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Wafergate: Or What It Means to Put Jesus In Your Pocket
As quoted in the On Faith section of the Washington Post today:
“It began last Friday when Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended a Catholic funeral mass for a former Canadian government official. Harper, who is Protestant, went to the altar during communion and received a sacramental wafer from the presiding priest. A 40-second video clip shows Harper accepting the wafer but not putting it in his mouth.”
Why is this important? Because, the news article continues:
“(The wafer) is not a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, but is in fact the body and blood of Christ,” Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, told the National Post. “We believe we are holding Jesus in our hands, so to put Jesus in your pocket or to put Jesus on the ground (is serious). If it falls on the ground it has to be consumed. We never throw Jesus out,” MacCarthy said.
What is going on here?
Don Cupitt puts it like this:
“Developed classical Christianity…had as a result three main features. First, it was very strongly supernaturalist….. Secondly, the entire cosmos was made out of ascending chains of unequal relationships…. Thirdly, becuase the hierarchy control theology as they control everything else in the church, theology is designed to serve their interests.”
What can this look like in everyday practice? How do they have their “visible proofs of their own authority” as Cupitt puts it?
One way is this: “There is always a direct correlation between the degree of realism about Christ’s presence in the bread and the wine and the extravagance of the claims made for the spiritual power and authority of the priest who consecrates them. Rome teaches transubstantiation and a high doctrine of the priesthood, whereas at the opposite extreme Ulrich Zwingli’s non-realist view of the presence of Christ’s body and blood—he speaks of the bread and wine as mere symbols—is at once understood by people of the ‘catholic’ persuasion as being anti-sacerdotal, and therefore wrong. Such is the extent to which theology functions as clerical ideology.”
So, in effect, by putting the wafer into his pocket, Harper challenged the authority of the priesthood and the visible performance of their clerical ideology—even if unknowingly.