In Both Kinds?

Aspects of a sacrament that are not required for validity can still be important.

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Petal-art for Corpus et Sanguis Christi beside an outdoor altar.

Suppose a priest in a High Anglican or Roman Catholic* Church turned up one hot Sunday morning in the summer in a swimming costume and started to celebrate High Mass.

To the protests of the laity, and probably diocese, suppose this priest was to respond “it doesn’t matter, the Sacrament is still valid.”

I doubt most people would feel this was a good and sufficient argument…

 

Yet exactly that argument is used to justify the denial of Communion in both kinds, either on an everyday basis, or in regarding it as something without significant value, which it is not worth bothering with when inconvenient. I am entirely with those that feel vestments and ceremony are part of the proper celebration of the Eucharist under normal conditions. I don’t think priests should celebrate the Eucharist wearing swimming costumes, or indeed, wearing ordinary clothes, without some very good reason for it.

However, vestments are part of the tradition the church has developed for the appropriate presentation and dignity of the Eucharist, while the reception of the bread and the cup are part of the original institution: it is reasonable to argue that traditions such as vestments should be considered much less important**, than reception in both kinds. And this does not currently seem to be the case.

This may be one of the issues in which someone who has studied Christian philosophy naturally has a rather different perspective from those who come to it from theology. Validity is important, but it is properly a baseline and not a ceiling from the logical point of view. Validity is a minimum. It isn’t a be-all and end-all of what we are doing – and, as I’m pointing out with the “priest-in-swimming-costume” example, we don’t use the same argument of “not necessary for validity” as a reason not to do any other element of what we normally do. For only the priest to receive the cup – or to celebrate not dressed – in a labour camp in Siberia is all very well. But what is permissible in truly exceptional circumstances doesn’t usually serve as a good guide for everyday practice. The Sacraments are not mechanical rites, to be reduced to their minimum essential elements for fairly minor reasons, but rather things to be celebrated and received with as much fullness as possible, as part of what God has given us.

I would emphasise that I do not judge anyone’s individual spirituality, or relationship with God in the Sacrament, or personal medical needs. To receive in one kind through individual choice is different from the corporate decision to offer Communion only in one kind.

However, I would suggest that those of us to whom reception in both kinds matters devotionally and spiritually, should celebrate valuing the reception of the Chalice, rather than being ashamed of caring about it. The Cup is Christ’s gift to us too, and it is good to value his gifts, according to his way of choosing to work with us.

It does at least not logically follow that because something is not necessary for the validity of a Sacrament it is not significant and important.

Cherry Foster

 

*I am not a Roman Catholic, but I think there is enough shared ground here to have a sensible academic argument on the issue!

** I.e. laid aside with a far lower threshold of reasons to do differently. (For those familiar with the language: what I am saying is that I think it would make more sense to be prepared to lay aside vestments for just cause, but to require a serious reason not to offer Communion in both kinds, than the other way around).

N.B. Lest there be any confusion, I am among the Anglicans who fully endorse the Real Presence, but reject literal Transubstantiation (or any other attempt to reduce the Real Presence to a precise human theory) as trying to reduce the mystery to a bit of human thinking, though I happily regard most of the theories as useful but limited imagery to help us enter into the mystery.

 

Asking Unaskable Questions

You volunteer as a Cathedral guide, and are standing about without very much to do. A fellow guide comes over. “Two – women – want a tour. I have to wait for the coach party at 2. Can you take them round?”

You haven’t anything else booked and there’s someone to mind the leaflet stand. “Yes”. You walk over.

The two – women – consist of a younger woman, who could in point of fact be anywhere between twelve and forty, wearing a plain green hoodie and denim skirt, sitting in an electric wheelchair with her head on a rest, faltering out highly distorted speech. With her is an older woman, with greying hair and a stylish umbrella.

This could be anything from a student who has just graduated from Cambridge, out for the day with her paid carer, to a mother with her daughter who has a permanent mental age of six. At first glance, there is no way of telling. Yet the appropriate response and appropriate tour is completely different.

