Table manners: Unexpected grace at communion

December 28, 2011

Communion is a vital part of my week. My tradition, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has staked its identity on the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. Each week we celebrate an open table: anyone who wishes to follow Christ is invited to receive the bread and the cup.

This is not the practice, of course, in the Catholic mass. There, only Catholics are welcome. And while I disagree with these rules, I respect them—so I abstain.

But I don't sit passively alone during communion at a mass. In the face of the Catholic Church's theological claim, I like to make a counterclaim of my own. I go forward, and when I reach the priest I cross my arms over my chest. This is the official signal that I am either a Catholic in need of confession or not Catholic. Instead of the body and blood of Christ, I get the door prize: a sign of the cross and a blessing.

My gesture usually catches the priest off guard. It makes me uncomfortable, too. Typically our eyes meet, a moment of indecision passes, confusion results, and I stutter-step my way down the line sans bread and wine. For me it's a little Protestant protest, a small interruption in the normal flow of "the body of Christ, the blood of Christ." In that moment, the priest and I are both confronted with my exclusion, with the fact that in this church, I am a second-class Christian.

Last summer, however, I toned down my quietly radical ways. I spent the summer in Bosnia, studying religion and reconciliation in the Balkans as part of my divinity school education. I went to the region to make observations, not waves. When I found myself in a Catholic church on Sunday morning, I was content to restrict my eucharistic protest to silent prayer.

My studies took me to the broad Austro-Hungarian boulevards of Bel­grade. I was invited by a Sarajevo-based interfaith choir—made up of Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim and atheist singers— named Pontanima to travel to the Serbian capital to witness the reconciling potential of religious music. One stop on the itinerary was to lead worship at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.

As the mass crescendoed toward its eucharistic climax, the choir filled the sanctuary with a wide array of dynamic Orthodox chants and sublime Catholic hymns.

But as beautiful as this harmonic symbol of unity was, it proved to be fleeting. Once the conductor's baton brought the music to a halt, we were back to business as usual.

The priest consecrated the host, and some folks rose to receive the bread and the cup. Those of us who weren't invited remained in our pews. Catholic was divided from non-Catholic, insider from outsider. Religion's power to harmonize and unite lasted as long as Pontanima could hold the low drones of Rach­maninoff's bass line; its capacity to divide and exclude was never far away.

Disappointed by this reminder of religion's ambiguity, I watched the line form in the center of the sanctuary. I pressed my knees to the side to let my Catholic neighbors pass by me, and I lowered my head to pray my little prayer of Prot­estant protest.

When I lifted my eyes, I saw a portly man in a white robe scurrying down the side aisle. His eyes sought me out with an innocent and quizzical look, like a little boy searching for his parents in a crowd. His glasses bobbled down his short, round nose as he raced down the aisle—too quickly for a priest, too quickly for a 60-year-old man.

The whole scene was awkward. With 20 or so people still in line to receive the Eucharist, this Bosnian Franciscan took a handful of the host and sought me out of the crowd. Nearly out of breath, he lifted the small plate toward me. I stood up from my pew.

"Will you have communion?" My heart beat faster, the way it does if you get asked to speak when you're not expecting it, or when you're breaking a rule and know you may get caught.

I muttered, "Yes, I will."

"Christ's body, broken for you." He placed the host in my hand. I raised it to my lips and carefully set it down on my tongue. It stuck to the roof of my mouth and began to dissolve, flesh to flesh. As the priest returned to the rest of his flock, I felt the emotion welling up from my gut into my throat and reaching up toward my eyes. My head fell again in prayer—not of protest this time, but of gratitude.

I imagine this is what the prodigal son felt when he watched his aged father risk looking like a fool as he sprinted out to meet his son. Priests don't run during the mass; they certainly don't leave the 99 sheep behind to seek out the one who's lost, the one who needs to feel the warm embrace of full inclusion in a Christian community.

Phrases like "radical welcome" and "Christian hospitality" are popular these days; back home in Chicago it seems that I hear them in church almost weekly. They can become routine, milquetoast clichés that don't mean much. But in a world marked by violent ethnic strife, cantankerous political divisions and toxic racial segregation, the Lord's Supper has the potential to be a powerful and hopeful alternative.

