“In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together.” -G.K. Chesterton
My favorite bar is closing.
There are so many things I love about that ramshackle place. The wood paneling. The stained-glass lamp. The sweet, billowing clouds of cigarillo smoke. The relics of the musicians in their niches. The echoing blues, country and rock. The stage, squatting long and low like an altar at the front of the building.
Well … it’s not closing. It’s changing hands. The new proprietors promise to make the venue lighter, brighter, cleaner and less smoky, which, of course, will ruin the place entirely.
But enough about liturgical preferences. What I love most about this bar isn’t the atmosphere or even what’s on draft. It is my fellow patrons.
In the Acts of the Apostles, it is said of the early believers that,
“… All who believed were together and had all things in common, and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Now, my brethren and I have never extended ourselves quite so far as to sell everything we own. But we are connected in a way that I have never felt in any parish church. We adhere to none of the Gnostic heresies. Our rites and mysteries are accessible to all, and everyone is welcome to approach the stage: rich or poor, young or old, talented or amateur, intelligent or barely literate at all. We have our initiates, our daily devotees, our clergy, even our agnostics. In the assembly, we rejoice together with music and laughter and beer. But we also learn together, leaning in to listen to the directive of the experienced musician or the secret of the woman at the bar. We know each other’s sufferings: This one had cancer. This one lost his family. This one his job. We are familiar with each other’s sins. We squabble and even fight. We confront our demons and heretics and Judases, and sometimes we flip tables in an effort to drive the Pharisees from our midst. We give to each other as any has need, passing the hat or buying the round, but also opening our homes and tending each other’s children and visiting our sick and even burying our dead, remembering their souls with their favorite songs.
Here, we break our bread together. We drink from the same cups, raising our glasses in a sign of peace. We look to each other on the stage and nod without a word, and the keys and tempos change, the music rising and falling and blending. Here we worship, sometimes explicitly, but often without knowing it.
“Sister Christian, oh, the time has come …”
What is that, if not a hymn?
“Did you write the Book of Love? Do you have faith in God above, if the Bible tells you so? Do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll?”
What is that, if not a call to affirm a Creed?
“Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…” is a barely veiled expression of eternity.
“My cup is on the table, my love is spilling, waiting here for you to take and drink of,” is not a Eucharistic prayer, but my, is it close.
This is a true communion, an “intimate connection.” From the Latin, “communionem:” A “fellowship, mutual participation, or sharing.”
Lest I be labeled a heretic, I must explicitly state that this communion, however wonderful, still cannot ever take the place of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that I receive each week at Mass. I am a (somewhat) reformed party girl with a penchant for hair metal and Bud heavy, and thus the places where my earth is crammed with heaven might be another’s hell on earth. But our Church, she can learn so much from an old blues bar.
First, think twice before tearing out the polished wood, burying the relics and stripping the high altar. Beware of giving up the clouds of incense and the classic chant. Our souls long for history and mystery. Bright sterility and modern florescence have no “smell of the sheep.”
But more importantly, to make our parishes places of complete communion, we can’t simply convene for a hymn and a wafer, then disperse until next week. We must become like humble bar patrons. We must welcome each other into our daily lives, rich and poor, young and old, smart and stupid. We must become familiar with each other’s struggles and sins—not just in gossip over after-Mass coffee, but in eating and drinking and fighting and sweating and playing together. Then, when we culminate in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup that flows like a tap from the side of Christ—then can we look at each other and nod without words, the music rising and falling as the wingtips of the angels sweep the earth and our God reaches down to the stage.
“Blood of Christ, inebriate me.”