Stephen Harper was raised mainstream protestant and about 2 decades ago decided to join the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. To his credit, like PMs before him he has not made a public issue of his denominational choices.
As a leader of The Canadian Alliance Party, The Conservative Party and as Prime Minister of Canada, he has been to his share of funerals in those leadership capacities.
He is also surrounded by staff versed in protocol who would be very aware he is insulting Roman Catholics by receiving the eucharist at a mass he is required to attend. I think he knew that. And I’ve no doubt the Archbishop of Moncton was aware the Prime Minister of Canada is not a Roman Catholic.Â Would it not beÂ the responsibility of Roman Catholic leadershipÂ to tell none Catholics attending a state funeral the difference between receiving a blessing and the Eucharist?
I like Dr. John Stackhouse’s take on this kerfuffle at Holy Post, Harper accused of taking communion, Harper accused of pocketing the wafer. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t; should have, could have Â just…
In the vast majority of protestant churches (including the CM&A) the concept of communion is different than in the Roman Catholic Church. The priest who gave the PM the Eucharist would be welcome to partake.
This was a state funeral, it is the responsibility of the Catholic leadership be clear toÂ guests, for a protestant cannot come to the table in a Roman Catholic church.
Harper as Prime Minister is surrounded by security in a large crowdÂ and like the disabled, the priest brings communion to him.
Third, what about the apparent pocketing of the communion wafer? Well, perhaps the prime minister accepted the wafer, as per his own Christian instincts, and suddenly realized that Catholics might be offended that he took it. So he made the snap decision not to ingest it, but to keep it pending consultation with someone else, perhaps the priest, as to what he should do with the consecrated host. Some time later, he somehow decided to eat it, and did, off camera.
It looks like there were mutual errors.Â I believe the PMO would have briefed Harper, given former GGs don’t pass away that often, but the video appears to put him between a rock and a hard place. He had his hands folded, and perhaps no one told him to keep them folded to receive a blessing instead.Â I find it difficult to believe theÂ priests would notÂ have been briefed. It is a no win situation which didn’t need to happen. I am not defending Stephen Harper but I can’t defend the Archbishop and cathedral staff either. Stackhouse:
Alternatively, however, he might have done what is done in lots of Protestant churches, namely, hold on to the bread until everyone is served and then everyone partakes together in a ritual of solidarity–of communion. When he realized a few moments later, perhaps, that that ritual wasn’t going to take place, he might well have ingested it on his own, as the PMO says he did. Let’s be clear: Protestants rarely attend Catholic services, and vice versa, and there is enough variation in Christian services around to communion for people to be unsure of quite what to do in liturgies not their own.
Everyone, however, seems to have meant well. So it’s time to recall the advice of St. Peter, according to Catholic tradition the first pope: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). And let’s move on to issues much more important to Canadian Catholics and Protestants alike.