Dress codes for sacraments


I kid you not. This story appeared on the front page of yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle:

Archbishop apologizes for giving Communion to gays dressed as nuns

Must have been a slow news day.

According to the article:

On Oct. 7, Archbishop George Niederauer delivered the Eucharist to members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - an activist group whose motto is "go forth and sin some more" - prompting cries of outrage from conservatives across the country and Catholics in San Francisco.

In response to a request for comment, Niederauer released a letter of apology addressed to "Catholics of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and to Catholics at large" in which he said he did not realize his mistake until after the Mass at Most Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro district.

"At Communion time, toward the end of the line, two strangely dressed persons came to receive Communion," Niederauer wrote. "As I recall, one of them wore a large flowered hat or garland."

A large flowered hat or garland! Oh my. What, you guys got a dress code for your sacraments?

Seriously, what was the "mistake" here? Bill May, chairman of an organization called "Catholics for the Common Good", complained that "they desecrated what is most sacred and dear to every Catholic in the world." I'm not a Catholic, so I can't speak for what is sacred and dear to them. But really--I infer that Mr. May thinks that being radically inclusive is not among the things that are most sacred and dear to every Catholic in the world. The Chronicle managed to find a theologian with a somewhat different opinion than Mr. May's on this subject:

"The general sacramental principle is that you don't deny the sacrament to someone who requests it," said the Rev. Jim Bretzke, professor of moral theology at University of San Francisco, a Jesuit Catholic university. "The second principle is that you cannot give communion to someone who has been excommunicated."

He said such people are designated "manifest public sinners" in canon law.

"This is someone who violates in a serious way one of the Ten Commandments or one of the important laws of the Church," he said. "While I can see Bill O'Reilly and others might be offended, the sisters do not meet the criteria the church has for denying Communion. Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense."

Bretzke added, "Even if these people were bizarrely dressed, the archbishop was following clear pastoral and canonical principles in giving them Communion. The default is, you give Holy Communion to one who presents himself."

"Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense". Wow, really? Who knew?

I remember attending a rather stodgy Episcopal service full of well dressed white people whose average age was probably at least fifty. In the back of the church sat a lone individual, a young woman, probably in her twenties, with multiple facial piercings, dressed in a sweatshirt, and basically sticking out like a sore thumb. She got up for communion just like everyone else did--and no one batted an eye.

As I have stated before, I disagree on principle the idea of closed communion--even the fairly liberal interpretation of it that Rev. Bretzke gives in the above quote. The pastor of a church I have been attending recently compared closed communion to inviting people to a dinner party and then telling them once they arrive that they can't eat. I agree with that analogy. I'm not a Catholic, so it isn't my place to tell Catholics how to perform their sacred rituals. They do have rules about who can and cannot participate in communion. That just isn't my thing. I believe that Jesus didn't turn anyone away at the table, and I find myself in sympathy with those who follow that example today.


Chris said...

You've missed the point entirely on this.

Do you think it would be appropriate to go to an African American church in Blackface or in a Klan get-up? What these people did was everybit as offensive.

The "sisters" were there to foul things up. You don't draw attention to yourself, but to the consecrated host. That person was not there with the intention to worship or receive the sacrament aright. And if the other person wasn't Roman Catholic, then he was being sacrilegious from the perspective of any Catholic. (And let's remember that just 90 years ago

I have a difficult time seeing how anyone who has seen video of the mass or the grotesque public sexual displays in the parades that were "blessed" by this parish can see otherwise. But as always, I'm willing to hear the case. I just know that if this were done with any other subpopulation, the victim-crowd would be out in force.

Mystical Seeker said...

First, your comparison with Blackface is simply wrong, if for no other reason than that it completely confuses who is the oppressed minority and who is the oppressor in that analogy. African Americans are a historically oppressed minority group in the US--as are gays.

Be that as it may, I have this radical idea that it shouldn't be up to those giving out communion to pass judgment on what the supposed intentions are of those who partake of communion. "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged", as someone famous once said. In fact, as one possible indication of their intentions, the Sisters sent a premature "thank you" note after that communion--and I say "premature" because it was sent before the archbishop apologized for the "mistake".

