My sharing of excerpts from Lisa Nilles’ paper, “Take, All of You, and Eat”: The Recent History of Catholic Clergy Denying Communion to Baptized Catholics,” continues with Rainbow Sash wearers’ “emotional” and “intellectual” responses to being denied Communion.
For Part 1 of “‘Take, All of You and Eat’: Communion and the Rainbow Sash” (including background information about this series of posts) click here.
The images that accompany Part II were taken at this year’s Pentecost Sunday mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.
What was your emotional response to being denied Communion?
At about half way through mass I began to cry, knowing I would be denied Communion. I was not expecting such an emotional response. I remembered all the years of receiving Eucharist and thought about what that has meant to me. I could remember other times at our Church when I would watch our friends and parishioners in line to receive Christ. I remembered being at the Cathedral for our kids’ Confirmation, and, yes, our gay son was also confirmed there. As all these thoughts came, I began sobbing and could barely control myself. I was devastated when Archbishop Flynn denied me Communion.
I thought I would be sad and feel shamed. But I found that I was more angry than sad. After I returned to my pew, we all remained standing with our hands outstretched. A woman who came after us [and who was not wearing a Rainbow Sash] came to our row and began breaking her host into pieces and sharing it with as many as she could. I felt flooded with acceptance and happiness by her gesture. Of course this action inflamed the ushers who summoned a security guard!
Being denied Communion really caught me off guard. I knew it was coming and yet I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of rejection that I experienced. Being refused the Eucharist, as a Rainbow Sash wearer, was the first time in my white, middle class life when I experienced, in a very small way, what it is like to be singled out and denied because of a prejudice. It was quite sobering and I felt sad.
I felt anger and disdain. Because I have identified as a “Catholic in exile” in recent years, I rarely attend mass or receive the Eucharist because I cannot separate the pastoral church from some of the hideous doctrines, policies, and public statements of the institutional church. I believe affiliating with the Church in any official way sells out both my gay son and my feminist daughter. I was, however, born, raised, and educated through college in the Catholic faith, and claim a legitimate Catholic voice – whether I am in or out of exile.
I felt sorry for the lay people who were distributing the Eucharist, because they did not have a clue as to what they were doing. They were strictly “following orders.” I was, however, furious with the hierarchy.
At Communion, the choir sang Bread of Love (“Joined together as one body . . . every person brings a gift . . . every life is full of merit . . . we are called to be God’s people . . .”) Somehow, I still had hope we might not be refused communion, but when the first of our group approached the Communion distributor, she refused. People in line who didn’t have a sash or rainbow symbol, received. Anyone with even a small rainbow symbol, was refused. When it was my turn, I held out my hands and said, “I am a baptized Catholic and have loved and served God all my life. Will you give me Communion?” The distributor said, “No.” When I reached to take a host from the plate, they covered it with their hand. I said, “Jesus would never deny anyone Communion, and I wouldn’t deny you, either. Will you please give me Communion?” He said, “No.” My whole soul was grieved by the reality of what the Church was doing to me and others.
What was your intellectual response?
It was all so hard to grasp intellectually. I absolutely do not agree with denying Communion to anyone who asks respectfully and in good faith. I think the real sin against the Holy Spirit is to say someone God has made is not holy. I tried to reason with myself that the persons refusing Communion were somehow following orders and not able to reason beyond that to what Jesus would do. I was reminded of those who put people in gas chambers during the holocaust and who later said it was because authorities told them to do it.
Intellectually, I know Archbishop Flynn is taking orders from Rome and has taken a vow of obedience to the Vatican. Even though many priests and nuns totally disagree with the “no Communion to wearers of the Rainbow Sash,” they either won’t speak to the “powers” or they ignore their own common sense. I think Nazi Germany was a little like that.
I don’t remember an intellectual response [as being denied Communion] was so painful for me. I knew it would happen but somehow could not believe it when it did. I was not at all prepared for the emotions I was experiencing.
The patriarchy lives! No one has the right to withhold Eucharist. Did Jesus deny Judas or Peter or the women at the Last Supper? The patriarchy lives – and lives off the burdens it places on others.
I couldn’t believe that Catholic clergy – who are supposed to be the ethical and moral authorities in our faith – would put their position ahead of this act of spiritual violence.
My head tells me that this is not what the Jesus of the Gospels would be doing.
I see the hierarchy of the Church as a dying breed. The denial of Communion is one more reflection of a shallow doctrinaire mentality which seems to permeate the priesthood. I also feel the Church is entrenched in internalized homophobia – so many gay clergy who displace their self-hatred onto our families and their congregations via their twisted policies and unloving public statements like the bishop’s most recent declaration on homosexuality.
The Eucharistic ministers I went to each refused to give me Communion, but each said, “God be with you,” or something like that. I so wanted to tell them I didn’t believe they really meant it, but also realized this was not the time for dialogue, so responded with, “God be with you also.” I found myself in a state of hyper-awareness to the others in the congregation and to the ministers – just watching everyone’s behavior and demeanor. There was a man in front of us with several children. He was acting extremely offended by us. I saw him outside afterwards yelling at one of the other mothers in our group.
Refusing us Communion is a power play by the archbishop against GLBT Catholics. I have stated in multiple letters to the archbishop that wearing the Rainbow Sash is not a statement of disagreement with Church teaching on homosexuality. The Rainbow Sash says that the wearer is a GLBT person, or supporter of those who are GLBT. In refusing us Communion, the archbishop is imposing his own interpretation on what the Rainbow Sash means: that it is a statement of disagreement with Church teaching. In politics there is a saying that they who control the definitions, control the debate. The archbishop is trying to control the definition of the Rainbow Sash over and above what those who wear it say that it means. It’s a power play.
My response was both intellectual and emotional – I really can’t separate them. What I couldn’t help thinking and feeling was: “They successfully denied us Eucharist, but they couldn’t deny us God’s Spirit!” It was Pentecost, and the Spirit of God was so alive, so present, so strong in us. I felt overwhelmed with God’s love and confirmation of who we are! It was also striking before the celebration began when we were handing out explanations of what we were doing and why, that the sash wearers were at peace, full of the Spirit, really celebrating Pentecost and able to reach out in genuine kindness to those who were opposing us, but so many of those who wanted nothing to do with us, or who had words of condemnation or criticism for us, were so obviously afraid, not living in the freedom of the children of God. It struck me as ironic, and I actually felt sorry for them.
NOTE: For the third and final part of “‘Take, All of You and Eat’: Communion and the Rainbow Sash,” click here.
Images: Michael Bayly
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
My Rainbow Sash Experience
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ” – Reflections on the Eucharist
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom
Who Gets to be Called “Catholic” – And Why?
Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”
The Many Forms of Courage
Take This Bread
Recommended Off-site Links:
The Rainbow Sash Alliance USA
What Happened at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday 2007 – A Statement by Brian McNeill, Rainbow Sash Alliance USA