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All Of Us, Church Going

I have been away at a funeral for the past few hours. Mike Hughes, a lawyer who was one of the pillars of our local community, died suddenly over the weekend. It was a real shock. His son Stewart, who shared a law practice with him, is our family’s lawyer; I spoke with Mike not long ago, the last time I was in their office. He was a familiar face around town. Then again, everybody’s a familiar face in a town as small as ours.

The funeral, at Grace Episcopal Church, was rich and beautiful. The Rev. Roman Roldan preached a powerful sermon, and reminded us all that life is too short to hold on to resentments. This was no commentary on the deceased, who was widely liked and admired, but a memento mori; Mike was about to retire, and he and his wife Arlene were going to be able to enjoy being together all the time. No more. You never know.

It was standing room only in the church. Watching from the back as nearly everybody went up for communion, it was amazing to me to see how much we all have aged. It’s strange how I can understand myself getting older, but I want everybody I grew up with, and their parents, to remain the same age. But we’re all sadder, saggier, more weary than we were just yesterday. Death — which is to say, Time — is the great leveler. Father Roldan’s words struck me with particular force when looking at the faces of so many people of our town who were more real to me as young adults, younger than I am now, as a matter of fact, but who are now old people. Me and my generation, we’re now middle-aged, and starting to go to each other’s parents’ funerals.

But you know what? I will be back in Grace Episcopal Church this weekend for a friend’s wedding. A couple of years ago, I was there for her father’s funeral. The wheel turns.

I know. This is a commonplace. But the passage of time, and the entrance into eternity of which death is the demarcation, never becomes a commonplace. I was thinking as we left the church singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” how brave it is just to keep living in the face of dying. And I thought: look at all of us, here. Our town.

From Philip Larkin’s great poem “Church Going” [1]:

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

change_me
30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "All Of Us, Church Going"

#1 Comment By Scott Miller On April 13, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

Were you part of the “nearly everybody went up for communion”? Do realize how this is problematic, to say the least, for a member of a church that teaches that the Eucharist is a sacrament?

[NFR: Of course not — but I noticed more than a few Catholics going forward to receive communion. I thought that they were not permitted to as Catholics, by the Catholic Church, but maybe I remember incorrectly. I am certainly prohibited by Orthodox canons from receiving communion in any other church. The priest today reminded the congregation that in the Episcopal Church, all are welcome to commune. There was no bar from an Episcopal point of view to my receiving communion; the prohibition on me comes from the Orthodox side. I recall never receiving communion in any other church but the Catholic Church when I was a Catholic, but to be honest, I can’t remember whether that is official Catholic teaching or not. — RD]

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On April 13, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

Funerals can be jarring, when you encounter an old friend or relative that you have not seen for years, and you are somewhat shocked at their appearance (and perhaps they at yours). It is a rude reminder that our time here is limited, we are just passing through.

Yes, it is not good to carry grudges. Life is too short and if that other person that you are angry with dies before you can make amends, it is too late. You always assume that you will have more time, but you just don’t know when.

#3 Comment By Hunk Hondo On April 13, 2016 @ 4:26 pm

Very sorry to hear of this, Rod.

#4 Comment By JonF On April 13, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

I was notified of the death of an old family friend over the weekend. I will not be going a funeral, though, first off because there will be none (the deceased has only a daughter left and they had agreed there was no point in going to any great expense for a funeral) and also because they live in Seattle. She was, once upon a time, my mother’s best friend when I was a young child– and her daughter, with whom I enjoyed a good long phone call after church Sunday and then sent a dozen roses to, was once my baby-sitter. She had had cancer for many years, but had been blessed with a lengthy remission. When I visited in 2013 the lady seemed scarcely afflicted with anything at all, and it was a good visit.

She was the last person I know who once knew my real mother well as a contemporary*, so this also represents for me the breaking of a final earthly bond with the mother I lost forty years ago next month. Which leaves me to reflect that I am now in some ways at the leading ledge of a generation coursing through time, and the next losses, when they come, may well be of people closer to me in age. Yes, that’s already happened a couple times, though now it no longer feels like there’s still a generation ahead of me.

* I have cousins, and step-siblings, and a couple old friends who remember my mother, but only as children or teenagers.

#5 Comment By Mark On April 13, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

Rod, your post was propitious as I was at a funeral yesterday. A parishioner of mine died from pancreatic cancer. You post reminds me of the wise words of the Preacher:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

#6 Comment By Michael On April 13, 2016 @ 5:06 pm

but I noticed more than a few Catholics going forward to receive communion. I thought that they were not permitted to as Catholics, by the Catholic Church, but maybe I remember incorrectly.

You remember correctly. Short of some pretty big exceptions (which, I’m pretty sure “funeral of someone I liked where the guy there said I could come up” doesn’t qualify), for Catholics to receive communion outside of the Catholic Church is a pretty big no-no. Probably a mortal sin…although given the state of catechesis these days, it might not be possible for anyone to commit a mortal sin.

