Monday, 3 December 2007

Surely you can’t lose your licence after a miracle?


The other day I heard a priest being interviewed on the radio about the proposed new drink-driving limits.
His argument was that, in the course of a busy day’s work, it was quite possible he might drink the alcohol-equivalent of several glasses of wine. As part of his work in the parish, he had to perform Mass at many different locations, and he was worried that if he were breathalysed, he might be over the new lower limit.
The interview then lost its way, as the journalist and the priest pontificated about where the best New World wines came from, blah dee blar.
My mind, however, was racing, careering along a motorway of curiosity, hurtling inexorably toward one extremely dodgy question.
If the wine has become blood, why does he fear the breathalyser?
Despite how it may appear to some readers, this colyoom does not seek to upset or vilify anyone. The weekly flushings of a disturbed mind might inadvertently be mistaken for diatribe and invective, but usually, all I want is to understand what on earth is going on in the minds, hearts and spirits of the people of my adopted country
As a mutant Atheist-Pantheist from a Jewish family in a mostly Protestant multi-denominational country, I am genuinely curious.
Until I came to Ireland I had never encountered a country that had written the Catholic Church into its constitution, so when I first started spouting for this Noble Rag back in the early 90s, I upset a whole heap of worshippers with ignorant blather.
Sadly, some saw fit to respond by sending me soiled condoms in the post, alongside a regular supply of dumped foetus photographs.
Nowadays, despite falling attendances in the cities, you only have to drive through the Irish countryside on a Sunday morning to see, from the miles of parked cars around rural churches, that worship is alive and well .
Yet the Irish have become much harder to shock since the 90’s. No other European nation has endured such a lot of social engineering. The Irish, with their fragile post-colonial psyches in the first flush of independent wealth have been sanded down with the removal of plastic bags, polished up with the banning of smoking, and dressed up with a ribbon by the introduction of the Euro.
Now, their leader can award himself a raise worth €38,000, while the Irish average industrial worker earns €33,000 all year, and nobody says ‘Boo!’.
This colyoom has never sought to be shocking for shocking’s sake. That would be a pretty sad and desperate way to write. And thankfully, the messy used condoms have dried up, so to speak.
So it is with some confidence that I ask these questions.
Is the miracle of transubstantiation not a central tenet of Catholicism?
And if so, surely, either the wine and wafer turn to blood and flesh, or they do not.
And if they do, then why would a priest fear that he might have drunk too much wine?
Did all those thousands who fought the post-Reformation wars die in vain?
Are the churches of Catholicism and Protestantism built simply on different levels of symbolism, or do Catholics still actually believe that body and blood are physically and not just spiritually that?
Because if they do, somebody should get on to that priest, and show him the door.
Why do I shudder at the thought of bread and wine becoming flesh and blood in my mouth, when I love rare steak and a drop of the old Saint Emillion Grand Cru?
Maybe I just like a bit of symbolism in religion.
Every single Friday night of my childhood, without fail, my family gathered around the table, and my Dad read from the old book for Kiddush, the arrival of the Jewish Sabbath.
The mother lights and blesses the candles, the father tells the story of how God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. As one, we recite the blessing of the wine, pass the Kiddush cup around the table, and we all take a sip. Then we all bless the bread, break the cholla loaf, dip our piece into the salt, and eat.
For us the wine and bread are clearly symbols of all food and drink; a reason to give thanks. No miracles, save for the greatest of all: that to this day, my father still reads every Friday from the same book, to my mum, brother, sister and nieces.
And when I am there, I love to join in, because even as an Atheist-Pantheist mutant, I still feel Jewish; love the tradition, the culture and the knowledge that, at the heart of the faith, family itself matters most.
It is possible that the Last Supper was just such a Kiddush night, but many believe that it was Seder night when Jesus broke bread and drank wine for the last time with his friends and followers
The Seder, like the Kiddush and all other Jewish festivals, starts in the home, and heralds Passover. It is the time we tell the story of the escape of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt; of the plagues; how the Angel of Death passed over and the Red Sea split, delivering us from bondage.
At the end we al toast:
‘Next year in Jerusalem!’
and then take time to pray for the release of all those around the world who are today in slavery and bondage.
If the Eucharist is a legacy of the Seder, then indeed, the wafer would make sense. Every Friday, at the Kiddush, we eat curvy fluffy cholla bread, but at the Seder we eat matzo, (water biscuit), because, as the Passover story explains, so great was the rush to get away from Pharaoh's men, that the Israelites did not wait for their bread to rise.
Hopefully you'll have twigged by now that I’m being neither flippant nor derisory, but genuinely interested in the official line:
Is it blood or wine?
And if it’s blood, then surely it has no alcohol in it? So write, email or leave a comment on the blog.
For some reason, I cannot rid my head of the image of Father Ted trying to train his young apprentice how to respond to a visiting Bishop.
“Remember Dougal , whatever he asks, always just say ‘Ah now, that would be an ecumenical matter!’ ”


Timothy said...

Greetings! You posit some common misconceptions regarding the Eucharist. The following may be helpful:


God bless...

Charlie Adley said...


That was an interesting read, and certainly answers some of my questions, but to the central issue of whether the Priest on the radio was correct to fear the breathalyser, I quote from your suggested text:

'The change is entire. Nothing of the substance of bread remains, nothing of the substance of wine. Neither is annihilated; both are simply changed.

The appearances of bread and wine remain. We know that by our senses. We can see, touch, and taste them. We digest them when we receive Communion. After the consecration they exist by God's power. Nothing in the natural order supports them because their own proper substance is gone.'

So it seems, if he had the faith he need not worry about drinking and driving.

Thanks for your input Timothy, most enlightening.