An "oops" moment: Did I desecrate the Body of Christ?

9 Jul 2008

Via the invincible PZ Myers, here's the kind of "they've-got-to-making-this-up" story that passes for reality in religiondom:

A student went to Catholic mass, and instead of chewing the communion wafer, walked off with it. (Instead of respectfully, piously swallowing and digesting and defecating it.)


The Catholic community is in an uproar. The student has desecrated and defiled the Body of Christ. He has commited a mortal sin and sacrilege. There's talk of disciplinary action at his school, and accusations of "beyond a hate crime".

It's got to be a joke, right? No. Catholics worldwide are seizing this opportunity to prove that they are not going to take second place to fundamental Islamic fanatics in medieval superstitious lunacy. 

Anyway. I have a confession (or is it Confession?) to make. I may have desecrated the Body of Christ myself.

The Case of the Misdirected Communion 

Simple story: Years ago, I found myself as a tourist at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, for my money possibly the most beautiful structure on Earth. Inside, a Mass was in progress, and I took part.

I had little idea of what goes on in a Mass, and naturally have zero sympathy for the religious hokum behind it, but why pass up a chance to take part in an ancient human ritual in awe-inspiring surroundings? There was certainly no disrespect in me, just a desire to not miss a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  (If, say, a Native American tribe offered to let me sit in on a ritual offering to their deity, you bet I'd take part!)

So there I am in the famed cathedral. I slip quietly into a pew and the Mass begins. Kneel. Stand. Sit. Read. Sing. I do my best to follow along with the motions so well known and rehearsed by the regulars. Nothing too difficult, and I doubt that people around me even have reason to notice that I'm winging it. I certainly don't want to disturb what for them is a meaningful, meditative moment in their busy lives. It's clear to me that I'm observing a fascinating social ritual, and I feel grateful for the chance to quietly observe. 

Uh oh. My row has stood up again, and everyone is turning to face me! What did I do!? Oh, I see; they want to file out of the pew, and I'm blocking the way on the end. So I quickly stumble out and forward... and find myself at the head of a line to receive Communion. Suddenly I'm the leader! For Communion, in Notre bloody Dame!

The black-clad priest – Father? Friar? Vicar? I have no idea – quickly discerns that I don't know what I'm doing. With a tight-lipped expression, he makes an "eat" gesture. So, knowing what this wafer thing is supposed to represent, and having an idea that it's meant only for True Believers, I pop open my mouth anyway, because... HEY, FREE CRACKER!

Chomp. Then, seeing how the procession is smoothly flowing in a parallel line of people led by a more astute Mass-goer, I discern that I need to step aside and let the soul behind me get saved. So I veer off to the sidelines, and my little anecdote ends.

Who's going to burn for this?

Was the priest wrong to give me the wafer? I don't know. He couldn't know himself, of course, whether I was a smirking non-believer, or just a long-lapsed (or mentally slow) Catholic. And I guess it's not policy to halt proceedings and quiz every suspicious-looking cracker-beggar.

Was I wrong? Is it wrong for an utter non-believer in God/Christ – an antitheist, in fact – to take the wafer? Did I "desecrate" the "Body of Christ"? I don't know the religionist position on that. I do know that if I did do those symbolic bad things... well, I'm sure not bothered by it! As someone wise once pointed out, IT'S A GODDAMNED CRACKER!

Moral of the story: Whatever your view of religion, go to Notre Dame. It's awesome. And you just might score free munchies.


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