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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Polity and tradition

There's a dust-up in Roman Catholic circles coming out of Baltimore, and it's making it's way around the blogisphere. The actions taken against Fr. Martin for this one event (allowing an Episcopal priest to proclaim the Gospel at an RC funeral mass, and to receive Communion) do seem extreme, though I can understand why the archbishop thought some discipline was necessary. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder if (like most events that get media attention) there is more to the story than we're hearing. So I'm hesitant to offer an opinion as to whether he *should* or *should not* have been removed from his post, barred from celebrating Mass publicly, etc.

For the record: I've had critters in my church before, too! (for Blessing of the Animals, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi-- the weather outside was icky).

On the other issues being bandied about, however...

Let me state first that I don't believe that this has anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church's dogmatic opposition to women's ordination. It's not about a woman priest serving, but rather about someone other than an ordained RC priest (or deacon--also canonical in RC tradition, as it is in Anglicanism, I believe?) formally proclaiming the gospel in the context of the Eucharist, in opposition to canon law and tradition. The same restrictions apply in the Episcopal Church (though there are rare variations-- allowing a layperson to translate the gospel for a congregation that does not speak the same language as a visiting priest, for example, is certainly permitted). One may disagree with the rubric; but that's the way things currently stand. Fr. Martin would not be reading the Gospel in my church either, even if he were a guest preacher.

I would imagine there would not have been an issue had the Episcopal priest been invited to take another role, or even to read another of the scriptures of the day (as any person may do, with the consent of the clergy). There is certainly precedent for this. I have attended many RC masses over the years with people taking on a variety of roles. I've even been invited to participate in a few myself, before as well as after my ordination, though my role has always been within the confines of rubric and canon.

As to Communion: It is our current faith practice in the Episcopal Church that any person may come forward to ask for a blessing, and that any baptized Christian may receive the bread and wine. Yes, this distinction is a hot topic in theological circles, and there are any number of theologians far more learned than I who debate this particular stance, with many who argue for fully open Communion; but again, that's where we are today.

That said, I do not make a practice of inquisition at the rail, and I don't know of any decent priest who does. If someone I do not know comes forward to receive, I will err on the side of offering the sacrament without a qualm. However, if I know someone is not baptized, I will offer them a blessing. It is also not unusual for a Christian to ask for a blessing rather than the sacrament, for reasons of their own (honoring restrictions in their own faith tradition, for example, or personal concern about the current state of their souls). In either case, I am as careful as I can be to offer God's blessing in a way that does not seem in any way to relegate the receiver to second-class status. All people are welcome and encouraged to seek God's grace. Period. No, it is not the same thing; but the altar rail during worship is not the time or place for theological discussion or dispute.

So it seems to me that both priests might have followed a similar practice, had they chosen to do so, without giving or taking offense. I could wish things were different, of course; but were I in the Episcopal priest's position, taking another liturgical role, and accepting God's blessing from a friend and colleague in ministry would certainly be acceptable alternatives.

4 Comments:

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Fr. Martin would not be reading the Gospel in my church either, even if he were a guest preacher.

At the risk of being inhibited . . .

I recently presided at the funeral of a parishioner and the local retired RC priest did read the gospel at my invitation.

The rubric in the BCP reads, Then, all standing, the Deacon or a Priest reads the Gospel . . . And the rubrics under Concerning the Celebration read, In the absence of a deacon, these duties [reading the gospel] may be performed by an assisting priest.

Nowhere do I see where it says, a priest of this Church. Consequently, I don't, and didn't, have a problem with an RC priest reading the gospel at a service in which I preside.

I think the biggest problem was with the Episcopal Priest receiving communion. And if I remember right, the article mentioned some past improprieties of Fr. Martin.

All that said, I have wondered if the punishment fit the "crime."

November 20, 2007 9:19 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Ref: I understand the distinction you're making, and I don't disagree with you, in principle; however, I do wonder if you're treading on thin rubrical ice.

And I doubt you'd be inhibited; they're more pragmatic here in the west. I would stay away from any bishops wielding cinctures, however... ;-)

November 21, 2007 8:22 AM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

Thanks for the heads-up at my blog. With all due respect to Episcopal Café this is how this story should have been written (I appreciate their point about hiring the convict). Completely respectful of the Roman communion even where you disagree.

You alluded to several ways allowed in the modern form of the Roman Rite that the Episcopal priest could have participated.

All 'within the confines of rubric and canon'.

Because the bishop calls this shot.

After reading all this I can back off a bit and say the archbishop may have been harsh. But he was within his rights, just like I believe the Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island would be within hers to excommunicate Ann Redding (apostasy to Islam is a bigger deal than a rubric or two) but also had the right not to.

As you wrote there is a backstory and there were several ways to work within the rules.

'The bishop calls this shot' also, I think, answers Ref's point of 'isn't being a priest in the Church of God, in the holy Catholic Church, enough?'

As I wrote at T19 and Tripp's place I had one of those moments five years ago when I was in the sanctuary party of a friend's wedding in a Catholic church not mine. The priest knew who I was and offered me Communion but I had to decline. I knew full well it was the Sacrament but his bishop and mine weren't in communion. Logically, receiving would be 1) changing churches on the spot and following through on that afterwards or 2) lying: saying there's a relationship that's not there.

So it is with a cleric serving in a church under a bishop of a different denomination:

Fr. Martin would not be reading the Gospel in my church either, even if he were a guest preacher.

'All baptised Christians' makes sense even if one doesn't agree (favours closed Communion like Rome and Orthodoxy for example).

The RCs don't do inquisitions at Communion either! (Would that more of them used the rail again.) An Orthodox priest will if he doesn't know you: he promises to 'guard the chalice'.

As I mentioned at my place an RC deacon can and should chant the gospel at an RC Mass, a deacon's proper liturgical job. Also true of the Eastern churches.

Critters in the sanctuary don't seem right in most liturgical churches; in the church seems a matter of rite (including canons), culture and yes, practicality. It would freak out pious Russians but not most Americans.

November 21, 2007 5:04 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

YF: Thank you for your comments. "Completely respectful, even where I disagree" is usually my goal.

Sorry-- I misread the comment about the dog in the sanctuary. No, that doesn't happen here, ever. The closest we come is Zia-- a golden lab who comes to the rail most Sundays. One of my parishioners is a "puppy foster parent;" she does preliminary training for guide and service animals, and Zia is her latest companion.

No, Zia doesn't take Communion. (^_^)

November 24, 2007 8:14 PM  

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