My "first communion" reminded me that the God who shows up at communion is a God who brazenly—even foolishly—seeks us out of the crowd. A God who awkwardly crosses divisions and differences to invite each of us to full participation in life with God.


Stunning.  God's grace is

Stunning.  God's grace is simply stunning, and, as usual, brought tears to my eyes.  Thank you for sharing.

God's Love & Mercy

God's Love and Mercy is something our human mind simply cannot comprehend although we do get the glimpses at times with his grace and must be encouraged to medidate on such.  It is the seeking heart that finds God or rather let him find it.  

I remember in the CCC it says, "while God has bound salvation to baptism he himself is not bound by it"......something to mediate on God's Love and this seems to be similar to the experience in this site. - Henry

Catholic communion

I fail to see the point of Mr. Packman's "protests". The Catholic Church's teaching on the requirements for licitly receiving Holy Communion are known to Mr. Packman and won't ever change. What can change, however, is his attitude as to who it is who creates the boundaries separating those who participate fully in Catholic liturgy and those who don't. It would be a simple act of conversion that would allow all of the Packmans of the world to receive our Lord licitly. Protest no more!


the Roman Catholic Church is not universal but exclusive - Jesus was never exclusive. I think it a v ery pride filled heart you come from when you say to a believer and follower of Christ that it is a simple act of conversion that seperates the packman and the packmans of this world from Christ. All it does really is seperate the roman church from the world. As for packman whats the point of wanting the eucharist in the roman church if you are not a catholic - except to protest!! Who listens to your protest really when you protest in silence and who are you protesting to?? It seems to me just the Priest or Jesus - if you believe the priest is His representitive here on earth. I think too this protest is the face of a proud heart and not from Love.

'Roman church' is a slur - a

'Roman church' is a slur - a thinnly disguised slur, but a slur nonetheless.

And going to any religious service with the purpose of behaving disruptively or making others feel uncomfortable is simply classless.


The Roman Catholic Church is not universal but exclusive - Jesus was
never exclusive. I think, with respect, it a very pride filled heart you come from
when you say to a believer and follower of Christ that it is a simple
act of conversion that seperates the packman and the packmans of this
world from Christ. All it does really is seperate the roman church from
the rest of the world including me - I am no longer a practicing catholic although I am one but do not practice because I cannot agree with all the Church's beliefs. I am therefore excluded but not from Christ!

 As for packman whats the point of wanting the eucharist in
the roman church if you are not a catholic - except to protest!! Who
listens to your protest really when you protest in silence and who are
you protesting to?? It seems to me just the Priest or Jesus - if you
believe the priest is His representitive here on earth. I think too this
protest is the face of a proud heart and not from Love. With respect, I think your protest is about you and not the Church. Beautiful and thought provocing read!! - Thank you

God's grace

I agree that God's grace is truly stunning, and I tend to think that this reflection is less about the politics of open or closed communion (I think each has much to be said for it) and more about one human being recognizing another's need and meeting it. This message is powerful when it has us thinking about how we might cross boundaries, whether it's streets in the town we live in or sitting in a different pew in church or having a conversation with that person in class or at work who we just don't understand. When we get caught up in the debate about who should serve communion to whom when or who is most prideful, then we miss the point that is, as Christians, if we are serious about following Jesus, we need to be serious about crossing boundaries, we need to be serious about caring for our brothers and sisters who are like and unlike us, we need to be serious about taking risks. When we do, I think we will find God in our midst.


During a more progressive moment in recent Roman
Catholic history, four differ priest not only allowed but invited me to
participate in receiving the host during the Eucharist. One of the preists was president of the Canon Law Society and two were Jesuits.

I cannot imagine that happening now. However, my own Disciples of Christ congregation does something akin to excluding others during Holy Communion. Twice in recent years, it called for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America during the Eucharist.  I found that not merely tacky but blasphemous. I do not want to spend eternity doing backstrokes in a lake of fire with my fellow liberal Protestants.  

Exclusion takes many forms. My former wife had been a member of the Missouri Synod and they excluded me from Holy Communion. My sister attended an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation that excluded her from communion.  

Roman Catholics used to have an Agape service that left out the incantations and that was open to other Christians. Closed communion does not offend me; pledging the flag during the service does.


