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In the context of a conversation about cultural appropriation, I was trying to convey to another person how offensive it can be to see one’s cultural traditions turned into a performance by someone from another background. The specific example under discussion involved a university course on Comparative Religions, in which students were encouraged to demonstrate a religious ritual from a tradition other than their own. I felt that this was potentially very offensive. In an attempt to convey my point, I said to the other person (who is, I know, a practicing Catholic), “How would you feel I dressed up as a Priest and performed a communion ceremony?” He insisted that this would not bother him, which surprised me.

I am not myself Christian, let alone Catholic (in fact I am a traditionally observant Jew), so I do not have a frame of reference for evaluating whether this would be offensive, and if so, how much. So I thought I would come here for advice. Would this be regarded as blasphemy, mockery, as something completely innocuous, or something else?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 3 at 13:23
  • I'm a little tired of seeing this question pop up in my moderation queue, this has to be a question about Catholic doctrine or else it's not a question that can be asked on the site. The "conversation about cultural appropriation" part is just the context for the question and I think it's OK to leave in for color but it is not the question. It can't be the question because it is a sociological question and we do not allow those on the site.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 3 at 13:26
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    It seems to me that it's more offensive to be encouraged to demonstrate a religious ritual from a tradition other than one's own. Weren't the Israelites in constant hot water because of that very thing?
    – ken
    Nov 4 at 16:34
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Context is everything.

It's going to depend. A Catholic might be offended if someone dressed as a priest and acted out communion just for fun, or to ridicule the church. But doing it as part of education is very different (as long as I didn't claim to be actually celebrating mass, rather than just demonstrating it, which would be offensive.)

Having said that, people are different. One might take offence when another doesn't.

You asked this person and they said no. That's really the end of it as far as they are concerned.

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    I concur: context is everything. The task was not to perform an efficacious version of the ritual, but to demonstrate how it plays out. I don’t think the person performing this ‘ritual’ (really just a demonstration?) would be “appropriating” another’s precious memories and experiences, as they are not making it their own but showing, if anything, that is it not theirs. That being said, cudos to the OP for sticking up for others’ dearly beloved practices. 🙏🏆 Oct 31 at 11:33
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As a Catholic dad, I can tell you that it's not the worst thing in the world to let your kids "play Mass". It can help older siblings who serve at Mass know their parts better, it can help younger siblings to understand what's going on at the altar when they can't quite see over the pews. Valid hockers of Catholic merch sell these kits and we gobble 'em up like the best toys in the world.

However, doing it at a secular university setting probably isn't the same positive experience, but if it's done:

  1. Without the intention to turn the host into the Body and Blood of Jesus
  2. As reverently as college students are capable.

Then it's a positive learning experience.

The only other example of "playing Mass" and distributing communion I can think of is in preparation for first communion. I'm not entirely sure it's the best idea in the world (or even remotely necessary), but in preparation some religious education coordinators will practice the First Communion rite with unblessed wafers. So there's some precedent to go off.

On a college campus, as respectful as people have to be of every other religion and idea people come up with, it would be fantastic for non-Christians to treat the Mass the kind of dignity they'd treat a ritual of another culture.

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As a (traditional) Catholic, I would be offended if someone mimicked a Mass (or any other Catholic practice) for ridicule. I would be even more offended if someone pretended to celebrate a Mass with the intention of deceiving me (or anyone else) into thinking it's an actual Mass. But under other circumstances, like an actor portraying a priest in a movie, I would see no problem.

I agree with the last part of aqua's answer, about requiring people to participate in (pretend) rituals of other religions. I would not publicly say prayers that are generally associated with non-Catholic religions, even if there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the prayers themselves (and I might even say such a prayer privately, when there's no danger of scandal).

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I am answering as a non-denominational Christian with Catholic relatives.

It is not the business of Christians to judge non-believers (1 Corinthians 5:12), but I would find the imitation of Communion uncomfortable. If unbelievers were not permitted in the temple (Ezekiel 44:9), would unbelievers performing religious ceremonies be any better? There are many traditions I would not be concerned about, but the physical act of Communion in particular is not intended to be partaken of by those who are not spiritually in communion with God.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

-- 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, ESV

My impression is that Catholics are especially strict on who takes Communion, so some of them may indeed find it offensive. The intention of the assignment is clearly not to perform a real Communion, yet I would certainly still prefer that Christian rituals such as this be performed by those who actually believe in what they do, even in an educational demonstration. As an additional benefit, they would be less likely to misrepresent the theology behind it.

