The Table

I don’t know. Maybe it was just the impact of the Harvey Weinstein and so many other revelations, and the “Me, Too” reactions, that finally opened my eyes to a “passive harassment” that happens each time at our very own Mass.

Hopefully you are farther along in awareness than I sometimes tend to be, but just in case, you may want to ponder this as I did: At the last Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference, Tina Beattie, Catholic feminist writer, speaker, and professor, asked this intriguing question: Do men and women experience the Mass differently? She then challenged us to answer it and suggested an experiment: While participating in the Eucharistic part of the Mass, what if you shifted genders in your imagination?

Last Sunday I found I had involuntarily participated in that very experiment. The church I attend was built in the 1850’s and has some beautiful, if traditional, artwork including an enormous painting of Christ dying on the cross directly behind the altar. As I stared at it that day, some of the priest’s words started piercing my (sadly usual) daydreaming and, though I had heard them hundreds of times before, penetrated my consciousness. Words like “sacrifice,” “contrite,” “iniquities,” “body,” “blood” and phrases like “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus…,” brutal images of violence and violation, wounds, blood, dying, dominated my imagination. Was that a masculine perception? Or merely a human one? More importantly, was there another way of looking at the Communion ritual that brought in more of the feminine?

As Tina Beattie had reminded us at that time, for women, body and blood usually tend to conjure up much different images: of fecundity, birth, creation, new life. My head tilted as I remembered others who had pointed out that when women carry a child, they literally do convert “bread and drink” into “body and blood”. I had taken in those words intellectually at the time (labeling the concept “interesting”), but that day, as I watched the Eucharistic ritual in progress, it suddenly hit me how completely outrageous prohibiting women from consecrating and creating transubstantiation really was. Why do these “sacred vessels”, our bodies, work so much against us in the Catholic Church? The closed door really has opened – no, reopened – a primal wound. For me, too, I thought. Me, too.

Then came the distribution of communion, in our church, literally baked bread and wine, not wafers. Traditionally feminine words leaped to my mind: “nurturing”, “nourishing”, “sharing”, “feeding”, what some women have been doing since they first started gathering rather than hunting. Bread and wine given and taken in; the love of God given and taken in, these, I thought – as many have thought before me – should be the main communion emphasis, its power and glory.

What, indeed, if there were less emphasis on the violence, violation, and suffering of crucifixion and on triumph over death by blood sacrifice, and more on making God present in the world through nurture and nourishment. What if the huge crucified Christ behind the altars in our own churches were replaced by Pietas, Mary’s sacred body endlessly holding Christ’s, and then, at those same altars, all genders, as sacramental vessels, proclaiming to the rest of us, all of us, that we are the same. We, too. We, too.

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