If a mysognist, paedophile harbouring denomination dwelling on
fantasies of Christian omnipotence needs to exclude me from their worship, more
power to them. How can a denomination that pretended its priests were not
molesting children have unique insight into the mind of God sufficient to
exclude those who rest on humbler searches for ultimate reality

am bit harsh here but not in an uninformed or bitter way. I came close to being
Roman Catholic at one time. A nun who was mentor told me to wait until the
Church cleans up its act on women. She was then in her eighties, a professor, a
member of the Society of Biblical Literature, and knowledgeable in Hebrew.

admire and love the Church. I am a bit tired of some of the arrogance.    


Do not let one solitary person convince you to remain outside of the Church. All Catholics who love the Church have a deep desire to share the beauty and truth of the Faith with everyone. We want you as part of the Catholic family. The Church is a hospital for sinners and will never be perfect in this life.


was not solitary. She was a scholar in Hebrew and a revered member of her
order. She simply knew too much about her misogamist denomination.



I'm sorry but the two vignettes at the center of this article strike me as highly implausible.  Mr. Packman's story about catching American priests "off guard" by going to communion with arms folded across his chest is completely implausible; every Mass at least a few adults do this - the gesture simply would not surprise a priest.

As for his supposed experience in Belgrade, I've never been there so I can't vouch for what their Masses are like.  But at every Mass I've ever been to, I would say that 3-5 percent of adults don't go up to Communion.  The thought that that would prompt special attention from a eucharistic minister - much less cause him to "race down the aisle" - is simply not very likely.  Nor for that matter is him saying "Christ's body, broken for you."  The catholic (small "c," i.e. universal) phrase spoken is "body of Christ."

Sorry to weigh in with criticisms, but Mr. Packman's article strikes me as not grounded in fact.

I agree as to the first

I agree as to the first.  Catching a priest off guard would have to be in the mind of Mr. Packman.  

Interesting article but the author is self-absorbed.  The table is set.  The guests are called.  There is no test performed at the altar.  Communion is given on faith and taken on faith.  


Big Smile and a thank you. 


Did Jesus never exclude anyone? Didn't he ever warn that there were things you can do that might separate you from God, potentially forever? What are those things? Does anyone, in whatever condition of spirit, have a right to be united with him? 


These are the kinds of questions Christians used to ask, and their differing answers have led to regrettable rifts between them. But to say that Catholics do not allow everyone to receive Communion, which in Cathoic theology means full unity with Christ and Church, puts things the wrong way around. The lack of communin among Crhistians is the cause of which the inability to receive is the sign.

In addition, this column is a highly overdramatized in various ways. Catholics themselves often go up to priests with arms foled over their breats and not receiving. It's so common it's difficult to believe the protest and emotion here are real.

And finally, why is it that Catholic rules on Communion are dvivisive, but non-Catholic "protests" against Catholic beliefs are not?

Exclusion and communion

Did Jesus never exclude anyone? Didn't he ever warn that there were things you can do that might separate you from God, potentially forever? What are those things? Does anyone, in whatever condition of spirit, have a right to be united with him? 


These are the kinds of questions Christians used to ask, and their differing answers have led to regrettable rifts between them. But to say that Catholics do not allow everyone to receive Communion, which in Cathoic theology means full unity with Christ and Church, puts things the wrong way around. The lack of communin among Crhistians is the cause of which the inability to receive is the sign.

In addition, this column is a highly overdramatized in various ways. Catholics themselves often go up to priests with arms foled over their breats and not receiving. It's so common it's difficult to believe the protest and emotion here are real.

And finally, why is it that Catholic rules on Communion are divisive, but non-Catholic "protests" against Catholic beliefs are not? Are all the dispute among Christians simply null when it comes to Catholic rules, but fully operative otherwise?

Table Manners

To begin with, the Eucharist is never "taken". It is received. Secondly, Catholic communion is closed for a reason. To receive the Eucharist when one does not accept that it is the True Presence is to profess something which one does not believe, thus endangering one's immortal soul. And third, the article smacks of an adolescent dare. "Look at me, I'm doing something I'm not supposed to." To receive the Eucharist as some form of Protestant protest strikes me as immature.

