Monday, August 30, 2010

The Least Controversy

The Catholic Church has suffered its fair share of controversy over the past life of its existence (and particularly the last 10 years), and I don't mean to take away from those involved in these difficult issues, but there is one additional Catholic church controversy that everyone who attends a mass is confronted with in every mass: Should you sit down or stand as you wait to take communion? Everyone knows that after you take communion you kneel and either pray or pretend to pray because at that moment you are said to be as close to God as you can be (since you are eating his Son), but there is more confusion in the church before receiving communion than you can shake a confusion-finding stick at.

The reason this comes to mind is because this past weekend, my sister-in-law had her Catholic church wedding to another family friend on Friday evening. The ceremony and reception both went great and everything went smoothly up until the moment that the priests took their chalices and made their way to the front of the church.

For as long as I have been attending mass, the same awkward process has played out in churches ranging all the way from Birmingham to Ann Arbor to Royal Oak. It's probably going on outside of this church triangle but I can't say definitively. Here's how it goes.

First, the people in the front pews start to shuffle into the center aisle. At that moment, everyone behind the fifth row starts to look around the church in search of helpful signals. The fifth row is key because the people in that row and forward know that very soon, they will be making their way up for the wafer so they don't necessarily have to choose between sitting and standing. No one wants to make eye contact as they look around for the sit vs. stand signal because that would indicate that they are unsure whether or not they are supposed to sit or stand. As soon as people start to look around, everyone feels a little bit guilty because even though they have likely been attending mass for years and years, they're still not sure if they're supposed to be sitting or standing. It is also at this moment that an even broader guilt settles in as the confused individuals realize and accept for another week that not only do they not know when to sit or stand throughout the entire ceremony (without explicit cues), but they often don't know the exact correct verbal responses at the end of readings.

"Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ." or "Thanks be to God." or "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." and don't even get be started on the whole Nicene Creed. That thing is absolutely ridiculous. I love the people who know it and shout it out proud to demonstrate their excellent levels of Catholicism.

After this awkwardness, the people in the very back of the church realize that they're pretty sure they're supposed to be sitting, that they'll have to wait the longest to get to the front, and so they take their seats. After this, the remainder of the back third identifies that some people have led the way and are already sitting, and the whole back third flings themselves down to the pews. By this time, the front third of the church has already been served their Lord, the middle third sees that the back third is seated, and they're torn because it's almost their turns to eat. Because of this confusion, some of them sit, some of them stand, and some kind of do the squat sit to hedge their bets. You don't want to choose the wrong option lest God get angry and banish you to Hell for improper sitting approaches.

I contend that God is OK with you sitting during the entire communion process, even after you've ingested the host. It's the Greater Power's award to the congregation for both showing up to praise and making it all the way through communion. Don't even get me stared on everyone who leaves right after Communion. For those people, it doesn't matter if you sit or stand because God is keeping score and you don't get a point for the Mass at all if you leave right after Communion. And, as with most things, he who has the highest score wins.

Who disagrees?

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