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Moments in Time Confused Consecration

By Gary Macy

Sometimes you hear complaints about the level of knowledge of catechism in parishes in the United States, and, indeed sometimes one wonders what people actually think Christianity is all about. Things look great, however in comparison with the very early Middle Ages, when “conversion” could mean no more than that the ruler had decreed that everyone was now Christian. People in local churches sort of made it up as they went along. Laws passed to deal with the worst problems were collected by Burchard, bishop of Worms, in the 11th century. His book is an amazing guide to church life in this crazy period. Here are two examples from his book: “The sacrifice ought not to be accepted from the hands of a priest who is not able to execute the prayers or the readings or the other observances of the Mass according to the rite.” This law was more a wish than a reality, I am sure. Even more disturbing, however, is the law which threatens “if any bishop or priest outside the command of the Lord offers something else in sacrifice upon the altar, that is, either honey or milk or raisins instead of wine, or some other concoction, or a bird, or some other animal, or beans, thus working against the constitution of the Lord, he is to be deposed.” At least no parish I know of consecrates chickens along with the bread and wine at Mass. I wonder if reception was in the hand.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego.

National Catholic Reporter, October 22, 1999