Posted by: cmittermeier | April 13, 2012

Open letter to the owners of Ale Marys

One of my favourite quotes on evangelism comes from Pope Gregory the Great:

Do not destroy the pagan temples, but instead sprinkle them with holy water, set up altars in them, and place relics there.  In the places where it has been the pagan custom to offer sacrifices to their diabolical idols, allow them to celebrate Christian festivals instead, in another form, on the same date.  For example, on the festival of the blessed Martyrs, have the faithful make bowers of branches, and organize love feasts there.  In permitting the converted these external pleasures, the joys of the soul will be more easily acquired.  We cannot wipe the whole post from these savage souls all at once.  A man does not climb a mountain in great bounds, but by taking slow, steady steps. (Letter to Miletus, 601)

I love this one because it answers one of my fundamental problems: where to begin.  You start with where they are, but its not always easy to do this.  Yesterday, after a lot of searching, I realized that a pub that was using chalices as ale cups was crossing lines.  Chalices are a specific type of goblet that is not used pretty much anywhere else except the mass, and in that context it carries the blood of Christ.  In that context it is easy for me to understand why people would be hurt and offended by a casual use and I emailed the owners hoping to help them understand why it would bother people.  I found out that not everyone was so civil with the owners.  I emailed back that I’d be praying for those people in addition to praying for the owners.

There are a number of moral movements that I choose not to enter group protests because I know in doing so my voice will be blended with those who cross the line and respond not in a Christian manner, but with either verbal or physical violence.  You loose all credibility at that point, and no one listens to you.  I want to be listened to, and that means I first learn the language of the one I’m speaking to.  It means I first learn what their rituals are and then I sprinkle them with holy water.  Death threats, threats to ones livelihood – this is not the way to get a message across.

I enjoyed my emails with the owner, and I will send him a link to this blog.  If I wasn’t 9 hours of driving away, I would gladly enjoy a drink with him.  Like many of my friends, I have a whimsy fun side and the owner has one too.  More over, unlike many cradle Catholics who associate the church with overly-strict clergy (or worse), I get the distinct impression the owners view of their childhood church was one of great warmth and fun, and hardly something that would be removed or apart from any area of life.  I like that side of the church too, as does many of my friends.  We are not the group that cover the statues before we turn out the lights, God is part of everything good and that includes a night out for a drink with friends.   I adore the picture of Blessed John Paul II with his fingers that so proudly sits on the side of the crescat’s blog.

If I were to start a dialogue with the owner on the monstrances and the chalices, this is where I would start.  With that wonderful, warm, playful side of my church.  I’m with St. Teresa of Avila folks, as she fell into the mud stating “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies”.  My God has a sense of humour, my God enjoys a good party.  This does not mean he enjoys a good party at any cost.

In a world of rather raunchy humour, where strip joints and pole dancing is so mainstream that national TV shows have let people pitch mass marketing ideas for spreading it, we see that the line between good clean fun has been breached.  At some point we looked down in the sand and smoothed away any lines we may have drawn.  At the same time, things that were self-evident to our grandparents stopped being taught.  Without proper formation, we won’t even recognize that a line once existed – or should exist.

The pub has been in business for 7 years and prior to this only a single complaint was mentioned.  We are coming out of left field and we need to get back to basics, not fire off threats!  Formation first, then slowly help them find that line that was unfortunately erased from the sand.  Start the formation from the joy they have already found in their church!  Think about it folks – they wanted to bring their church into their business!  So, let the education begin.

