Before beginning, readers should know that Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary, M. Div., class of 1996.
Events move fast in the never-ending 24/7 news cycle. Another Big Lie rally, a condo collapse, and a suspension pending disbarment divert our attention from the newsworthy events of the week prior. But GOT is a reflective blog, not the place to find breaking news or in-depth research (at least, not now while GOT remains a working teacher). Occasionally, you will find a humorous piece; hopefully, you end your read wanting to have a conversation.
GOT took his time to reflect and think about U.S. Catholic Bishops debating and advancing a policy about withholding communion from politicians and leaders who do not adhere to church doctrine. In particular, those who support a woman’s right to control reproductive choices that involve her body, more traditionally called abortion.
In a not-well-reported update, the bishops announced that there would be no national policy regarding the withholding of communion from politicians.
Problem solved, right? Let’s move on. But then, in a moment of excellent critical thinking, you might ask why GOT is bothering with this post. Thesis: Actions are guided by beliefs and, if we do not understand that people believe different things that lead them to adopt very different attitudes and behaviors, we will not understand much of the conflict that divides our society and why it threatens to devolve into violence.
When it comes to the Eucharist, the name for the rite popularly known as Communion, there are different understandings of what takes place during the rite. Those different understandings are the basis for the different approaches to who may participate and who may not.
Many social media reactions that GOT observed questioned why the Church believes it should control access to the elements at all. They mainly had a Protestant perspective. GOT does not opine whether they were right or wrong, but merely observes that there was a failure to understand Catholic doctrine.
Let’s look at the different understandings. The Catholic doctrine is called transsubstantiation, in which the bread and wine are literally changed into the human flesh and blood of Jesus even though they still seem to be bread and wine. This change occurs at the moment of consecration as the priest reads the Mass over these elements.
If you are going to allow someone to drink the very blood of God, wouldn’t you have a concern that they are worthy? Don’t argue; think about it and why Catholic practice is that the priest may deny communion to someone in the line. Much of religion is about the separation between the holy and the profane, the sacred and the sinful. If someone has embraced sin, that is, advocated and worked for a policy that offends the sanctity of life, why wouldn’t the sacred be withheld? Especially something so sacred that it is the very essence of life itself?
Again, GOT is not arguing for or against, but demonstrating how different beliefs guide different actions.
But that is not the only view of the Eucharist. There is consubtantiation, which holds to a dual nature. The bread and wine remain bread and wine, but their spiritual nature, as opposed to their material existence, is such that they become the body and blood of the Lord once the priest performs the ritual.
This is the position of the Lutheran church, not surprising given its historical revolt against medieval Catholicism, in which the Pope’s earthly authority was disputed.
Then, there are those who aver that the bread and wine are only symbols. They represent the theological truth that Christ spoke (as recorded in the Gospels,) but they don’t change in substance or form.
Some say they are mere symbols, while others say there is a divine presence that they cannot explain.
Different beliefs lead to different practices. If you are at a United Methodist church, you are invited to the table and to partake regardless of your status. John Wesley, the founder of the sect, said that even a sinner, encountering the presence of Christ in the elements, is led to repentance. Therefore, let all who are willing come.
Easier to do when you believe the juice is only a symbol rather than the very blood of God.
In a way, Joe Biden is more welcome to participate in a Methodist church than a cathedral of his own faith. But that is a function of how each denomination understands the ritual and what they believe is taking place.
The entire issue is complicated by how different churches understand their source(s) of authority.
Much of the social media reaction to the news was posting scriptural references to refute the position of the Bishops. That works if you fall along Lutheran and other Protestant lines: sola Scriptura, or the Bible is the only authority.
But the Catholic Church has a different view. It holds that the Scripture and their tradition are equally authoritative; in other words, they can ignore the Bible for their centuries-long practice and polemics. Therefore, they are immune to criticism because they can rely upon their tradition.
The post grows long–nearing 900 words and certain to surpass that by the end. GOT’s purpose is not to argue for one belief or church or another, but to illustrate how different beliefs and understandings of authority lead to policy and action.
And now, as you’re wondering how any of this has to do with education, this is at the heart of the education wars.
What one believes about education, the good and the bad, determines the practices and policies one advocates. What is the source of authority? Ed reformers discard child development experts in favor of their own research, their ‘tradition’ if you will, and do not listen to those who think differently.
What is education? What is learning? How does it happen? There is no agreement, and yet, what one thinks leads to what one demands for schools.
The education wars rage, on battlefield after battlefield, until all despair of ever reaching a Peace of Westphalia.
But if we don’t, um … did you know we have a really good teacher at my school if you want to learn how to speak Chinese?