Although now that I think about it, the Church might be okay with Catholics receiving at an Orthodox Church, because Rome regards Orthodox sacraments as valid. But of course, the Orthodox would have something to say about it.

[NFR: Communion is reserved for the Orthodox in Orthodox churches. Catholic churches do welcome Orthodox Christians to communion in their churches, but Orthodox bishops do not permit their people to partake. This was a sad thing for me in Norcia, but obedience is obedience. — RD]

#7 Comment By Liam On April 13, 2016 @ 5:17 pm

I will offer another sobering thought:

It seems many people carry in their imaginations a movie containing episodes of their past, present and as-yet unlived future life. Among these episodes is the death-bed, with the husband/wife at our side. The reality is that most people don’t die with a spouse at their side: except for rare (except in time of war or natural disaster) cases of simultaneous death, one spouse dies before the other who is Left Behind. (And there are single and separated folks who also manage to die, though they are less likely to have that movie episode in their heads as they age.)

Movies are not real. Even our memories can partake of fiction as we reorganize them.

#8 Comment By EJ On April 13, 2016 @ 5:24 pm

Your post made me think of the ending of Mrs. Miniver. [2]

#9 Comment By Judy On April 13, 2016 @ 5:40 pm

Catholics are not supposed to take part in worship or communion services of non-Catholic faith communities. They can attend a funeral or wedding, but not receive communion, as it would be taken as a sign of assent to the beliefs of that faith.

#10 Comment By Michelle On April 13, 2016 @ 5:49 pm

I’m not sure how much bravery it takes to keep on living in the face of death. The survival instinct compels us forward. But deaths and births do serve to remind us that we’re part of a natural cycle that went on long before our arrival and will continue long past our death. It may be cliche to note that life is short but easily forget how fragile and fleeting it is.

May your friend rest in peace.

[NFR: I was thinking of his widow, who so bravely walked behind his coffin today, weeping, but singing the hymn. I just put my head down; the emotion was too intense, but boy, did I ever admire her. Last week at this time, she was happy. And now this. I was at the funeral with my mother, who has been a widow for seven months now. But my dad’s funeral was a very different thing, because we had all had time to prepare for his death. What a mercy that was, in retrospect. — RD]

#11 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On April 13, 2016 @ 5:56 pm

Prayers and condoleances to the family and friends.

#12 Comment By Richard On April 13, 2016 @ 7:02 pm

FYI, the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 844 §1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and ⇒ can. 861, §2.

§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.

§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.

#13 Comment By Anne On April 13, 2016 @ 7:02 pm

Re Catholics receiving Communion in an Episcopal church: it is generally not permitted (canon 844), because, like the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church believes Communion is only for those in a state of grace and should signify full unity with “the Church.” And for Catholics, “the Church” means the Catholic Church. Since the Episcopal church doesn’t share in that unity, a Catholic can’t receive Communion with Episcopalians. That’s the general rule, but the truth is the rule is often set aside among those involved in ecumenical activities, and canon 844 itself includes an exception “whenever necessity requires or general spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.” Nowdays, on occasions such as funerals, Catholics tend to believe the spirit of promoting Christian unity trumps canon law and choose to share Communion whenever the host church invites them to do so.

#14 Comment By Samuel Hooper On April 13, 2016 @ 8:06 pm

Many commiserations on the loss of your friend and neighbour, Rod. That was a beautiful piece, and a great poetry selection.

#15 Comment By William Tighe On April 13, 2016 @ 8:57 pm

“I recall never receiving communion in any other church but the Catholic Church when I was a Catholic, but to be honest, I can’t remember whether that is official Catholic teaching or not.”

It is binding authoritative Catholic teaching, with the only exceptions being that if there is a pressing and urgent reason to do so (some argue), and even then only in a church which has, in Catholic terminology, “valid Orders” (such as. e.g., the Orthodox Church(es) or the Polish National Catholic Church) and even then it would be strongly discouraged for Catholics to receive communion in a church (e.g., the Orthodox) to which such an attempt to communicate would be offensive.

But lots of Catholics seem to be willing to receive communion in any non-Catholic at which they happen to be present at a communion service. Years ago I asked a Catholic friend why he and his wife, visiting some Episcopalian friends for the weekend, not only went to the Eucharist at their friends Episcopal Church, but rec’d communion at it. “We were afraid that they might think us rude if we didn’t,” was their reply. More recently I rec’d the answer “it’s all the same anyway” to the same question from a Catholic who spoke of his going to communion whenever he attended a friend’s Methodist church.

It seems to me that these people have been perfectly “protestantized” without being aware of it, not in the strong robust “Reformational” sense of the word, but simply in an American post-denominational, even post-Christian way, where “not upsetting people” is the greatest virtue, and “it’s all the same” functions as a kind of ecclesiological Know-Nothingism.

