24 July 2009

Love in the time of swine 'flu

Interesting piece by Simon Says, around the responses of christian communicants to bubonic plague in the sixteenth century CE and swine 'flu in the twenty first.

(Yes, yes, I know ... I'm going to be swamped with condemnatory messages about this, again, calling down fire and brimstone upon me from ... well, from wherever we secularist humanist atheist nonbelievers call down fire and brimstone ... but it's a fascinating aspect of our shared social and epidemiological history. Nobody's making you read it – but I do recommend it.)


Dr. C said...

Even more interesting is the reason for distributing communion in both forms.
From Simon Says:
"This exception was introduced into the Sacrament Act because of the bubonic plague. The Reformers didn't want the good work of achieving the administration of the sacrament in both kinds to be undone by a public refusal to share the common cup in times of plague."

Talk about angels on the head of a pin. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
"...although the usage of Communion under two kinds was not infrequent in the early ages [ab initio] of the Christian religion, yet, the custom in this respect having changed almost universally [latissime] in the course of time, holy mother the Church, mindful of her authority in the administration of the Sacraments, and influenced by weighty and just reasons, has approved the custom of communicating under one kind, and decreed it to have the force of a law, which may not be set aside or changed but by the Church's own authority" (Trent, Sess. XXI, c. ii)."

And from the same source:
"Not only, therefore, is Communion under both kinds not obligatory on the faithful, but the chalice is strictly forbidden by ecclesiastical law to any but the celebrating priest. These decrees of the Council of Trent were directed against the Reformers of the sixteenth century, who, on the strength of John 6:54, Matthew 26:27, and Luke 22:17-19, enforced in most cases by a denial of the Real Presence and of the Sacrifice of the Mass, maintained the existence of a Divine precept obliging the faithful to receive under both kinds, and denounced the Catholic practice of withholding the cup from the laity as a sacrilegious mutilation of the sacrament."

And to think that millions of people died because of these kinds of statements.

The crux of the issue seems to have been the Real Presence. Actually, it appears that, at first, this was agreed to as per the Ten Articles of 1536:

#4. The substantial, real, corporal presence of Christ's body and blood under the form of bread and wine in the eucharist.

But, this "corporal presence" doesn't seem to make it wholly intact to the Thirty Nine Articles of 1563 (from here and especially here.) It is hard to determine what the Church of England wants its laity to believe today (and I live behind an Episcopal Church.)

It is all very confusing. I can't see killing anybody for this difference of opinion.

Ray Girvan said...

It is all very confusing

There seem to be two conflated issues: 1) actually having the wine as a sacrament; 2) that is has to be given via a common cup.

The implication is that if you have 1), then 2) is essential; otherwise it'd be simple to use little individual disposable cups like the ones they use to give product tasters at supermarkets. Alternatively, it wouldn't be that difficult to organise delivery via some spigoted vessel - like a Porrón - that doesn't require contact with the lips.