Your distinction between

Your distinction between taking and receiving the Eucharist is very important for understanding the nature of the Sacraments.

I wonder...

I wonder what Jesus, who broke bread with all types of people, would think if he came back and found Christians refusing to share the communion table with other Christians. "Oh, but there are good theological reasons; such people would be endangering their immortal souls!" And we somehow believe Jesus could actually make sense out of such reasons to deny table fellowship. Of course one can't argue with theology. But how far we have gotten from the true message of Christ.


If you want to receive communion, become a Catholic.  If you choose to remain in protest, Protestant, stop attending Catholic mass.  You know the rules, but refuse to follow them?  The Catholic church offers grace, peace, reconciliation (which you also reject), and a 2,000 year old sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ.  What's not to love?  Attend RCIA, make your conversion, and confession, and we welcome you.  Otherwise, your description is of blasphemy, complete disrespect, lack of character, lack of discipline and contempt for  Catholics, for Catholic doctrine, and most of all, for Christ.  May God have mercy on your soul. 

R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

The author is very confused and uptight about Catholism and the Eucharist (Gr:thanksgiving).  But so are a lot of people.  Let's look at the basics; St. Augustine wrote them down circa 404 AD.  The church, now called the Roman Catholic church is composed of God and sinners.  No sinner deserves to receive God; we only do so because He ordered us to receive His Body.  For 2,000 years we have struggled with this inherent conflict, a unknowable mystery.  Where do we draw the line?  Should we demand that women wear paper napkins on their head?  Nuns must wear a half acre of cloth?  Should the priest chant Latin so no one comprehends what he says?  Should those dirty Protestants receive what they perceive as tiny pieces of bread and a 1/4 jigger of wine, but what is really God Himself.  What about sreaming babies with zero comprehension of what is happening?  Staggering drunks?  How about once an hour?  The church is dognatic; it makes rules.  But the bedrock rule is Love, everything flows from that.

I go to daily Mass.  Every day, about 10- 15 people walk up with crossed arms and are blessed, but do not recieve.  It is about as rare as brown shoes.  Nobody notices, or scorns; we all are struggling sinners.  That is why we come.  The Author recieved God but dissed Him.  We call it sin.  It does not surprise God, or hurt Him, but it is something to seriously consider, by everybody.  Again, no one is worthy.  The questions to consider are: did I do this to write an article?  Show off?  Or was I simply flustered in a strange place and circumstances?  And if one offends God, what is next?  Like anybody else, one should apologize, promise sincerely not to screw up again.

And put a check for a million dollars in the collection plate.  God has a great Irish humor.  He roars at our silliness.

Roman Catholic communion

I am an ELCA Lutheran.  I have taken communion at least a half dozen times at Catholic funerals and weddings because I do not accept the exclusivity rule in the RC church. My good Catholic friend, who attends mass several times a week, urged me to do this.

Good for You.

I think about doing this every time I attend a
funeral service in a Roman Catholic Church.        

Please don't

Catholic and Orthodox priests are accountable to God for who they give communion to. In the Orthodox Church when priests are ordained, the bishop places the lamb in the hands of the priest and tells him to safeguard it with his life. While I have heard of many Roman Catholic Priests who have allowed anyone to partake, this is wrong and should never be done.

Communion vs. Eucharist

You have to understand that there is a dramatic difference between communion in the ELCA and the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. In the former, the elements remain as mere bread and wine. In the later, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.


Identifying more as an evangelical catholic than protestant, I'm probably sympathetic to a fair amount of Packman's theology, but I bristle somewhat at the arrogance that comes through his boasts of "protest." This is what I fear most for the liberal mainline churches: we are inheriting a young set of well-meaning, but ultimately narcissistic leaders who believe more in their own individualism and pride in their good works than in much else. These are the theologians who will continue to push the church in to a land of irrelevance; nothing more than an ethical-humanist society with little need for the mysteries of Christ's incarnation and resurrection.

His article is cozy and nicely written, but it ultimately reveals an essential passive and dismissive disdain for brothers and sisters who choose to think and act in a way differently than he.

