An old Catholic priest retired after serving his small town parish for many years. He was replaced by a younger man who was very eager to make his mark as a new generation of clergy. But after one month the novice cleric could sense that something was not right, so he called a longtime member of the congregation and inquired as to what was wrong. The senior told him it was the way he was doing communion. The priest couldn’t understand for as far as he knew he was doing everything according to the book. But the elder informed the cleric he was leaving something out – that the previous priest, just before passing the cup to the people, walked over and touched the radiator. The youthful father was at a loss, for he’d never heard of such a practice in all of his seminary training; so he called the retired priest who then explained the reason behind the unusual procedure, “I go over and touch the radiator to discharge the static electricity so not to give anyone a shock when I hand them the metal cup.”
This week the Catholic church has been in the news because of its refusal to budge when it comes to the make-up of the food and drink used in the mass.
First, the bread. Rome has restated that the weekly mass wafer must be made of wheat and so has to contain gluten. But what of those who are celiacs and cannot consume any gluten without becoming ill? Are they doomed to hell because according to Catholic (not Baptist) theology taking the mass takes you to heaven?
Second, the juice. Rome has restated that the weekly mass drink must be fermented wine and so contain alcohol. But what of those who are alcoholics and cannot consume any alcohol without being tempted to return to their previous life of addiction. Are they doomed to hell because according to Catholic (not Baptist) theology taking the mass takes you to heaven?
The Catholic answer to this communion conundrum is to come up with what is known as the doctrine of concomitance (from the Latin meaning “to accompany”. It says the following:
“Since Christ is invisible, no one part of Christ’s substance can be divided. Thus Christ’s body cannot be separated from His blood and Christ’s blood cannot be separated from His body. Therefore when you take the wafer you are also actually taking the blood and when you take the wine you are also actually taking the body.”
Thus if one is a celiac and cannot eat any gluten, no problem – when you drink the wine (blood) you are also getting the bread (body) at the same time. And if one is an alcoholic and should not be drinking anything fermented, no problem – when you eat the bread (body) you are also getting the wine (blood) at the same time. Though theologically wrong (Jesus very clearly separated the two saying This is my body and This is my blood) I must confess, it is politically clever.
And what if you are both a celiac and an alcoholic? I’m not sure even Solomon could solve that one!