When I spent five days caring for my sister Leslie in San Diego last month, we talked a lot about her conversion to Roman Catholicism. One of the fundamental questions she had to address in her religious training involved the Eucharist.
Specifically, how she felt about transubstantiation, i.e., whether “the change of substance or essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
When I was a kid, I used to help my paternal grandmother, Agatha Green, pour the Welch’s grape juice into the little glasses (and unless I’m misremembering, pouring the unused juice BACK into the bottle; those were different times.)
Knowing that, I still felt from an early age that communion, as we Methodists and other Protestants used to call it, was a Big Deal, even if we believed the transformation was merely representational.
I certainly remember going to Roman Catholic churches and feeling excluded because we heathen Protestants didn’t believe doctrinally in the transubstantiation. There was an event at the Albany Cathedral of All Saints in the late 1900s, some anniversary service, when EVERYONE was invited to the Table. Some of my Protestant friends refused, but I figured, if thy’re inviting, I’m partaking.
I went to a Coptic church, the Egyptian Orthodox branch, in Albany around the same time. It was not expected that I should take the Eucharist, and I did not, though Roman Catholics could have. After the long service, there was a meal. I had a nice chat with a young man who kindly informed me that I would be going to hell for my Protestant beliefs. OK, then.
At my church in July 2018, I helped prepare communion for the first time. I had served it before, back when I was an elder over a decade ago, but the prep was during choir rehearsal. I HAD cleaned up afterwards in the past. We cut up the pita bread; there are also gluten-free wafers. Ah, still using Welch’s grape juice, I see.
So my sister chooses to believe in the possibility of transubstantiation. I don’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s true, though, that I can’t remember that word without thinking of Tom Lehrer’s irreverent The Vatican Rag from the 1960s, a song guaranteed to offend at least a few.
For ABC Wednesday