Monday, 11 August 2008
While growing up in a Roman Catholic family, I was raised to believe that the Eucharist (communion) is literally the sacred body and blood of Christ. While I've since begun attending a Protestant church, which has a slightly different stance on the nature of communion, I still take the ceremony with utmost seriousness, as I'm sure the vast majority of my brothers and sisters in Christ do.
Is it super elitist of me to feel uncomfortable when a non-believer partakes in the Eucharist/Communion during church service? On the one hand, some denominations (such as Catholicism) are really strict on who can take it and who can't. I feel as if it's almost disrespectful when someone participates in a sacred ritual without realizing what it means to the religion's followers. On the other hand, I don't know if it's fair to call someone out for not knowing any better.
I won't pretend to be a theologian, a seminary student, or a church historian, so I can't say for sure what all the "rules" people have regarding the communion are, or even exactly what it's supposed to symbolize for each denomination. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ceremony, I can say that my understanding of it is that it's a church ritual that reenacts Jesus' breaking of the bread during the Last Supper. In the Catholic church, we have this ritual in every Sunday Mass, during which the priest repeats Jesus' words: "This is my body, which will be given up for you" before we eat the wafer (the body) and take a sip of the wine (the blood.) Traditionally, only Catholics who have gone through the "First Communion" ceremony can take the Eucharist...I'm not exactly sure how it works in other churches, so if someone could enlighten me through the comments or something, that'd be great.
What I'm wondering is if church-going Christians in general have a problem with non-Christians partaking in this sacred ritual. I ask this because a couple of years ago, one of my non-Christian friends asked if she could attend Mass with me in remembrance of a family friend's death. Of course, I said yes, but I also asked her if she'd ever gone to a Catholic service before.
"Oh yeah, I've gone a couple of times," she said. "It's cool. I can do the hand-shoulder-forehead action, and I've had that cracker and wine thing too."
I didn't want to tell her, "Uh, actually, Catholics believe you shouldn't take the Eucharist unless you've had your First Communion ceremony..." for fear of coming across as an elitist and turning her opinion away from the faith....but I'm not gonna lie - I felt weird when I saw her do the Sign of the Cross and take the body and blood of Christ with the rest of us.
I ask myself, if I believe that Christ died for everyone and that God's grace is available to all people...then why did I feel so uncomfortable about my non-believing friend taking Communion? Maybe it's because she and I have talked about Christianity before, and she's rejected it...maybe it's because I'm more Catholic than I thought...maybe it's because the ceremony is intended as communion amongst believers only.
It's weird, it's just communion that gets to me. I really don't mind (maybe I even...like it...) when non-believers attend church, sing worship music, come to retreats, pray with me, or do other "Christian-y things," even when they have no intention of becoming a Christian...who knows, maybe people like it. I just don't like seeing sacred rituals treated like a novelty...like a thing to try or do.
I'm pretty sure that the next time I bring a non-believer to church, I still won't tell them what they can or can't do, unless it's blatantly disrespectful, like talking on their cellphones during the sermon or something. I can't judge why non-believers attend church or partake in our sacred rituals...but I still feel weird about it.
Maybe it's not just "a Christian thing." Back at home, in Taiwan, a lot of people who follow traditional Chinese beliefs light incense for their ancestors...I can imagine them feeling a little weird if someone who didn't follow their beliefs (such as I) just lit one and waved it around. At the same time, I wouldn't really want to light an incense stick for my ancestors since I don't follow traditional Chinese religion.
Do you feel uncomfortable when non-Christians take communion, or to be more general, when people who do not follow your religious beliefs still partake in things you consider sacred? What do you do in that situation?
Would you partake in another religion's sacred ritual?