If the churches don’t come up with a better definition and understanding of hospitality, I think we will continue to have problems as happened recently in Toronto. (Sorry to those involved that I am dragging this out in the light again, but I really don’t think it’s been addressed adequately.)
A man came to church with his dog. That’s not the problem. I’ve taken animals to church myself, including a just-born lamb. He was new to the church, but was an acquaintance of the interim priest in some way. He came forward to the altar rail for communion and the dog came, too. The priest, for whatever motivation, deliberately gave the dog a consecrated wafer. That poor priest didn’t get home, I bet, before someone called her bishop. (This is an Anglican church, obviously!)
We don’t give consecrated bread to animals.
There are many reasons why she might have given the wafer to the dog – St. Francis gave consecrated host to the birds, and in some places, consecrated wafers may be spread on the ground for God’s creatures to take, if the wafers are unusable. This does happen: I’ve had to do it myself, when someone spilled water into the ciborium, when reserved sacrament had become so stale that it was inedible, and when a nursing home patient spat the host back at me. Burning the unusable host is preferable but not always practical. So it isn’t wrong for an animal to eat the host, but only if it is incidental.
She may have thought it was hospitable to the guest and the dog to give the animal what the people were getting. It was the deliberate nature of the act that caused her trouble.
On the flippant side, we could argue that the dog isn’t baptized and shouldn’t receive the sacrament of communion. This is a rather important point in Anglicanism. First one, then the other. Anglicans do not have confirmation firmly tied into communion as other faith groups do, but baptism is pretty much non-negotiable. First you must be washed, then you are clean for the table. We are baptized but once: As we are physically born but once, so our spiritual birth is but once. And as we need our daily bread at home, so we go to the Lord’s Table frequently and in the company of others, our spiritual family.
To get serious: Animals are not in need of atonement. Although they, as with all creation, are groaning for the consummation of the Day of Judgment, they are not fallen in soul and are sinless. Animals can appear vicious to us in how they obtain their food and when they attack or defend, but it is not in a state of sin and willfulness that they kill. They are acting under instinct and it is our interpretation that it is vicious. So the sacraments are reserved for humans in our sinfulness. We are made in the likeness of the Creator, and can be fallen in sin and willfulness; we require atonement. We require grace.
The priest’s error was to perhaps impulsively offer the consecrated sacrament to an animal, thinking that she was hospitable. The metaphor Jesus used in his conversation with the foreign woman about the crumbs falling from the table and eaten by the little dogs was not meant to be taken literally. (Jesus said to the woman asking for healing for her daughter: “We don’t give the children’s bread to the dogs.” She answered, with a lot of faith and courage: “But the littel dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” And her daughter was healed; Jesus did not come just for Israel, but for the whole world, even those Israel considered unclean and beyond the pale. He used that old insult to test her faith, so that grace might be abounding.)
It is not true hospitality to hand out communion wafers to every mouth that opens. Human food is not appropriate for dogs, especially the food we eat these days. A communion wafer is nothing more than a little bit of white flour and water. It did the dog no harm, but it didn’t do any good. The larger issue is our vocation to feed the world. We are certainly not doing that, and we don’t even feed ouselves well. We prefer the depraved foods we invented in the last century, the foods lacking real nutrition- white sugar and flour, hydrogenated fats. We allow multi-national corporations to ship these foods to other countries, where they entice the population away from their native foods. We then do not have enough whole foods to share because we have refined them for our spoiled appetites. We have ruined irrevocably large tracts of wilderness and animal habitat, so that God’s creatures may not feed themselves. We have been poor stewards and unable to show God’s hospitality.
Real hospitality has nothing to do with who gets that poor substitute for bread we serve at the altar; it has to do with real bread, and the real love of Christ. We get very caught up in the show of sacramentality while forgetting or ignoring the sacramentality of love Christ gave us.
After the communion was over, did anyone invite that visitor and his dog home for a meal?