At the heart of the matter for me is the chalices and the monstrance.  I don’t care if they trace back to a Catholic Church or not (they could be Anglican and have never actually touched the blood and body of Christ – or do you believe that priests outside the church can also turn bread and wine to body and blood?).  They look identical to items in the Catholic Church that would hold the body and blood of Christ.  Lets start there, with the real presence.  It wasn’t till my son’s first communion four years ago that I began reading things on the real presence.  I came across how the early church was prosecuted because to outsiders they were cannibals, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their God.  Ah, that caused me to pause.  Cannibals?  We’re not cannibals, right?  But it is the body and blood of Christ… so, in fact, each Sunday I am eating my God.  I started reading faster at this point, and I started to find more and more stories of Eucharistic miracles, more evidence that it is not just bread and wine… last November, I was at a retreat lead by a wonderfully fun priest and he had us in stitches as he drew us deeper and deeper into various mysteries of the church.  He was a priest on the Jersey shores during the days when “the boys” ran things… never fear what you have to say in confession he said, after the mafioso he’d heard it all!  Staring with humour, he moved us to the serious parts.  His parish was in a rough neighbourhood and from time to time kids being chased by the police would run into the church for protection.  One day, a police unit knocked on the church door, a witness had seen a criminal fleeing the seen enter the church.  No one had requested sanctuary, so the police dogs were allowed to search.  The dogs are trained to sniff out people, and where do you think the dog stopped and gave the single?  Yup, at the tabernacle!   The Blessed Sacrament was removed to the altar, the dog followed it.  Its not just a piece of bread, its not just wine mixed with a blip of water… its really Him, capital H.

There are tonnes of other ways to introduce the owners to the fact that these are not just symbols for some of us, but I am here to invite investigation, I trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest through someone else.  Once they see how real the real presence is, we don’t have too far to go, but we still have work to do!

Here is where I must do a mia colpa (my fault).  I love sitting in adoration spilling my heart out to my Lord about everything.  There is not a wisp of my life I do not share with my God.  A few months back I had a wonderful weekend to myself, I spent 6-8 hours each day in the chapel and came home for my meals.  My favourite dinner that weekend included a great glass of wine and as I savored the meal it felt as if I was truly sharing it with God.  To me, when Christ is in the monstrance it is no different than Him just sitting there, legs crossed.  I adore the idea of having a pub night with Him, I can’t help it!  It took a lot of reading, a lot of prayer yesterday to understand why the idea of sharing a pub night with a monstrance was so offensive.

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. – Ecc 3:1

The transubstantiation of bread to body, wine to blood is sacrificial.  While we have moments of celebration in the mass, it is properly referred to as the SACRIFICE of the mass.  No one would consider it fun to sit with a dead body and drink a beer.  Its the resurrected Jesus we dance with, not the broken body laid in the tomb on Good Friday.  Those items, the chalice and the monstrance are related to his death, to his passion, to his sacrifice.  That moment is what sets us apart from all other religions: we eat our God not in joyful jubilee, but in solemn thanks for taking our place on the cross.  There are symbols for celebration in our church, bells for example.  The chalice is a reminder of the most sacred blood, shed for us.   It is not a celebratory symbol.  It has a time and a place, but I hope I have understood my own journey well enough to communicate to the owners why a pub isn’t the place for a chalice, why a monstrance deserved more reverence.  The Sabat Mater keeps going through my head.   It was at Mary’s insistence that the water was turned to wine so the feast could continue so I know she would likely enjoy a drink with good friends, but not from something that would normally be reserved for the blood shed in the excruciating, painful sacrifice her son made.

I hope I have helped them deepen their faith, or at the very least increased their understanding why people were offended.  I apologize for the lack of ability to communicate, for the unchristian approaches used.  We are not Christ, we don’t always use the right words, in short, we show why we need his sacrifice… and I’m in there too.  Thank you God for instituting the sacrament of Confession, like Peter I denied you yet again.  My hope is that, in prayerful consideration with a good priest you review the nostalgia in your pub and remove what needs to be and please, keep the fun stuff.  There are tonnes of churches that could use chalices – indeed, this Easter my parish ran short and boy did that cause an uproar, so if you do decide to sell them, please let me know your price!



  1. Amazing Site, Thanks! Keep up the great work.

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