaching of John Wesley, who supposed that God might act in what he called the Lord’s Supper in such a way as to reach out to people who did not even know what they were doing. So I preach, believe in and practice open communion.

    But what a disrespectful guest I would be were I to insist that my hosts (non-Eucharistic sense) violate their own consciences and offer me the Host even though it is not permitted to do so according to their understanding, or to take that Host by subterfuge. An act like that would not be true communion by most definitions. After all, it’s difficult to be in communion with someone if I’m deliberately misrepresenting who I am ;-)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    The question is this:

    If you don’t believe in the eucharist, why does it matter to you whether you participate in communion, or not?

    If you do believe in the eucharist, why aren’t you willing to make the necessary preparations in order to receive it?

    The Orthodox Church I belong to is strictly closed communion (members only), and requires monthly confession, and the old only-water-after-midnight fast, in order to receive communion.

  • Mandy P.

    I downloaded Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist to my iPad the day you wrote about it and love it! I’d mentally assented to Church teaching about the Eucharist when I decided to convert. But now being able to see for myself just how biblical his Real Presence is, I am completely convinced and cannot wait until I’m confirmed so that I can partake.

    It really is a fatastic book and I’m very glad you recommended it.

  • karen

    Hi Anchoress!!!

    Since you are talking Holy Eucharist here- i have a question on what i feel is a dilemma in our Parish.

    My youngest of four is making her 1st Communion this year and our DRE has it scheduled for April 10th. I feel pretty sad over this as it breaks w/the tradition of a May date and being in the Easter season. The readings of that Sunday are pertaining to death and raising Lazarus from the dead- not exactly what i would call appropriate, but i am just a layperson- God is in all the readings, i know.

    I called the DRE- she said to talk to the Priest. I called the Priest- he said that he was sure that the parents had all been asked if the date was ok- so why change it if all were ok with it except for one family? Except that– we are one of two families that ~Keep Holy the Sabbath~ out of all the 10 making their 1st Communion. I doubt that the others even feel any reticence about the date- or care that Lent is a time of reflection and ashes- as i feel, and not one of white dresses, lace veils and satin shoes.

    I expressed these feelings and was disregarded. This is the Parish i grew up in, made all my Sacraments in along with my husband and we are extremely active as i sing in the choir, our children serve on the altar and we never miss a Sunday. I don’t get it. I searched the USCCB website and from what i gather- it’s recommended to receive from the 2nd to the 6th Sundays after Easter or any other Sunday in Ordinary time. It didn’t say- NO, no Lenten 1st Communion allowed, but i got the impression it wasn’t brought up specifically because- who would do such a thing?

    Am i wrong? Should i not buck the system? I was told we could do her 1st Communion on her own at any time we wished and i was thinking May 1st- as the Communicants are re-gathering in their Communion finest to crown Mary- i figured she could blend in and quietly make her Communion on a glorious day of beauty and Easter awesomeness as opposed to the dark of Lent.

    I’m sad, so if i’m wrong of heart, break it to me gently, ‘k? I’m mostly just sad for my little country Parish that seems to not want to listen- and the Priest not lead. The DRE? She’s my husband’s Aunt. “Nuff said on that :).

    Thank you for letting me get it all out there, A.
    ~love k

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    One has to wonder about Fr. Escobar’s knowledge of Catholic doctrine. Even a sort of amateur lay person like me knows that a member of a church not in Communion with the Catholic church cannot receive holy communion. That’s what it means to be “in communion.” Do priests have the proper education for their position? Are Catholic seminary schools on the ball, or what?

  • Manny

    I downloaded it to my Kindle too. I’m only a quarter of the way through (I’m a slow reader) it is an excellent book. Highly recommend it. :)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Karen, don’t take it so hard.

    In the antiochian Orthodox Church, the weekend of “Lazarus Sunday”, falling shortly before Holy Week, is the traditional one for bringing converts into the church, and celebrating their first communion. They’d be shocked if you told them this day, and the gospel of Lazarus, are somehow inappropriate. They see it as signalling new life for the soul, re-born into Christ. If you decide to go along with the April 10th date, you can tell yourself that this is time actually is THE first communion tradition for many Christians.

    White shoes, lace veils and the like all nice, but they’re relatively modern traditions, not ancient ones. (White clothing, for both kids and adults, does seem traditional.)

    Since you can have her make her first communion any time, you can always aim for the May 1st date instead, if you prefer that. And, honestly, it’s probably better not to make a big deal out of this.

  • karen

    Thank you, Rhinestone!

    I’m still not sure what all i’ll do. I’m not a boat-rocker, but a good friend of mine sees anything done w/out express approval by the Bishop or the USCCB- as not giving 1st fruits to the Lord and somehow dishonouring Him, even if that’s not the intention.

    Personally, i’ve never know Communion to take place at this time, so thank you for the inclusion to our History. I’ll have to think hard on this one. Being in this position is foreign to me- i’m a good sheep.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Don’t worry about your friend, and don’t be too concerned with the bishop’s approval. This is your decision, not theirs.

    The Lazarus Sunday tradition is a very old one, as I said; if you go with April, you’ll know there are many Orthodox Christians who consider this quite appropriate. If you go with May, well, that’s fine too. Whatever you do, I wouldn’t make too big a deal out of it.

  • Kathleen

    I have always followed the letter of the law to refrain from communion at Catholic churches since I was baptized in the protestant tradition but it was that taking the Bible literally that convinced me that Jesus meant what He said,”this is my Body… This is my Blood…” So if I believe in the Real Presence as baptized Christian, why would it be wrong for me join my Catholic friends at Mass? Family obligations keep me at my Disciple of Christ church where I’m glad we celebrate open communion for all who believe in Christ.


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