#16 Comment By JaC On April 13, 2016 @ 9:11 pm

I can’t cite CCC numbers. But I remember reading in the CCC that RCs are not allowed to receive communion from anyone but a RC or EO priest. Of course an Orthodox priest would not commune a RC.

#17 Comment By David J. White On April 13, 2016 @ 10:04 pm

Mike was about to retire, and he and his wife Arlene were going to be able to enjoy being together all the time. No more. You never know.

This happened to my paternal grandparents. My father had recently left home and gotten married, my great-grandparents (for whom my grandmother cared in their later years, since my grandparents were living in their house) had recently died, and my father’s younger sister had just left home. My grandparents were finally able to be alone with one another for the first time in their married life — and my grandfather died of a heart attack at 51 (two years younger than I am now). At a time when she was looking forward to enjoying retirement and grandchildren, my grandmother had to go back to work. At least he lived to see his first grandchild (me).

#18 Comment By WillW On April 13, 2016 @ 10:22 pm

Prayers. An expected death is so very hard to cope with.

#19 Comment By CharleyCarp On April 13, 2016 @ 10:27 pm

My dad’s funeral was in February, and it does get you thinking. The most pointed moment, though, was a week later, when I was on the opposite coast closing out their summer home. They’d ended up there because a couple they’d been friends with since before I was born had moved there — the woman of that couple passed away about the same time as my mom. The man, who is drifting into dementia, came by to see me. Whenever he leaves a room it goes dark. He’s aware enough to know it. A tough goodbye.

I got him to accept a wine glass etched with the logo of a business my dad had helped found in the 70s, and I know it’ll be a point of light whenever he drinks anything from it.

#20 Comment By dominic1955 On April 13, 2016 @ 10:41 pm

Rod,

“Communion is reserved for the Orthodox in Orthodox churches. Catholic churches do welcome Orthodox Christians to communion in their churches, but Orthodox bishops do not permit their people to partake. This was a sad thing for me in Norcia, but obedience is obedience.”

Generally speaking, yes, but I have seen some instances for individual cases in which an Orthodox (I believe Coptic or Antiochian in those cases) and the local Catholic ordinary both allowed for a member of the Orthodox to receive communion in a Catholic church.

Your communion in ROCOR (I think?) and so they are probably stricter.

“Since the Episcopal church doesn’t share in that unity, a Catholic can’t receive Communion with Episcopalians.”

More importantly, we don’t think the Episcopal clergy are validly ordained and so they can’t validly confect the Eucharist anyway.

“That’s the general rule, but the truth is the rule is often set aside among those involved in ecumenical activities, and canon 844 itself includes an exception “whenever necessity requires or general spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.”

You didn’t quote the whole thing though, and what you left out corrects this misunderstanding you have put forward-

“Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.”

They are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches THESE SACRAMENTS ARE VALID.

That means, basically, the Eastern/Oriental Orthodox, the Polish National Catholic Church, any Old Catholics that haven’t gone nuts, and a very small handful of other schismatic groups that have maintained valid orders.

Episcopalians? Nope. Any other liturgical Protestants? Nope.

“Nowdays, on occasions such as funerals, Catholics tend to believe the spirit of promoting Christian unity trumps canon law and choose to share Communion whenever the host church invites them to do so.”

No, its usually because they are wholly ignorant. They see the Episcopal services are somewhat close to the new Catholic Mass and probably don’t even think that when it comes to that part when people get up to receive the “wafer” that in this case they shouldn’t. Autopilot kicks in. Same reason they probably genuflect in a non-Catholic church (or even funnier, a funeral home chapel)-sheer habit.

#21 Comment By Liam On April 14, 2016 @ 4:41 am

I vote for the Habit option with more context: the routine offering of communion in the Episcopalian church (and some other denominations) is more common since … Vatican II … than it used to be. I am old enough to remember non-Catholic friends telling me they only had communion once a month at most.

#22 Comment By BlairBurton On April 14, 2016 @ 7:13 am

Lovely, thank you. And my sympathies at the loss of your friend, and to his family. My father died very suddenly, and while it is more merciful to the one who passed, the shock to the family is horrendous, on top of the grief.

#23 Comment By Paul Emmons On April 14, 2016 @ 7:29 am

It’s refreshing to hear of a church in which “Onward, Christian soldiers” is sung. This is a hopeful sign. Around here, congregations like it but trendy PC clergy discourage, or even forbid it. A friend of mine was organist in a parish whose rectorina had declared it a no-no. On one of his last Sundays before moving on to a more desirable post, she was away, and he decided to use Onward, Christian Soldiers, taboo or no taboo. He had nothing to lose. Not only did they sing the roof off, but the experience seemed to galvanize their accumulated objections to a person who had made herself fairly unpopular. When she returned, it wasn’t he but she who was in the dog house. She had lost the support even of the bishop, and resigned shortly thereafter.

