The Media Project is a network of mainstream journalists who are Christians pursuing accurate and intellectually honest reporting on all aspects of culture, particularly the role of religion in public life in all corners of the world. It welcomes friends from other faiths to such discussions and training.

The Los Angeles Times Acts Like It's Never Seen The Eucharist Before

The Los Angeles Times Acts Like It's Never Seen The Eucharist Before

Does the Los Angeles Times truly not know what Holy Communion is?  

A reader of an article entitled “Bishop of Orange signs construction contract for renovation of Christ Cathedral” in the local news section might well wonder.  

The decline of the late Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, one of the first mega-churches in the United States with a nationally syndicated worship service, has been discussed at GetReligion over the years. As has the subsequent purchase of the landmark property by the Roman Catholic Church for repurposing as its new cathedral. 

The article in the May 26 print edition, online on May 25, reports the first phase of reconstruction has been completed.  

More than 10,000 panes of the cathedral’s mirrored glass already have been re-caulked and resurfaced, under budget and on schedule, Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar, told guests at the signing ceremony.

So far so good. However, the reporter’s lack of knowledge of the subject soon overtakes the story.

The contract signing is timely, as the Catholic Church has feast days ahead, Vann said, noting Pentecostal Sunday on June 4 — often called the birth of the church — and the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, who built the great basilicas in Europe, on June 29. 

Perhaps “Pentecostal Sunday” was a spell-checker error, where the thought that passed from the reporter’s brain to her fingers to the page was intercepted by word processing software -- correcting Pentecost to Pentecostal.

Or the reporter may not be aware of the distinction between the Feast of Pentecost and the descriptive term Pentecostal, which describes a form of worship or a particular strand of Protestantism. 

Stranger still comes the explanation of Holy Communion at the close of the story.  

A Eucharistic procession following the signing ceremony marked the first time the Blessed Sacrament — commonly known as Holy Communion, where wafers are given to the faithful — was presented in the Cathedral. Guests and clergy exited through the main doors and walked around the perimeter of the sanctuary to the future site of the Blessed Sacrament chapel. 

Now what exactly happened here? The reporter writes as if she were on assignment for National Geographic, covering an exotic ceremony by colorful natives. She appears to be reporting that a Eucharistic host, or Blessed Sacrament, was placed in a monstrance held aloft by a member of the clergy who then processed with the congregation to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, where -- I assume, though it is not mentioned -- a benediction was given. 

Or, was there a procession, followed by Holy Communion, followed by a walk led by the clergy acting as tour guides for the congregation, noting the improvements made to the building? 

And, what does the reporter think she is revealing by explaining that Holy Communion is where “wafers are given to the faithful”? This is either an extraordinarily inelegant and flat-footed description of the communion service, or displays a degree of colossal and unprofessional ignorance about the subject. Why not say the sacrament “commonly known as Holy Communion, where wine and crackers are given to the faithful”?  

I may appear somewhat harsh in my criticisms, for after all this is a local-news, architecture story -- on par with a city councilman cutting the ribbon at a new shopping mall. Yet, the reporter tells us that this building will be the spiritual headquarters for 1.3 million Orange County Roman Catholics. Would any of those 1.3 million Roman Catholics recognize their rites in the description put forward in this story? 

Reporters have to start somewhere, and everyone is prone to making mistakes as they hone their skills. But that is why newspapers have editors -- or they once had editors -- to fix these rookie mistakes. Either there are no editors at work at the LA Times, or the ones they have are as woefully ignorant as the reporter. They should do better.

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Photo of communion table from Wikipedia Commons. 

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