Questions Continue about Who Owns Jesus: Phoenix and Madison Dioceses Take Communion Cup from Laity

Brilliant COMMENTARY from our friends at Bilgrimage. If you’re not reading him every day, you should be.

Back in January, I posted about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed piece reflecting on (among other things) the struggle that has gone on recently in the Catholic diocese of Phoenix, in which Bishop Thomas Olmsted excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, ministering at St. Joseph’s hospital and then yanked the title “Catholic” from the hospital. Because Sister Margaret and St. Joseph’s had come to a different decision of informed conscience than his own . . . .

My posting notes that Kristof sees this situation, and many others occurring in the Catholic church worldwide these days, as a situation of “tussling over Jesus” in which the fundamental question at stake is, Who owns Jesus? I wrote,

And so, Kristof proposes, Catholics today are tussling over Jesus–over where Jesus is to be found, over what fidelity to Jesus demands in contemporary culture. Over who controls the central symbols of Catholic faith, who defines the meanings of those symbols. Whose word and experience counts, as we read the gospels and apply them to our lives. Who owns Jesus.

And as a posting I made about a month before Kristof’s article appeared also notes, another fundamental (and related) question at the heart of the Olmsted story is, Who owns the sacraments? In that posting, I said,

[T]he recent move of some bishops to deny the Eucharist to Catholics whose political views they judge to be illicit–as if sacraments are candy the father-bishop hands out to good children–raises a profound theological question: who owns the sacraments?

It’s clear the bishops think they do. It’s also abundantly clear from longstanding and rich Catholic tradition that the sacraments “belong” to the entire church, to the people of God. In the name of defending tradition, bishops using the sacraments as a political tool are undermining Catholic tradition.

And now there’s this: as Zoe Ryan reports yesterday in National Catholic Reporter, the Phoenix diocese has just announced plans to begin withholding the eucharistic cup, the communion wine, from Catholics in that diocese, altering the arrangement of communion under both species that had obtained for years following the reforms of Vatican II. Taking back the communion cup, that is to say. There were strong theological reasons, flowing from the reforms of the council, to begin offering communion under both species to the laity, including the renewed understanding of the church as the people of God and the fact that many of the other Christian churches with whom the Catholic church is in ecumenical dialogue practice communion under both species.

It now appears, too, that the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, is poised to follow the action of Phoenix in this regard.

So, as I read about what’s happening in Phoenix and Madison, the question still remains for me: who owns the sacraments? Who owns Jesus? Do bishops and clergy own the sacraments and Jesus? Or do Jesus and the sacraments belong to the people of God?

And is there so much of Jesus to go around, that a bishop can argue with a straight face that yanking a bit of Jesus away from the faithful is a savvy and compassionate pastoral move? And when they find they can yank the communion cup away from the faithful, as they’ve yanked all communion from Sister Margaret and the title “Catholic” away from St. Joseph’s, what will they take away from the people of God next?

Because there’s an inexorable and wearily predictable logic always at work in the behavior of autocratic systems like that of the Catholic hierarchy (or the Franco regime, or Soviet communism, or the Taliban in Afghanistan): what they find they can take away, they will take away. Since the logic of autocracy absolutely depends on the claim that the autocrat has a right to total control over the central symbols of the social system, over its goods, and yes, over its people.

Remember: though Phoenix diocesan officials are spouting a lot of hot air about the compelling theological reasons for taking the communion cup from the faithful, and though their centrist and right-wing supporters on Catholic blogs are eager to help them spout that hot air, no one at all is asking for these liturgical changes. No one, that is, except a fringe group of the Catholic far-right, to whom Rome and the bishops prefer to listen.

Just asking some questions I’ve long been asking. Ones I intend to keep on asking.

Full Article HERE!

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