The raging COVID-19, “…like a roaring lion, is prowling about, eager to devour you.” (1 Peter 5:8 TCNT) The way some people are reacting to this make you wonder. I follow a fair number of people on Catholic Twitter and some of them have jumped the shark. One trad even disparaged Thomas Aquinas because he had the temerity to point out that poison in the Host was not eliminated by transubstantiation! I always thought a trad that disparaged Aquinas was an oxymoron.
In any case the celebration of the sacred mysteries has been seriously muddied by the social distancing necessary to slow the spread of this “lion.” For Anglicans, one solution would be the increased celebration (face-to-face and online) of Morning and Evening Prayer, but after a half century of trying to “be like Rome” that may be a hard adjustment for many Anglican parishes, even though both of these services are in reality a form of “ante-communion” such as was practiced in Roman Empire Christianity.
One alternative that one would think is helpful is intiction, i.e., the practice of dipping the transformed bread into the equally transformed wine. I’ve heard trads disparage that too, although Rome has never been keen on this practice. (Aquinas clearly explains why they receive the Host in one species, too.) Anglicans and Orthodox have used this for many years, and my experience with it, although a little strange, should be interesting to some.
My mother, brother and I were confirmed within a year of each other. Our church assured us that the alcohol content of the wine would kill the germs for each person who received directly from the cup. But my mother, raised on the big trays and Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, didn’t buy it: she opted for intiction and I followed suit. That’s the way I rolled at the Holy Communion until I was sent down Florida’s Turnpike to the St. Andrew’s School, that Episcopal education institution in the “land of lakes and pine” (soon to be surrounded by development.)
The 1960’s hit Palm Beach pretty hard, but Bethesda for the most part held back on change. St. Andrew’s was another story; I endured two fairly liberal school chaplains until I swam the Tiber. My freshman year there I went to my first “hippy dippy” Holy Communion complete with the inseparable companion to it: French Bread.
I don’t understand the fixation on French bread in Holy Communions or Masses like these. To start with, it’s not authentic in any way. At the institution of the Holy Communion, taking place in the Middle East the way it did, the bread there was probably more akin to pita bread or the matzos of the Jews. Both have practical issues, but they pale in comparison to the French bread. It’s crummy (in every sense of the word) and to break it in a common ceremony requires everyone to handle it, which is a good way to spread COVID-19 or any other plague that happens to be going around.
In the context of the 1960’s and 1970’s, French bread was “exotic” compared to the “light bread” that was standard issue. One Soviet trade representative compared the texture of light bread to that of cotton, and he was right: even under Soviet socialism, bread was better than that. If the standard issue of Anglican and Catholic churches doesn’t appeal, no matter what lose the French bread. Bread has marched on, even if the superannuated hippies from the 1960’s have not.
Getting back to St. Andrew’s, one Holy Communion the French bread was rolled out. So I took a piece and prepared to dip it in the cup, following my mother’s fine example. The traditional Episcopal priest (and my Latin II teacher) administering the cup, a fine man named Raymond O’Brien, looked at me and said “I don’t think you can do that.” I gave way, consumed both species separately and directly, and that was that.
I survived this episode, although St. Andrew’s presented other noxious challenges I had to face. When I swam the Tiber, I thought I left this issue behind, but that was not the case: at Texas A&M our Newman Association Masses, especially those on retreats, featured the French bread, surely the low point of those generally good experiences. My ecclesiastical wanderings eventually took me into the churches of the big trays and Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, and so I thought I had left both the sanitation issues that worried my mother and those posed by the French bread behind. That was partly right: there are sanitation issues with the big trays, which many churches need to address at this time.
Well, almost partly…in the last few years there has been heightened interest in liturgical worship amongst Pentecostals. So just before this past Thanksgiving we had a communion service with–wait for it–French bread and several common cups. Since the Scots-Irish penchant for binge drinking has forced Evangelical churches to ban alcohol, we were instructed to dip the bread into grape juice. I know that Fr. O’Brien was rolling in his grave at that point, and justifiably so, but I went ahead and did it, my church oblivious and uncaring for someone who had a real history in this method of the Holy Communion.
At this point I think that intiction, if properly done, is one way to address the health issues surrounding this. There are others that can be done. But this post wasn’t meant to be a “how to” for either the theology, sanitation practices or practical considerations of the sacred mysteries. It was meant to document a journey of one person through at least the last two of them, and hopefully it was found to be informative and perhaps a little entertaining.