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A Brief Tale of ‘Eucharistic Inhospitality’

We hear a lot nowadays about “Eucharistic inhospitality,” a phrase generally abused, but we would do well to reflect on a previous and far more damaging exclusion from the table that has cast a long and still lengthening shadow over the Church.

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a king, his queen, and forty-five honored courtiers who used to be invited to a great family’s castle for a great banquet. The courtiers were as glorious as they were free of pride and vanity. Being magnanimous, they knew their high worthiness; being just, they knew that honor was owed to them; being loyal, they knew that all such honor redounded to the glory of their king, who had exalted them. After the king, most glorious of all was the queen, radiant in gold, with a crown curiously woven of strands of silver mounted with translucent jewels that glimmered in the candlelight.

What a sight the banquet was! Numerous were the servants, handsomely dressed, well disciplined and deferential, performing each movement at the moment it was needed. The table was laid with the most splendid plates, cutlery, and goblets. The rhythm and progress of the feast were as harmonious as the musical entertainments that gracefully accompanied it, and the meal itself was delectable, plentiful, and nourishing. All was done as befits a ruler with his entourage.

Everyone who served the feast, especially the hosts, knew the worth of their guests and gave them every sign of respect, yet always in the most natural manner possible, as they had been born and bred in this world. They bowed their heads when passing by and whenever the name of the king or the queen was mentioned; they kept their hands neatly folded; they made toasts by name to each. All was as gratifying to the servants privileged to keep such royal company as it was ingratiating to their masters and superiors.

This custom of the daily feast at the castle continued for a very long time. No one can say quite how long, as the memory of it faded into the past and seemed, if anything, everlasting.

The common people, too, loved to see the feasting and hear the merriment. They gladly contributed their animals and the fruits of the earth. For this, they received frequent tokens of affection from the banqueters. At times, the people were invited to the castle to receive bread from the table and wine from the stores. They were proud of their lord’s manor and of his generous love of the king, his queen, and their courtiers.

One day, however, a new master, the sixth of his line, assumed command of the castle. He was a man of strange ideas, often indecisive but sure that many things had to change, and change quickly. This lavish feasting was too elaborate, too grandiose, too costly — and it made the households and habits of other castles look inferior, as if they were being judged and found wanting.

The new master began by abolishing what he considered “fussy” and “out-of-date” behavior, things like bowing the head, observing decorous postures, and certain of the more elaborate ceremonies. The nobles were discouraged from wearing their ornamental caps. The old chivalrous language that had been spoken at the high table was replaced piecemeal with the common tongue of the land. The toasts grew shorter and fewer in number. At a certain point, the fancy plates, cutlery, and goblets were taken away, and plain pewter and even wooden vessels were set out in their place. The quality of music and the talent of musicians diminished. Even though the food and drink of the banquet remained, the setting and ritual were so different, indeed so rushed, that they caused indigestion rather than nourishment. This new frantic pace banished the charm and delight that once graced the noble table. No leisure was anymore to be had, and the feast became wearisome.

Beholding this development, the new master did not repent of his plans but, on the contrary, deemed that his changes had not been numerous or radical enough. One day he suddenly declared that the attendance of the courtiers was now optional; he might, or he might not, ask them to share the table. As time went on, he invited them less and less frequently, until finally a day came when the king and queen were served their meals alone. The master said this was to give them greater honor, but the king and queen did not feel it was so, and, truth be told, neither did anyone else. They were a sorry pair by themselves, deprived of their constellation of courtiers, whose glory had once reflected and magnified theirs.

Wherefore did the king continue to attend a daily banquet his soul hated? Years before, years past all counting, the king had sworn a solemn promise to visit the great family and to stand by them for all generations, come what may. His honor, pure and incorruptible, would never violate such a promise. The king could have remained in his own castle and feasted there with his attendants of fiery mien, but he loved his own too much to abandon them to their poverty.

Yet on this account the people grew to see the king, stripped of his glory, as ugly and unimpressive. Indeed, the people felt — though they could not have put it into words — that their own lives had been cheapened, too, as if the light of their eyes had been dimmed. They felt that there was no longer anything beautiful in the world. Some shrugged their shoulders and accepted the new regime; others ignored the castle altogether; still others grew restless and kept their sickles sharper than usual.

When it became clear that the forty-five courtiers had been, for all intents and purposes, banished from the master’s castle, the king and his court were greatly displeased. Indeed, it would be no stretch of the truth to say they were right wroth.

Now, a number of the servants in the master’s castle, the staunchly loyal hearts, saw that this new arrangement was not right at all and decided to invite the king, the queen, and the lords again for a banquet as in olden times. They had to act stealthily to avoid the displeasure of their master, and wait until he had traveled elsewhere and could not threaten them.

The banquet took place as planned. So pleased was the king, so amiable his lady, so resplendent the lords, so grateful the servants, that he bestowed on them all many privileges in his realm, and he swore upon his throne to restore the ancient feast. He vowed to take vengeance on the new master in due course and to replace him with one who would be worthy of his trust and veneration. He knew he could rely upon the better part of the people — if not in numbers, then in loyalty and love.

Thus he spoke; but his word has yet to become flesh. The country still awaits, in patient suffering, the master who will prove worthy of the king, the queen, the courtiers, and the people.

NOTE: Forty-six saints are mentioned by name in every celebration of the traditional Latin Mass of 1962: the Virgin Mary; Joseph; Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, Jude, Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John, Paul, Cosmas, Damian, John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, Abel, Abraham, Melchisedek, Isaias, and the Archangel Michael. Except for Our Lady, all of these saints were “disinvited” from the Novus Ordo Missae in its Ordinary and new Eucharistic Prayers.

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