I’ve been on all three sides of this: I’ve been the visibly disabled person (most common), the volunteer who has to work out how to respond, and the (perceived) carer who is liable to be treated as a machine and ignored, rather than included as a friend or relative (which was the actual truth). There are real difficulties to all three positions.

The step of dropping the blanket assumption that someone with a physical disability is necessarily mentally impaired is beginning in the UK (I think we should be careful of assuming we are the first culture or society to make that step, lest we be justly accused of arrogance).

Unfortunately, I speak advisedly when I say “beginning” – “does he take sugar” is very far from being played out. It can be seen in many things, from the typical legal warnings about the use of products (which assume disabled people lack agency and automatically aren’t responsible for their own safety) to the social tendency to ignore a disabled person’s insistence that they are able to do some ordinary activity, but to instantly believe anyone with them.

However, it isn’t enough to say what people shouldn’t assume, without offering some different norm that they can use instead.  There is a real problem of communication and etiquette. How can we tell? How can we communicate what the appropriate response is in such situations? How do we start a conversation without doing something wrong or being hopelessly awkward or embarrassed? How do we as volunteers/service personnel ask what is wanted, or give the other person the opportunity to tell us? How do we as disabled people politely indicate the other person is getting it wrong and needs to switch modes or change what they are doing?

 

Cherry Foster

Looking like a mother?

I am in general exceedingly reluctant to make statements about God’s judgement, between our inability to know the state of someone else’s soul and their real intentions, the fact that the mind of God is not the mind of man, and the injunctions against the usurping of the judgement of God in the New Testament.

However, allowing for all these caveats, in as far as things can be said on this matter by mere mortals, taking into account both the letter and tenor of Scripture and such elements of the Tradition with which I am familiar, I think I can say with reasonable confidence, and without too much fear of contradiction, that no-one will be held to account at the last judgement, for the inherent action of taking their toddler to a group at the library without their make-up on!

School Library Wikamedia commons no copyright
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The ongoing emphasis on the appearance and presentation of women in our culture is strange.  In some ways we seem not to have shaken off the notion that a woman has nothing to offer humanity but being pretty or sexy, and that any other task or role in life isn’t really important compared to that*. Somehow, a frivolous view of femininity – of womanliness as nothing more than girly frills and exposed cleavage – still seems to have a surprising hold.

I don’t think it is a sin in and of itself to put make-up on. I am not criticising in any way the mother who leaves her children sometimes with her husband, their granny, or a competent babysitter, and takes appropriate time off to dress up and go to a party. It is part of the basic duties of some jobs to meet a certain standard of personal presentation and that is in a different category altogether. Nor would I in any way think anyone should criticise a mother who goes out immaculately presented due to her baby not needing extra attention that morning, or because she happens to find these things easy and doesn’t need much time or energy for them.

However, if a woman has gone out to a toddler group with her hair not done or her make-up not on, because baby was fractious this morning, or because her husband had had a bad night and was expecting a difficult day and she took the time to make lunch for him, or because the toddler went crash down the bottom three stairs and needed a lot of kissing better, this should not be a matter for sneering. On the contrary, those who put care for other people** before their personal appearance have their priorities right.

 

417px-MAC_pink_lipstick_(1) wikimedia commons, copyright to attribution
Source: Wikimedia commons

 

 

*I have no idea if or how similar attitudes affect men – I would be very interested to hear!

**In proportion – i.e. with a certain attention to equality of sacrifice when the relationships are between adults. If the husband is working a twelve-hour day six days a week, and the wife has a servant to help her, there probably is no inequality in her fetching his slippers when he is at home. But when the husband is working an eight-hour day five days and the woman can no longer get help, things may be starting to get skewed.

It seems to me that a tendency to run to extremes – to create either situations where the carer is regarded as selfish to have ordinary human needs of their own, or situations where a person is positively supposed to put their trivial desires before anything else – is one of the problems we tend to have as a society in creating and maintaining healthy serving and caring roles.

 

Cherry Foster