Of course, as I said, I'm not a Catholic, so my views on sacred rituals isn't the same as theirs. Catholicism often places rules on who is welcome to the table and who isn't. If in this case their intentions were pure or not, my view is that that isn't anyone's business to say. I say--let anyone participate who asks to do so. Who knows, assuming that their intentions are less than pure, maybe by being accepted into the community regardless of how they are dressed, they might just find themselves viewing the church differently. Being welcomed to the table, no matter what--what a radical concept.

Chris said...


Fortunately for you, me, and the Catholic world at large - we are not arbiters of their views on Sacraments. They've done that for themselves in a way that preserves their organization from caprice. Canon Law is not a matter of opinion - mine, yours, or theirs.

Canon 915: Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

In Roman Catholic moral teaching, sodomy is a grave moral sin because it breaks the 6th commandment. This is an a jure and latae sententiae excommunication. No one has to pronounce it in order for it to be in effect.

Similarly, the Archbishop himself was in danger of excommunication because of Canon 1378, which states that absolving those in gross violation of the 6th commandment is an automatic excommunication. Did you see him pause when he held his hand up in the absolution / benediction immediately before the host was consecrated?

Moreover, if they were "just there to worship" then they would have been there just to worship. They weren't. They were there to make a statement - and they chose the very public occasion of an archepiscopal visitation to do it. The GIRM
instructs Catholics that at the Mass they "are to shun any appearance of individualism or division." Can you honestly say that their actions reflect an intention to celebrate the Mass with this sort of reverence? Especially in light of Canon 1369?

Let's be very clear, here. The "Sisters" are all about promoting sodomy, sadomasochism, and other perversions (according to RCC Canon Law). Their charitable activities are a nice way of drawing attention away from that. But you have to be willfully blind to their aims in order to think of them as primarily about charity. Just look at their names (Sr. Anal Receptive?). And if their sodomy wasn't enough, they make it worse by usurpation and holding sacred ministries in contempt!

The fact is that they are notorious and flagrant sinners. As ABP Niederauer said, he should have denied them Communion. He's apologized because this borders on (and possibly does) desecrate the Eucharist - and there can be no graver transgression in Romanism.

I'm not a Romanist. But I hope that you can see that from a RCC perspective, what was done at MHR was much worse than just poor taste or sartorial sarcasm. It was blasphemy and irreverence. Only the Roman Church has the right (rite?) to say that it is offended. And it has said as much through the singular authoritative voice in that area - the Archbishop himself.

I'm presuming that you would ask for homosexuals and other oppressed peoples the privilege/right of defining for themselves when they are offended by someone's actions or statements. Please have the fairness to ascribe the same to the Roman Church.

Mystical Seeker said...

I have repeatedly said that I am not a Catholic and that my philosophy of communion is different from theirs.

Just as the Roman Catholic Church is free to establish whatever rules they want for their sacraments and to interpret those rules as they please, I am free to cite those same rules as an example of something I disagree with. The fact that the church has its own internal rules doesn't mean that non-Catholics can't express an opinion about them.

I have cited this brouhaha as an example of what I think is wrong with exclusiveness and intolerance--not to mention closed communion. I prefer to associate myself with Christians who don't presume to pass judgment on who can be invited to the table, and certainly not based on anyone's judgment of the "intentions" of those who choose to come to the table. It is my right to do so.

Chris said...

What do you make of Paul's warning about dishonoring the Lord in the sacrament of communion?

Mystical Seeker said...

I think Paul gave very good advice for people who choose to partake of that ritual.

What matters to me in this instance is the presumption that a church has the right to judge the intentions of those who come to the table. If I had a say, I would not choose not to judge the sincerity or intentions of people who ask to partake of communion, regardless of how "tasteless" their clothes are. In my humble view, only God should have that right. And in my humble view, Jesus was right in inviting everyone to the table.

Of course, as stated repeatedly, it is the Catholic Church's right to be as exclusive as they want. As I have pointed out, I would prefer an inclusive rather than an exclusionary community of faith.