Orthodox Catholic Communion

Eastern Orthodox Catholic Christians also offer the Holy Eucharist only to prepared members of the Body of Christ.  How can someone accept the Body and Blood of our Lord while rejecting the Body of Believers?  Strangely enough where I come from everyone receives with crossed arms, right over left, which is a universal sign of the penitent, the sinner-prepared.  To me any practice of reception without acceptance, let alone without preparation - confession, fasting, alms, etc. - is a backdoor type reception.


Let us also not forget that we also recite the creed before receiving communion as an affirmation of our faith (one holy Catholic and apostolic church) and then pray that it may not be to our judgement nor to our condemnation. Our Protestant friends often overlook that part...


One man's grace...


I hate to be cynical here with such an earnest story, but I
must weigh in here. The adjectives in many of the comments ring true and I
would add another: naïveté. One person's notion of grace given is another
person's obliviousness, or at worst, willful ignorance in service to ecclesial
disobedience (on the part of the priest).

The reality for all Catholic communities is that the sharing
of Christ’s body is a sign of, not a precursor to unity in the Church. This
moment for the author was no doubt earnestly received and he sees it in the
best of lights, but it is a false reality and rings hollow, or even ignorant (I
think much is revealed about the author in his notion of "taking" vs.
"receiving" the Eucharist). Imaginary unity is not true unity, and
self-satisfying protests are just that.



I am going to try to be as charitable as possible with this post. I see several problems with this article, however. Does the author believe that the Catholic Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ? This is the teaching of the Church. And if this is believed by the author, why is he not a member of Christ's Church? If he doesn't believe this and is protesting against the Church, then it really isn't an issue. When one receives communion in a non-Catholic Christian community, it is only a symbolic representation, and the elements remain bread and wine (or grape juice in some cases). That is why an ecclesial community such as the Disciples of Christ can have an open table.

Christ wants every human being to partake in the Eucharist. But this is not possible for those who are deliberately protesting against Christ's Church. A non-Catholic Christian who wants to partake of the Eucharist, but doesn't want to join the Church is trying to have things both ways. But we are told that we cannot have two masters.

Also, it is an extremely common practice for individuals to approach the altar with their arms crossed. It happens many times at each Mass. My friend, if you feel drawn to the Catholic Church, I encourage you to enter the fullness of the Faith.


Why Communion at all? Jesus.

It saddens me that this article, which is a testament and witness to a person's faith in Jesus Christ, has become a point not of dialogue for many on this discussion board, but an attack on Andrew Packman's character and faith, and turned into a defense of "The Church."  I want to echo some of the earlier statements  that Andrew Packman gave an impassioned and bold narrative of his experience as a protestant in a catholic context.  This article was written in light of his experience with the crucified and risen God found in Jesus of Nazareth the Christ in the sacrament of holy body and blood which comes to us in the earthly elements of bread and wine.  However, it was a written in light of being denied that gift from God, which truly comes from God only.

The Church hierarchy enforces its will repeatedly; denying what is God's gift, not their right.  The hierachy passes down privilege and power, rather than building up the Body of CHrist as Paul did in his time; Paul was working cross-culturally and even through theological disuptes .  Priests carry out this oppressive practice of denying communion over and over again; refusing the gift of God to faithful people; Catholic and non-Catholic.  Packman's article, to some extent, sheds light into the "protestant" consciousness of receiving the grace and love of God found in that body and blood of Jesus in which a priest breaks rank with the hierarchy to give that sacrament to someone who is seen as "undeserved" of such a gift. The priest is moved to see not a non-Catholic, but a Child of God!  A fellow sister and brother in Christ! That is the essence of the story that seems to be missed here.  Though Andrew Packman may have had negative experiences with the Catholic communities through closed communion, his brother, a priest, offered the gift of God freely, and he recieved (or took).  I can assume with great humility Andrew took this gift because he stumbled, as many of us do in our own spiritual lives, at the question of the priest: "Will you have communion?"  The priest did not say, "Will you become Catholic first?"  The fundamental question for many Christians, maybe not for theologians or clergy, between open and closed communion is this:  Can we come as we are--broken, sin-sickened, oppressed, and in need of deliverance and salvation? Or must we come be like you (or who you say you are): "saved," sanctified, righteous, holy and pure of heart, and acceptable?  Essentially, when we say the latter, we are really saying--Come be like us, rather than Come follow Christ.

