The Separation of Church and Plate

April 2001

If you’re reading this at McDonald’s, stop before you chomp into that Big Mac you just ordered and consider this: Italian Catholic Massimo Salani, a theologian from Pisa, believes that you may be about to take a bite out of your Catholic heritage and fill up on Protestant individualism. As reported by Inside the Vatican (Dec. 2000), Salani took up his beef in the Italian newspaper Avvenire last November, bemoaning the proliferation of McDonald’s and other fast food joints throughout Europe, especially in Rome. According to Salani, the increased presence of these American-born eateries bespeaks the “complete neglect of the sacred nature of food.” How? By stressing individual consumption (à la Protestantism) over community meals (à la Catholicism).

After publishing Salani’s bellyaches, Avvenire chimed in with an editorial decrying the “monstrous regression” symbolized by that same proliferation: “People eat anything, at any hour, in any way, next to — not together with — anyone. They eat standing up, with their hands.” Could it be that the eat-on-the-run mentality, initiated by culprits such as McDonald’s, has impacted the reception of our Lord at Communion? “They eat standing up, with their hands.” Sounds a lot like most Communion lines: Cruise on up, grab a bite, grab the cup, down the pipe; jog back to the pew and then you’re through. No kneeling at the Communion rail, no genuflection, no bow, no reverence whatsoever. We wouldn’t be surprised if some lay Eucharistic ministers are the same people manning the counters at fast food restaurants.

But you should know that not all of Rome is intent on cooking McDonald’s goose. Inside the Vatican quotes Swiss priest Georges Cottier, O.P., a papal theologian, as saying: “I don’t consider it a serious argument….” Cottier serves up a familiar line of defense: “it’s a question of taste — let’s not bring religion into it.” Ah yes, the old “separation of church and plate” routine. Why not defend the importation of American consumption habits by regurgitating half-baked American political mush?

But Salani, who has written a whole book on food and the world’s religions, won’t be dismissed that easily. He counters that while Christianity has historically left eating decisions up to the free will of the individual, in the modern West, that free will has been abused and eating has become a “consumerist” event. And perhaps the Catechism ought to devote space to this matter.

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New Oxford Notes: April 2001

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