Apparently maybe people don’t know what a simile is anymore. “Marching AS to war”, it goes. If one opposes militaristic hymns, what about “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”, for example? The incitement to war there looks much more literal to me; but it usually flies under the radar.

I believe that if a hymn is in the official hymnal, then the congregation has a right to sing it at some time or other. It is merely up to liturgists and service planners to find the best time. In the past, that would have been the season of pre-Lent (‘gesima Sundays), when spiritual warfare was a traditional theme. But that entire season has now been dropped. No wonder the church is losing its kids nowadays, especially the boys.

#24 Comment By William Tighe On April 14, 2016 @ 7:31 am

To amplify what I wrote earlier, Anglican churches (whether “Canterbury Communion” official Anglicans or break-away “Continuing Anglicans”) do not possess “valid Orders” in Catholic eyes, so Canon 844 – thank you, Richard – does not apply (note to Anne) to them. Both the Orthodox Church(es) and the Oriental Orthodox neither welcome members of other churches to share their communion nor permit their churches’ members to participate in other churches’ sacraments – although in practice there is often some sharing between the Orths and the Ori. Orths in “diaspora situations” (a practice which is strongly opposed as much by, say, Ethiopian OO monks as by Athonite O ones) and between “Eastern Rite Catholics” and their Orthodox counterparts in the Middle East (but only very rarely elsewhere). The one Eastern Church which seems to allow a limited degree of, perhaps unofficial, “eucharistic hospitality” to Catholics (and perhaps others) has been the Assyrian Church of the East (the so-called “Nestorians”). The “Polish National Catholic Church” (which originated in
Scranton, PA, in 1898 and exists primarily in the USA and Canada) seems to have no problems in practice with giving communion to anybody – in that respect behaving as do many American and Canadian Catholic clergy.

#25 Comment By mrscracker On April 14, 2016 @ 10:30 am

My daddy wanted “Old Man River” or “When the Saints Come Marching In” played at his funeral but the priest said no when that time came.

#26 Comment By JonF On April 14, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

Re: But my dad’s funeral was a very different thing, because we had all had time to prepare for his death. What a mercy that was, in retrospect.

Yes, this. A sudden and unanticipated death may be merciful for the deceased who does not have to suffer pain and frailty and incompetence– but it leaves the survivors with emotional whiplash. My father’s long decline was a stressful thing on all of us, but when the end came we had worked everything out and did what we had planned and came through it as if we had practiced. My step-mother’s sudden fatal heart attack in 2009 came right out of no where and had some serious consequences especially for my younger step-sister who has needed years to recover from the shock of it.

#27 Comment By JonF On April 14, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

Re: there is often some sharing between the Orths and the Ori. Orths in “diaspora situations”

Ethiopian Orthodox, though their churches are not formally in communion with ours, have been welcome to commune in more than one Orthodox church I have attended. My former (Antiochian Orthodox) church in south Florida has a substantial Ethiopian community that worships there.

#28 Comment By Richard2 On April 14, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

My dear friend Marjorie Malley died unexpectedly in January, bringing an end to 56 years of correspondence. She could hardly have had a better life: a husband she loved, hard-earned prosperity, children and grandchildren, and finally professional acclaim. I am glad she lived long enough to see her history of the study of radioactivity before World War I published by Oxford University Press in English and French and Chinese.

The Stanford spoof for April Fool’s Day reminded me of Marjorie with its proud assertion that Half Lives Matter and its call for justice for expiring atoms. She would have loved that, and I thought I must send it to her, and then remembered she was gone.

#29 Comment By Phil Lawless On April 14, 2016 @ 1:30 pm

I find the Communion issue at funerals to be largely overblown. Arguing about church doctrine and official positions seems uncharitable in that instance; it is not likely to happen again. Communion is a multi-faceted sacrament, sometimes unifying, sometimes nourishing, sometimes celebrating, but it is never something earned. It is offered freely in love and in service among friends – read the Last Supper account. If you can’t make a communion celebration part of your relationship with the deceased, then feel free to abstain, quietly. But even if you need to judge that the form of a particular Communion is defective in your own mind, I think we are all free to continue our relationships with the deceased and family in whatever communion they think appropriate. God would not be pleased if we could not do that.

#30 Comment By cka2nd On April 14, 2016 @ 5:15 pm

There’s a marvelous version of “Onward Christian Soldiers” in “Stanley & Livingstone,” the 1939 Hollywood feature starring Spencer Tracy and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. It comes after Stanley finds the good doctor (“Dr. Lingstone, I presume.”) in an African village. I could be wrong about this, but the arrangement of the song always struck me as being, at least in part, authentically African.

My condolences, Ron.