Friday, July 10, 2009

The Holy Communion, Stephen Harper and the Hullabaloo

_Cartoon Courtesy: National Post (July 9, 2009)

The headlines in some Canadian newspapers of July 9 were:

"The faux pas, the spin and the holy host" -- The Toronto Star

"Harper consumed communion host, spokesman says" -- The Globe and Mail

"Did Harper Pocket Wafer? PMO Says No" -- National Post

"Harper ate Catholic host, aide says" -- The Toronto Sun

All this hullabaloo is about whether Canada's Evangelical Protestant Prime Minister Stephen Harper, given holy communion in hand in a Catholic funeral Mass, consumed it or put it in his pocket.

It was July 3, Friday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to Memramcook in New Brunswick, for attending the funeral service of the former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc in a Roman Catholic church. During communion service, Archbishop Andre Richard of Moncton came to the front bench to give communion to the notables present there. At the time, Stephen Harper reached out to take the host in his right hand and the Archbishop gave him one. A video footage shows him receiving the communion in right hand but fails to show what he did with it.

Since the Prime Minister did not place the communion in his mouth immediately after taking it from the archbishop, all kinds of speculations began to circulate about what he did with it. Someone said that, instead of placing it in his mouth, he put it in his pocket. Some Catholics took offense at this and began to express their dissatisfaction at the Prime Minister. After this event, the Prime Minister flew to Italy for the G-8 (Group of Eight) summit and was not available for immediate comment on the allegation.

Vicar general and chancellor Monsignor Brian Henneberry of the Diocese of St. John, New Brunswick, told the local Telegraph-Journal: "It's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from Catholic point of view."

The Prime Minister's press secretary Dimitri Soudas said that "it's totally absurd" to think Prime Minister pocketed the wafer. "The Priest offered the host to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister accepted the host and he consumed it."

The Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella, who is a Catholic, said in a statement: "I would like to state that I personally witnessed Prime Minister Harper consume the host that was given him by Archhishop Andre Richard. Sitting only a few seats behind him, I had a full view of the proceedings and clearly saw the Prime Minister accept the host after Archbishop Richard offered it. The Prime Minister consumed it," reports The Toronto Star.

Archbishop Andre Richard in a telephone interview on May 9 said that it is considered "sacrilegious" for non-believers to take part in the rite, but only if it is done to disrespect. "In the context, it's obvious that no disrespect was meant. I'm quite sure," reports the "I'm sure he [Harper] didn't mean any desecration or nothing of the sort. Somehow, the gesture was misunderstood. I think he should have been briefed by the protocol of what has to be done in a Catholic ceremony," he said.

The Prime Minister, after attending the G-8 summit, is supposed to meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on July 11.

The Mass and Holy Communion: A Very Serious Matter

In the Catholic Church, it is taught that the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ himself in the Last Supper to unite us to himself and to prove his love for us. He also did it to increase grace in our soul and to give us pledge of eternal life and of a glorious resurrection.

In the Last Supper he said to his disciples present: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and as I live through the Father, so he who eats me, he also shall live through me." (John 6:57-58). He also said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day," (John 6:55).

The holy eucharist is the communion, host, or white round wafer that is consecrated by the priest during the Mass. According to the teaching of the Church and strong belief of the Catholics, this consecrated eucharist or communion turns into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That means, Jesus Christ is really present in the eucharist. That is why the eucharist or communion is considered as the holiest of the holies. So, when a Catholic receives the communion, Christ comes to his or her soul and he or she unites with Christ.
This may sound absurd to a non-Catholic person, but that is what a Catholic believes and practises.

The priest, who consecrates the host or communion in the Mass, must be in a state of grace or holiness and have the right intention. If a priest is in a state of sin, his consecration of the eucharist will be valid, but he himself will commit another sin by unworthily doing the consecration. If a priest is in a state of mortal or serious sin (e.g. embezzling or squandering away a large amount of money, pedophilia, sexual relations with an adult -- male or female etc.), he commits another mortal sin every time he says Mass and consecrates the eucharist.

The same is true of the person who receives holy communion from any priest. The communicant (receiver of the communion) must also be in a state of grace during the reception of the eucharist. Otherwise, he or she commits another sin by receiving communion unworthily.

The Catholic Church also has the Sacrament of Penance or Confession -- presently called the Sacrament of Reconciliation -- to get remission of one's sin. To be worthy to be in a state of grace, the priest as well as any other Catholic can take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Differences Between Catholics and Protestants

Although Catholics and Protestants are Christians, there are certian glaring differences between them regarding religious beliefs and practices. The eucharist or communion is one of them.

The Communion Incident with the Prime Minister: Being Too Much Judgmental Is Dangerous

The communion incident got so much publicity because certain Catholics, including some priests, got offended at the "sacrilege" or "desecration" of the holy eucharist and lodged complaints and passed judgmental opinions. I think that this was too premature before hearing from Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.

The judgmental opinion is uncalled for because the matter needs to be looked into from different angles -- the angle of Archbishop Andre Richard, the angle of Stephen Harper, the angle of the person who "saw" him pocketing the holy communion, and the angle of the persons who saw him "consuming the communion."

Archbishop Andre Richard himself went to the front bench to distribute communion. He knew who Stephen Harper was. Why did he give the communion to the Prime Minister who is a Protestant and who does not have the same belief and practices regarding the holy communion?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not go to Archbishop Richard to receive the communion. He, being an evangelical Christian, perhaps took time in consuming the communion. Since he does not look at the communion at the same level as the Catholics, what can we do if he did not behave like the Catholics?

The person, who saw the Prime Minister to pocket the communion, might have been biased and upset already because holy communion was give to a Protestant. This person should have been upset with Archbishop Richard and not the Prime Minister.

Among those, who saw Prime Minister to consume the communion, was Senator Noel Kinsella, who is also a Catholic. Is he telling a lie?

Let's See What Jesus Did

The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They mentioned that Moses had given the law to stone such persons to death. They asked Jesus' opinion about it. Jesus told them that the person, who is sinless, should stone the woman first. At this the Scribes and Pharisees one by one left the place. Jesus asked the woman whether the men condemned her. When she said that no one did, then Jesus said: "Neither do I condemn you; go, do not sin again." (John 8: 3-11)

In another instance, Jesus also said: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged...Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7: 1-3)

We should learn from Jesus about being judgmental about others.

If a Catholic priest offers Mass and consecrates the host most unworthily and if a Catholic receives holy communion most unworthily, it is much more sacrilegious, desecrating and scandalous than a non-Catholic receiving holy communion. We should be very careful in jumping into the bandwagon of judging (finding faults with) others so easily.

Learn from Bangladesh Catholic Church

The Canadian Catholic Church may learn something on this matter from the Bangladesh Catholic Church. In Bangladesh, when non-Catholics (Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists) are invited or are present in a Catholic Mass (e.g. during the visit of Pope John Paul II in November, 1986; funeral of a bishop or priest; wedding and the like), a priest, just before the distribution of the holy communion, announces publicly that only the Catholics can receive the host.

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