In a story Sunday about Msgr. Charles Pope — the Washington, D.C. pastor battling COVID — Rebecca Tan of The Washington Post wrote:
On Friday, the D.C. health department issued a letter saying that “additional individuals have been identified as having been exposed to the virus.” Parishioners who participated in Communion at the church — where wafers and wine are shared to represent the body and blood of Christ — between July 25 and July 27 were told to stay home for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms.
Catholics know — and I think most non-Catholics understand — that the last sentence there is problematic. In fact, it’s just wrong.
The “wafers and wine” do not “represent” the body and blood of Christ. In Catholic belief, they become the body and blood of Christ.
Honestly? I think the readers of The Washington Post — even non-believers — are sophisticated enough to understand what the notion of “Communion” is, and they don’t necessarily need it spelled out (or misspelled out.)
The sentence would have been perfectly acceptable as “Parishioners who received Communion at the church between July 25 and July 27…”
Even the D.C. Health Department didn’t think it had to dumb down its language, writing in its health warning that “Parishioners who took communion at the church during the services listed below have been identified as being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and should quarantine for 14 days from the last date of potential exposure.”
That’s fine, too.
I’m not sure if Rebecca Tan is to blame for this; I sense the clumsy hand of an editor, some weekend vacation relief who said, “We need to explain this,” and then did it wrong.
From my experience, the biggest problem in journalism today is that too many journalists don’t know what they don’t know — and many know very little about religion. J schools (do they still exist?) should require students to take a semester or two on world religions — and not just to avoid blunders like this one. Issues of faith and belief are a factor in many of the stories and issues breaking around the world. Any journalist heading out into the field needs to know what it means to be a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant. A reporter needs to understand how that is shaping world events.
Bottom line: A basic grasp of religion and faith is an important tool of the trade — as necessary to a reporter as a dictionary, laptop and cell phone.
UPDATE: The story has now been changed to read: “Parishioners who participated in Communion at the church — where Catholics consume wafers and wine, believed to be the body and blood of Christ…” (H/T Deacon Steven Greydanus!)