vrijdag 18 juli 2008

Encountering the Communion Wafer

PZ Meyers got himself into a bit of a fracas with Catholics. See here, here and a bunch of other places on his blog. Reason? PZ Meyers solicited consecrated communion wafers for him to publicly desecrate:

Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address.

Now, why would an adult, and a well-educated and intelligent one at that, want to do such a thing? When I was fifteen, I didn't even bother about winding up Catholics as they weren't nearly bothersome enough to me. Much more fun to wind up the Evangelical kids and Youth for Christ types who were attempting to "save" me. Funny how things turned out. In any event, PZ Meyers wants to respond to the issue of a University of Central Florida student who smuggled out a Communion wafer from a Catholic mass:

Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."

A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him.

"She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.

Diocese of Orlando spokeswoman Carol Brinati said she was not aware of anyone touching Cook. She released a statement Thursday: "... a Catholic Campus Ministry student representative filed a complaint with the Student Union regarding the behavior of the two young men. A Student Government Representative called Catholic Campus Ministry to apologize for this disruption."

Cook filed an official abuse complaint with UCF's student conduct court regarding the alleged physical force. Following that complaint, Brinati said church members filed their own official complaints of disruptive conduct. Punishment for either offense could result in suspension or expulsion.

"The church feels that I'm the problem here," Cook said. "The problem is actually that this is a publicly-funded religious institution. Through student government here, we fund them through an activity and service, so they're receiving student money."

Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records. He denied he is holding the Eucharist hostage to protest that support.


I'm not sure what to think of this, except that the student seems to me to be the self-important rebel-without-a-cause type, who apparently knew little of the Catholicism he supposedly wanted to teach his curious friend about.

One of the first things I learned when occasionally attending mass as a child:

You get the wafer, you put it in your mouth, chomp-chomp, down. Immediately. You don't wave it around, or crumble it to little pieces, or slowly nibble on it while sitting again on the bench. People tend to dislike that.

And if you don't want to respect that, you have no business holding that wafer or being in a Catholic Church in the first place.

So the student's explanations, based on the above article to me, smell like crap to me. Methinks he was deliberately provoking people in order to make some political point about religious funding - and regardless of the merits of his cause, I take a pretty low view of his methods (deliberately disrupting a religious ceremony). He should go back to his books, apologize, and stop being such a twit. Same goes for PZ Meyers as far as I am concerned.

This is not to say that the Catholic League is not overreacting by calling for the student's expulsion and action against Meyers on the part of his employer. The student in question may still grow up, and Meyers' competence as a researcher or teacher has little to do with his middlebrow atheism.

A nuanced take on the whole affair at Prosblogion here. Another one from another ScienceBlogger here.

I had just been reflecting a bit on the doctrine of transubstantation - the notion that, at the moment of the Eucharist, the communion bread takes on the essence of the body of Jesus Christ while all its accidents - all its material appearances - remain that of bread. Philosophically, I can't do much with a doctrine that states that an 'essence' can actualize with no change in 'accidents'.

This said, I have no issues with the doctrine either. To an extent, I can apprehend the sense behind it. Of course, the sharing of bread and wine as the body and blood of our Lord has a deeply symbolical sense, affirming the presence of Jesus Christ in the community of believers. But symbolism and literalism don't always contradict. I can very well see how literally holding that, for one indivisible moment, the bread becomes the body of Christ in a very real sense, lends an enormous poignancy and strength to the very symbol. And the believer is part of that symbol, submerging himself into it. One could perhaps argue that, paradoxically, the Eucharist is symbolical precisely by virtue of the presence of Christ in the bread and wine being real (compare my comments on Collingwood's notions of symbolism and faith here).

I'm not sure if I'm getting at anything here. It's just the vague notion that if we call the Eucharist as just a symbol or merely symbolic, we are in a way placing ourselves outside of the event in a way which obscures quite a bit of the religious import of the symbolism to us.

Atheists who har-har-har about the 'irrationality' of religious believers engaging in the Eucharist miss this point. A miraculous event is not a miraculous event in virtue of transcending the laws of nature. It's a miraculous event in virtue of being a sign - something that refers to a reality beyond itself. Criticizing it on the basis of, hey, it's just a cracker, really does not begin to apprehend what the Eucharist is about, what is actually going on in there. If you don't want to, fine. Though your ignoring a dimension to your existence that is as essential to being human as an appreciation for art, or indeed, science.

Just keep your hands off that wafer, and don't whine if you get pushed around a bit while you are essentially sabotaging a religious ceremony. You're not a paragon of rationality and Enlightenment values - you're being an uncivilized boor.

25 opmerkingen:

K T Cat zei

your hands of that wafer

should be

your hands off that wafer

right on the punchline of your post.

Good job, though. Here's my take.

Merlijn de Smit zei

Thanks for the correction (and the link)!

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