WHile it may be baffling for some to believer, becoming Catholic isn't easy, just as giving up one's Catholic identity is not easy as well.  But Becoming Catholic for a protestant is not an option when exclusion and oppression guides ritual practice.  Becoming Catholic for a protestant is not an option, when the scriptures are not cited to uphold the practice of closed communion. But to the same extent, becoming an exclusionary Protestant is also not an option for a protestant (or a Catholic) who believes that God's table welcomes all of humanity.  While there are many protestants who advocate and practice an open table for all Christians, there are a significant amount of protestant congregations who do not.  Communion, as I noted before about the fundament difference in questions, comes down to power.  

When we exclude our sisters and brothers from the table of God, we (human beings) claim that correct ritual and theological thinking matter more than God's gift to humanity.  While there is a huge responsbility given to the clergy of any denomination or church to administer the Holy Sacrament of Communion, Christians must affirm that this comes from God, not any heirarchy or "tradition."  God entrusts us with God's gift, so how are we to proceed?  Do we withhold that gift from anyone who is not of sound belief? Who is not pure of heart? How do we measure that?

Do we withhold the gift from those who have not repented of their sins? Does this include investment bankers who have stolen from the rich? Or White settlers who sit on Native lands in the United States and who's government committed genocide against millions of people? Or the US government and descendants of slave owners who stole wages, lives, and countless generations of Africans displaced, captured, and enslaved?

What about those who have not kept the 10 commandments? The politicians who want to get rid of social safety programs and deregulate nursing homes that do not honor thy father and mother as was originally intended in this commandment?  Do we deny communion to those churchgoers who work for Bank of America and Wells Fargo who prey on vulnerable families with usuary-like predatory homeloans and the police officers who expell them from their homes into the streets to experience homelessness and poverty?  Do we deny communion to those who have not explicitly stated that Jesus Christ is their personal lord and savior in the way fitting to the heirarchy or clergy or whoever feels it is necessary to know someone's faith? Do we deny communion to those who are not Catholic? Or who do not act Catholic--that is welcoming of all!?

God poured out God's-self into human life and history through Jesus of Nazareth the Christ for the entire world.  While many faithful Christians have wrestled with this since Jesus' death and resurrection, we have forgotten that Jesus became an oppressed galilean and experienced oppressed existnece. This led God with us to stand up against oppression, and stand with those on the margins of society.  The religious authorities and leaders of Jesus' day exploited the people's fears of God in order to keep them in their place. Through temple sacrifices and temple taxes, they even defied God's law (Torah) by taking every last penny of the most vulnerable person in Jewish-Palestinian society--the widow. (Luke 20:45-47, Luke 21:1-2).  The religious authorities were willing to strip people of their dignity and livelihoods so that they could live comfortably and securely in financial privilege and power with the Roman colonial military administration (and they used theological groundings to do so). 

Jesus stood against this type of religoius, political, social, and economic oppression. Jesus protested and demonstrated against this oppression  driving out the economic and religious elites of the temple (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:15), and effectively organizing a teach-in against the people's oppressors--including those religoius and economic elites of his own people who collaborated with the Romans.  The Jesus Christ I know who became flesh; lived among human beings; was crucified, died, and was risen; that God (The Lord--YHWH embodied in Jesus of Nazareth) comes to human beings still in the Holy Sacrament of Communion. 

This sacrament empowers people to speak out against injustice and for human dignity in every land and every place; against dictators who use violence against their own people; against politicians who sell out their people to the highest paid lobbying firm; against corporations and CEOS who care more about short-term profits and the God of Mammon than the sustainability of our planet, the quality of life for workers and their communities, and the realities of hunger, illness, and social decay that result from their "trickle-down" theories of hierarchical progress.  But this speaking out and standing up also must enter our churches.  This sacrament empowers people to creatively resist and protest against oppressive ways of organizing any ekklesia (assembly, church); whether it is the state, a corporation, or any other religious institution. 

If you want to claim Christ in the Sarament--you must not only claim the benefits of Christ's divinity, but of his slain humanity and "undignifed" body on the Cross.  This was all at the hands of unjust colonial and political rulers, corrupt and exploitative religious authorities, and the demonic powers of militarism with its torture and violence. When we take the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, we are receiving, and therefore joining again and again God's cosmic NO to injustice and oppression, and God's eternal YES to our human dignigty and sustainable life for all of Creation. 

