Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Panicking presbyters

Another year, another pandemic. Remember SARS?

The outbreak of H1N1 influenza, or whatever it's called, is another example of how easily an epidemiological curiosity can be manipulated to create widespread panic. And, sadly, people are once again doing exactly the wrong things to "protect themselves" from infection. Purchasing and wearing a face mask will not protect you from any virus, much less this new R2D2 strain of flu; after about half an hour, the inside of the mask will be completely coated with your own saliva, and the warm, moist air inside will be a fertile breeding ground for any microorganism you can possibly imagine. Even if you never go outdoors for more than 20 minutes, and discard your mask after each use, you'd be no better off than if you simply practiced common-sense hygienic practices - such as washing your hands frequently, and not licking strangers.

This is all basic stuff - isn't it?

Because the Eucharist is administered from a common cup in the Anglican Church, we learn to expect a concerned letter from the bishop to be read to us every time a new infection hits the headlines. The congregation listens attentively. The organist, if he's me, hides behind his music and rolls his eyes a lot. The gist of the letter is always the same: if you're not comfortable with receiving from the common cup, don't. Lately, the Anglican dioceses in Southern Ontario have begun to take strong stances against the practice of self-intinction, which I heartily endorse. There is no good reason that laypeople should be allowed to intinct the Host themselves; it's not an authorized practice in any of the major denominations. Or wasn't, that is, until the 1960s, when Episcopalians began campaigning for the practice on the grounds that seems more hygienic. (Newsflash: It's not.)

Lately, however, the Church's acquiescence to public hysteria has become more extreme, and we're starting to see bishops instructing the faithful not to shake their neighbour's hands at the passing of the Peace - or, in a neighbouring diocese, instructing the clergy not to administer the consecrated wine to their congregations at all.

It's easy to laugh at these sorts of developments, but they wouldn't be so widespread if they didn't address a genuine public concern. That concern, of course, is nakedly obvious: fear of death. It seems to me that there's something extremely wrong with this sort of behaviour: if worries about your own mortality so consume you that you fear to reach out to others, or to go outdoors without a mask, what sort of half-life are you living? If the K9B42L8whateveritscalled virus is foremost in your mind when you greet the person in the pew next to you, how can you possibly be part of a meaningful fellowship with them? And if you come to receive the bread of Life fearing that even this could bring death, what sort of meaning could the sacrament possibly have for you?

End of rant. It's Pentecost on Sunday - that means Messiaen!!!!


Miss Mussel said...

I have to say, I never quite understood the death by communion cup panic. My reasoning is that if ever there was a time that God would intervene and prevent the spread of disease, would it not be while taking the sacrament? It seems illogical to me that it would be any other way.

Non-religiously, the risk is so infintessimal that it probably can't even be expressed by an appreciable number. In fact, I am willing to bet that parishoners are more likely to catch germs in the bathroom.

You make very good points. If only everyone was able to see the big picture!

shogart said...

My thoughts precisely. Thank you, Osbert.