By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A scandal is gripping the Catholic Church in Canada after Archbishop Andre Richard of the Moncton Archdiocese gave communion to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a protestant, at a funeral last week. Even more disturbing are eyewitness accounts saying Harper put the host in his pocket rather than consume it.
According to the Canadian Press, the incident occurred during the state funeral of a government official and video footage clearly shows Harper appearing to hesitate just before reaching out with his right hand to take the host from Archbishop Richard.
There seems to be some confusion about what happened next. At least one person at the service thought they saw the Prime Minister put the host in his pocket, although that cannot be verified by the video footage and has been rebutted by the Prime Minister’s Office and by a testimonial from another political dignitary at the funeral.
The Speaker of the Senate of Canada, Noel A. Kinsella, issued a statement refuting the claims the Prime Minister pocketed the holy wafer: “I would like to state that I personally witnessed Prime Minister Harper consume the host that was given to him by Archbishop Andre Richard. Sitting only a few seats behind him I had a full view of the proceedings and clearly saw the Prime Minister accept the host after Archbishop Richard offered it. The Prime Minister consumed it.”
As to why a Roman Catholic Archbishop would offer communion to a Protestant in the first place is unclear. When questioned, Archbishop Richard called the incident “unfortunate” and said he believes Harper meant no disrespect by taking communion.
“In the context, it’s obvious that no disrespect was meant, I’m quite sure,” the Archbishop said in a phone interview.
Richard said a protocol officer told him before the ceremony that anyone who wanted to take part in communion would signal their willingness to do so.
“I’m sure he (Harper) didn’t mean any desecration or nothing of the sort,” the Archbishop said. “Somehow, the gesture was misunderstood. I think he should have been briefed by the protocol of what has to be done in a Catholic ceremony.”
Some mistakenly suggested that exceptions are made for non-Catholics who wish to receive communion at special occasions that involve a mix of religious and civic functions.
But Archbishop Richard said that’s not the case.
“They’re not supposed to, it’s as simple as that” he said. “It’s church law. But many people don’t know this and they come (to participate) as though it was a gesture of brotherhood, which we can appreciate.”
Richard said, as far as he is concerned, the matter is closed.
“I’m certainly not pushing this any further. No.”‘
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1. What does the Catechism teach about the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the unity of Christians?
(Read Nos. 1398 – 1401 which can be viewed at http://www.va/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm#V
2. What are the guidelines issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the reception of Holy Communion by Catholics and non-Catholics? See http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/intercom.shtml
3. Are they any exceptions to these rules? See the response by Colin B. Donovan, STL, vice president of theology at EWTN, available at: http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/intercommunion.htm
4. St. Paul issues a strong warning about receiving the Eucharist unworthily. Read 1Cor.11:27-29.
5. Sacrilegious communions have become almost commonplace. What is a sacrilege and what constitutes a sacrilegious communion? See the Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13321a.htm