One of my best friends lost his Father-in-Law the other day. They are a Roman Catholic family. And so, I went to the Rosary Friday night and I attended the funeral Mass yesterday at Our Lady of Holy Souls which is right down the street from me. Now, I've never made any particular secret of my fondness for the Catholic faith despite my disagreement with some of the teachings of the Church. I used to be a cantor for the Cathedral downtown. I can still easily sing a Mass. And while the recent changes in the Liturgy still throw me occasionally, I still pretty much remember the formula for the Rosary. Although I don't do it as much as I used to, I think it does me some good to hear Mass now and again, just like it does me some good to visit my Episcopalian friends or to hear my Baptist golf buddy preach.
I got an odd text message Saturday afternoon from a fellow Methodist whose ex-wife is Catholic and who also attended the funeral Mass.
" You weren't taking Communion today were you?"
Well, no. I wasn't. But as has been my practice for years , I get in line with those that are. I cross my arms when I get to the Priest or Eucharistic Minister to indicate that I am not eligible to receive Communion. I get a blessing instead. Which I received yesterday. When I returned to my pew I noticed that other folks received blessings as well.
I never thought anything of it until today. I always sit with friends when I go to Mass. Nobody has ever had a word with me about it. Indeed, yesterday I sat with my friend Ann. She didn't ask me what the heck I thought I was doing when I got in the receiving line just as she has never done before in all the years I've gone to Mass with her or her family. And if anybody would instruct me on this issue it would be her husband who is more Catholic than the Kennedys.
So I decided to look into it. Because somebody must have thought I was out of line or the story about me going up to the altar wouldn't have made it to my friend who texted me.
Turns out the practice of bestowing blessings at Communion is kind of controversial. I ran across rollicking discussions concerning the practice on any of a number of websites. The argument against it is that the Vatican does not authorize any departure from the formula of the Mass. There is no need for any other "blessing" than the Benediction at the conclusion of the service and Protestants along with any Catholics that are not in full communion with the Church for some reason can receive it at that time.
Some posters are quite indignant about it, as they view it as the further debasement of the Liturgy, a "feel good" practice to make all seem included without any authority. As one Priest who posted on one of the cites said, " When someone comes up to me with their arms crossed over their chest I just say, 'May Christ be in your heart' and let it go at that. I don't make any gesture with my hand. I mean, I'm glad to see people in church and I want to acknowledge their presence but I don't think anything else is proper." Indeed, this is the reason that the confirmation class leaves the service after the homily. They are not eligible for anything else until they are Confirmed on Holy Saturday. Indeed, I have seen the candidates for Confirmation sent back to class many times. Never knew why until yesterday.
The argument for it, well, there's really no argument for it, is along the lines of "Oh c'mon. Ours is supposed to be a welcoming faith. And there's not a Priest in business that won't bless an infant in his mother's arms when she takes Communion. What's different about an adult?"
I don't see what the big deal is. I know that the Sacraments of the Church are only available to its members and I completely respect that. I don't cross myself and I kneel if my back feels up to it. But going up to the altar with my Catholic friends makes me feel more of a part of the service. That is my one indulgence for lack of a better word and is a really bad pun if you know your church history. And like I said, I never once have been asked to keep my seat so it never occurred to me that I was remotely doing anything disrespectful.
But then again, the United Methodist Church doesn't require me to be "all in." The Catholic Church does require that of its members. I'm not all in.
But it doesn't matter if it's not a big deal to me. If I gave given needless offense to one person in the congregation at Holy Souls yesterday that's one person too many. I respect my Catholic friends too much to run that risk. I will put money in the plate, sing their mostly terrible hymns and exchange the Peace with the folks around me in alter John Wesley.
But I will just wait until the end of Mass to receive my blessing from here on out. It's just easier this way. Because I'm not all in.