Do You Participate When You Don’t Believe?

I was recently a bridesmaid in a wedding--bouquet and all. It was a gorgeous event, and I had a wonderful time celebrating my childhood best friend's marriage to her new husband. Standing up with her was a youthful dream come true. The wedding mass was held in an old, opulent Roman Catholic church where the bride is a member. I didn't mind this despite my divorce from Christianity and personal views on the way the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) manages itself. It was a beautiful location for their special moment. [caption id="attachment_2198" align="alignright" width="301" caption="Photo by photine"][/caption] During rehearsal we ran through the ceremonial procedures and were instructed how to act by the wedding sacristan and the priest. At one point, the priest walked over to where we bridesmaids were sitting and gave us all a stern look. "When you are walking up the aisle," he said, "Once you reach the front you must stop, pause, and bow to the Eucharist. You can't genuflect in your dresses, but you must bow." At this matter-of-fact instruction, he walked away. Immediately, my eyebrows shot up. Surely he didn't expect us all to be Catholic. and what non-Catholic would bow to a piece of food in a gold box on the stage? My feeling of puzzled reticence only inflated when the priest joined us once again ten minutes later. He instructed us how to "properly receive the Eucharist" during communion: All of us must go up together because it would (apparently) look better. Those people not in good standing with the RCC should cross their hands over their chest (like a dead person in a coffin) and receive a blessing in the form of a cross drawn on the forehead by the priest's thumb. I sighed audibly, rolled my eyes, but kept my vocal opinions on this instruction to myself. The bridesmaid beside me was clearly perturbed as she scoffed, "Geez, who wouldn't want a blessing?" I guess I didn't hide my distaste for these traditions very well. Some of the other other bridesmaids knew I wasn't a Christian, but all of them knew I wasn't Catholic. I saw a few  eyes dart towards me from further down the pew as I pondered what to do. First we're told to bow to someone who isn't there. Then we're told to receive a blessing and get a torture device religious symbol drawn on our foreheads? I mean really--what kind of atheist would I be if I didn't feel a bit annoyed by this? (more…)