Friday, 15 November 2013

Church in the Catacombs?

In the article "Church in the Pub?," Hans Boersma from Regent College discusses what he thinks is wrong with the recent phenomenon of holding church in pubs and other secular spaces. His argument boils down to his dislike of holding Holy Communion in the pub, because the distinction between the supernatural and the natural ought to be marked. I think this might be a little inconsistent with his nod to a broad understanding of sacramentality--that is, that all the world's sacramental--but I'm inclined to think that 1) he isn't really invested in broad sacramentality and 2) you could argue that precisely because of broad sacramentality you need to perform specific sacraments in a marked manner to heighten the experience or awareness of their specific sacramentality (he doesn't make that argument, but I could comfortably supply it for him).

The core of his argument isn't really what caught my eye in the article, though. This did catch my eye:
It’s not as if we need cathedrals to worship God. However, I do take issue with the dismissive attitudes that comes across in the article [describing churches in pubs] toward celebrating the liturgy in church buildings. When, because of persecution, we celebrate communion in the catacombs, we’re suffering. Meeting with God in such environments is incongruous with our understanding of who he is and what we’re doing together in this liturgical celebration.
Catacombs seem, to me, to be the worst example he could have chosen to make his point. If you couldn't hold the Eucharist in a cathedral, I can't think of a better place than the graveyard to hold it. The Eucharist, after all, is a celebration of a botched death, an execution that didn't take. It's a promise that death will not be meaningless, and that it will not be permenant, but that it will happen, and that's a promise that only means anything at all amid the dying. Catacombs seem to be exactly congruous with a robust understanding of the Eucharist. (And, in fact, this should become truer the more conservative you are: Chesterton speaks of tradition as democracy with the dead, after all.) For goodness sake, lots of Christians, even now, hold celebrations in graveyards on purpose.

I'm a little bit convinced that the atmosphere matters to the proceedings, and for this reason I'd be inclined enough to eschew pubs, but if you really want a setting that is congruous with the sacrament, then I have some settings I'd which to suggest to Regent College: Hastings Street, Vancouver General Hospital, and Riverview Hospital. I don't think there's anything wrong with suffering a little when we celebrate Communion (so long as that suffering is something we've chosen ourselves), if only so that we can appreciate the fact that we're celebrating communion with the suffering.

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