What’s that in the Prime Minister’s pocket?
July 9, 2009 1 Comment
Did he eat it, and if so, when did he eat it?
That seems to have been the question at the heart of one of this week’s big political stories as we enter the hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer.
This tempest in a wine cup started a few days ago at the funeral of former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc.
As expected, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the funeral service. As is often the case at a Catholic funeral, the priest invited followers to come forward for Holy Communion.
Harper went forward and took a communion wafer from the priest. That was the beginning of what is now being referred to as ‘Wafergate‘.
There are claims that the prime minister took the wafer and then discreetly slipped it into his pocket.
Not so, says the Prime Minister’s Office. They claim that he ate the wafer.
Either way, Harper lands in a bit of hot water. In the Christian faiths, the communion offering, once consecrated by the priest, is supposed to represent the body of Christ. Putting Christ in your pocket, so to speak, would certainly be considered an odd thing to do.
However, even by taking communion, Harper was breaking a fundamental rule of the Catholic church — that only members of the faith in good standing are permitted to take communion under normal circumstances. This is a rule that I am personally familiar with, being an agnostic ex-Catholic who did some research on etiquette prior to attending a Catholic funeral service earlier this year:
“Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law. . . .” (Source: catholic.com; emphasis mine)
In other words, unless he had the permission of the bishop, the non-Catholic Harper, a member of the evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance, would have been expected to refrain from taking communion.
My guess is that Harper was either a victim of his own awkwardness around others, or that it didn’t dawn on him that what he was doing was a problem until he already had the communion wafer in his hand. It’s possible that the situation unfolded something like this:
S. H. (thinking to self, just before communion starts): Hmm, I know I’m not a member of this faith, but maybe I should go up there just in case… I might be accused of not being sensitive if I stay here at my seat.
(Harper waits in line)
S. H. (thinking to self): Okay, I’ll just ask for a blessing instead of communion…
(Harper now at front of line; priest is now speaking directly to him)
S. H. (speaking aloud): Yes, I, uh… [accidentally ends up with wafer in hand due to nervousness, forgetfulness or inadequate preparation; mumbles a few more words]
(Harper walks away)
S. H. (thinking): Oh, for crying out loud, I screwed that up! Crap! What am I going to do with this thing? Ah, I’ll just slip it in my pocket/mouth and hope no one notices.
If that is what transpired, it wouldn’t be the first time a prominent politician fumbled a communion.
During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan staffer Mike Deaver came up with what seemed to be a bright idea: candidate Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy would attend a church service in Virginia.
In due course, it was time for the parishioners to line up for communion. The Reagans duly took their place in line.
As they neared the front of the line, Nancy told her husband to “do exactly as I do” when their turn came.
Moments later, Nancy reached for a piece of bread and then proceeded to dip it into the wine. But the bread slipped from her fingers and dropped straight down into the cup. She looked up at the priest, with a horrified look on her face.
Ron, faithfully following Nancy’s instructions, then picked up his own piece of bread and, as his wife had done, tossed it into the wine. He then gave the priest a broad smile before continuing on his way.
The priest, unimpressed, merely looked down at the two clumps of bread floating in the wine, shook his head disapprovingly, and continued on.