I also oppose the other side of the situation in your question - students of one religion should not be required to imitate rituals from another. I imagine Christianity is not the only religion where that would be potentially problematic.

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This is how Japanese Tea Ceremony started, as a way of hiding Christians from persecution.

In medieval Japan, after the shogunate banned Western visitors, they also banned the Christian religion after a bit of religiously-fueled social turmoil, with Christians being violently executed when found.

This lead to a notable Japanese man whose wife was secretly a Christian to invent Japanese tea ceremony, which was very directly modeled after the Catholic Mass - and in so doing, allowed Japanese Christians to meet in secret to perform Communion while claiming to be performing tea ceremonies.

So no, I don't think that there's anything particularly offensive about a non-Christian performing the actions of the Communion, as long as they're not deliberately mocking Christians.

Of course, if you actually say the words, it's entirely possible that God will hold you to the terms of the Covenant you just agreed to take part in; however, He'll also be able to see your heart, so if you don't actually mean it, He probably won't.

That said, as a Christian, I would naturally refuse to mimic a non-Christian religious ceremony, and I don't think that anyone should be forced to take part in a religious ceremony against their conscience.

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  • That’s amazing! Oct 31 at 17:21
  • I'm not clear on what you're presenting the tea ceremony to show. Is Japanese Christians doing the tea ceremony to echo Communion analogous to non-Christians doing the Communion? Or is non-Christians doing the tea ceremony analogous to it? "Of course, if you actually say the words, it's entirely possible that God will hold you to the terms of the Covenant you just agreed to take part in" What covenant? Oct 31 at 22:56
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    I'm skeptical of this origin story - do you have any academic sources which say that Sen no Rikyū had a wife who was a secret Christian? I'm not sure the timing works either: he became tea master in 1579, and was involved in a major tea ceremony in 1587. The same year he banished Christian missionaries from Kyūshū, but not Japanese people who had become Christian, while it was only in 1597 that he executed the "Twenty-six martyrs of Japan".
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 1 at 2:52
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    @curiousdannii "do you have any academic sources which say that Sen no Rikyū had a wife who was a secret Christian?" I don't, but the wikipedia articles for one of his seven disciples state that they were, and a second had a Christian wife: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_Justo_Takayama en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosokawa_Tadaoki
    – nick012000
    Nov 1 at 4:09
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    @Acccumulation The part that quotes Jesus saying that the wine is his blood and his blood is the blood of the New Covenant, and then drinking it? catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/RM3-EP1-4.htm
    – nick012000
    Nov 2 at 1:28
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It depends on a lot of things:

  • Not Catholic Christians would mostly not find it offensive, since they do not participate in this ritual (could even have huge theological problems with how communion is performed, look up e.g. Reformation - one of the main arguments was over this question).
  • Context is everything: is it for educational purposes, part of an e.g act or mockery. I would be fine with the first two (being Christian), but as mockery, I do not see mocking ANY ritual of ANY religion okay. So it would not be about a particular Christian ritual, but a general common courtesy and respect.
  • Does it use actual (sacred) objects or only replicas? I would find the first distasteful and ignorant.
  • Is it accurate or recontextualized, showing something different but not describe the difference, therefore leaving a wrong impression on the people who see it?

etc.

One the other hand, I have one very huge problem with the assignment: out of own beliefs, I would not want to mimick an other religion's rituals. I hope that the teacher took into account that nobody can be forced to participating (force also containing getting worse grades if not participating) in an other religion's rituals or acting out their rituals.

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    – agarza
    Nov 1 at 1:03
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I don't think Alec Guinness, Mark Williams, Tom Bosley, or Christopher Reeve were ordained priests.

I've never heard of any criticism from the religious community being applied to actors playing priests even to the point of performing sacraments and representing the common duties of someone in that profession. If anything, they like having a show featuring a Catholic priest in a starring role.

Demonstrating religious rituals is not "cultural appropriation".

Would this be regarded as blasphemy

How is that relevant? Other groups have no jurisdiction over how people outside of their group behaves with respect to that group's rules.

Don't take offence on behalf of other people. That's a major problem with the whole SJW movement. If you want to know if something you might do would bother someone else, then asking is the right move. I understand that's the nature of your post.

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