Published September 1, 2009

Should the average person, even if he’s the prime minister of Canada, know the niceties of church practice?  David Crawley, retired archbishop of Kootenay and former metropolitan of British Columbia and Yukon, weighs in.

WHAT A FUSS over “Should or shouldn’t the Prime Minister have done it?” and “Did he or didn’t he eat it?”  Even the venerable CBC, dowager queen of broadcast land, featured five days of comedic comment on “Wafergate!” 

It does appear that Mr. Harper’s staff failed to brief him adequately before he hied off to former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc’s funeral.  On the other hand, at such a public event one can expect a host of non-adherents to the church to show up.  Surely it is the responsibility of the church to let such “visitors” know the house rules. 

Instead of condemning the PM, the hierarchs of the diocese of St. John should have apologized that no one announced that only members of the Roman Catholic Church were to receive the sacrament.  These days one cannot expect the average person to know the niceties of church practice.

At Boston’s historic Old North Church (from which Paul Revere was launched on his famous midnight ride) a tourist slipped the Host into her purse intending to put it into a My Trip to Boston scrapbook.  One doubts the PM was planning a Romeo LeBlanc scrapbook. 

The Roman Catholic Church defines the effect of the Eucharist as “transubstantiation.” This means they believe that although the properties of the blessed elements remain bread and wine, their substance become the substance of Jesus’ flesh and blood.  Our roots in the Church of England, in which every citizen of the nation was a member, makes it necessary to allow the breadth of theological understandings that one can see in the words of administration in the Book of Common Prayer.

While we have retained this breadth, our practice has changed greatly in the last 30 years, including moving from a monthly to a weekly eucharist. This plus the fact that today few are baptized as infants has created a problem.  Our church attracts a steady stream of unbaptized adults seeking faith or a community of faith.  But the rule “no communion without baptism” precludes their full participation in regular worship.  Many parishes ignore the rule.  A priest who was great at attracting newcomers into the church invited everyone to receive the sacrament.  After newcomers had been worshippers for a period, she would say: “I think it’s time you took your part in the ministry of the church.  We have a training program for baptism starting next week.”  

Perhaps baptism should not be the prerequisite to communion but rather “ordination” to the ministry of the baptized.


Keep on reading

Skip to content