Eternal salvation--that is liberation from the powers of oppressoin and domination, is not only something for the future when we get to the pearly gates of heaven light years away; it is something that is here and now.  We experience a glimpse of God's liberation in Jesus Christ when a RC priest gives communion to a protestant defying the power of men.  I have seen a touch of this liberation when Catholics have refused to stand up to "testify"in the name of their personal Lord and Savior by renouncing their Catholic identity and beliefs.  I have seen this eternal liberation also in the protestants who prayed in silent protest as their Catholic sisters and brothers received communion in Mass. This is not a classless act of an "unbeliever" or person full of them-self.  Rather, this is an act of dignity and love; not only for the Christ within us, but the Christ among us--the Christ among catholics and protestants.  Silent prayer and the disrupting Packman crossing at the table are acts of self-determinition and the dignity found in Christ--that no matter what the hierarchy says about a person--they are still a CHild of God.  It is not, thought it can be interpreted this way, an act of disrespect, since both of these acts are done by Catholics and Protestants in Mass.  The difference lies in a mind-set; am I being refused communion because I am impure or not Catholic enough? Or am i refusing to let one person's interpretation of communion determine my self-worth and diginity before the God revealed in Jesus Christ on the cross who was raised from the dead?  If the latter repulses you, either as a catholic or protestant, perhaps you should silently pray about it and attend a service where you are denied communion in one of the respective traditions.  See how it feels to not receive the gift of God's presence in the Holy Sacrament of Christ's blood and body.  Experience the tastelessness and the lack of presence as a result of human will, not divine love.  Experience it, and remember it; it will not be easy to forget nor to forgive, but God calls us to work for that reconciliation between all people.

Many faithful Christians have seen a glimpse of God's liberation and a piece of Gods kin-dom as people of many different denominations ahve celebrated communion together; Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Presbyterian, UCC, Reformed, Pentecostal, and even Catholic.  This is the unity in Christ; not a conformist institution, but a living and breathing ekkesia movement that rejoices in its diversity and in its savior, deliver, and liberator--Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah for all of the Cosmos. And I give thanks to God for that gift of Jesus which we still offer in body and blodd through the elements of bread and wine.

Thank you Andrew Packman for sharing your story.  Thank you for being a witness, even if I sometimes get lost in language.  Thank you for being open and honest, and for being in dialogue. 


Yes, I think that in attacking the author of this article, we have missed the point of what it means to be in conversation with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Yes, we have different understandings of the Eucharist and communion, but surely our goal is larger than this - surely our goal is to build the Kingdom of God on earth.  And if we cannot find some communion as Christians of many diverse denominations together, if our common love of Christ and of God cannot bridge the gaps of our difference, how are we to serve the wider world with love and compassion and not simply judgment and malice?  I so appreciate this reflection on "Why Communion at All?"  Perhaps it's a question we should all be asking ourselves!

Table Manners

When I come forward, arms crossed, at Mass, I do so in reflection rather than protest.  There is sometimes a pause, but I assume that the officiant is listening for the Spirit, considering what sort of blessing I may need at that moment.  Wherever and however we participate in communion, let's consider, not our opinions about authority and hierarchy, but what we share:  the desire to bless and to be blessed. 

Letter from Ralph E. Nelson

I  resonate with Andrew Packman’s ex­perience of the Eucharist in a Cath­olic church in the Balkans (“Table manners,” Jan. 11). During a ministry of 40 years, I have studied, worked, lectured, preached or traveled in 27 countries. My experience is that the Catholic Church is not nearly as monolithic and exclusive as the American church likes to portray itself as being.

I have been invited by priests not just to receive the Eucharist but also to concelebrate it--in northern Italy, in Jeru­salem and in, of all places, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I suspect that the Ameri­can church tends to perpetuate an image of exclusiveness because it thinks it can afford to, and that this is a characteristic of wealthy societies and a church that fears not being in control. In other parts of the world, like the Balkans, the Eucharist becomes a matter of outreach, driven from within by the gospel message.

If the church was more about outreach and less about control, we would grow in fellowship and faith.

Ralph E. Nelson

Helena, Mont.