I could not believe my eyes at Mass this morning. There in the sanctuary, just behind and to the right (stage left) of the altar, was a bottle of hand sanitizer. It was not tucked discreetly behind a vase of flowers. There were no flowers. Just an economy-sized dispenser of Purell.
The Church has distributed the Eucharist for 2,000 years without benefit of ethyl alcohol. But now my parish has it, right up there in a sacred space. The ancient ritual of the priestly Lavabo (“I will wash my hands among the innocent, and will walk around Thy altar, O God.”) was diminished in the name of liturgical renewal years ago. Reference to the Lord as Sanctifier (“Come, Thou Sanctifier, almighty and eternal God . . .”) was abolished at the same time. But now, in our enlightened, health-conscious modernity, we have a replacement: the Sanitizer.
Sin is declassé nowadays. It is rarely, if ever, mentioned from the pulpit.
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Consequently, few of us feel the need for confession any more. The confessor’s stole went out with Mary Quant and go-go boots. We are free, now, to cleanse ourselves of what really matters: common germs. Our ordained shepherds—brave hearts—marshal themselves to stamp out bacteria rampant among the congregants. Eucharistic ministers bow their heads while they rub their Purelled hands together until dry. Who can say that the Church is not hip to the cultural moment?
It is a moment obsessed with mortality, the terror of it. One manifestation of that anxiety (it would take too long to count them all) is the fad for organic food. Organic Cocoa Puffs go together with that bottle of Poland Spring water in every backpack, pocket and handbag. Why shouldn’t my local parish have a sanitizer placed visibly on the altar? It shows we are a prophetic congregation. We grasp the important things. Purell is ecologically sound, mind you, the only hand purifier on the market that meets EcoLogo standards. It goes with the gluten-free Volvos and electric cars in the parking lot. The ones that keep the radio tuned to NPR.
But I ramble. All this was meant as prelude to an email sent by a reader still on an Arty Bollocks high. He insists I should be aware of a laboratory study that links organic food to pretentious behavior.
The research shows that although the rats fed the organic diet were not actually healthier than the non-organic fed rats, they were much more annoying and more difficult to be around.
According to the data, the organic fed rats began to gravitate towards fanny packs, Starbucks coffee, hybrid vehicles and Pelosi for President propaganda. In addition, the rats were constantly looking busier than they actually were, often cut in front of other rats to get water first, and strutted around the cage with a sense of entitlement.
It is that last point that reminds me of artists. (Self-declared as an elevated and unique species.) And, sadly, of churchy do-gooders whose sense of mission fails to extend beyond the banalities of mainstream culture.
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© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey