When we heard about how the Catholics over at the Cathedral of the Madeleine had changed some of their rituals, everyone here in the LDS Community Relations office saw almost immediately that it provided a great opportunity to prove, once and for all, that the Church was true.
Brother Smoot, the presiding elder of Proactive Propaganda, came running into my own modest cubicle, shouting at me to change the channel from Joy Behar’s new talk show to KSL’s noon news. We watched with growing excitement as some Catholic functionary announced that, owing to panic about swine flu contagion, the padres conducting mass would no longer make communicants sip from a common cup. Not only that, but, henceforth, cathedral attendees would no longer be allowed to dip their dirty fingers into the basin of holy water as they entered the cathedral.
“Don’t you get it?” said a visibly exasperated Brother Smoot. I wasn’t as quick to perceive the implications of the Catholic ban.
“The Catholics might as well just come out and admit that they are not the true church. Don’t they have faith that God will prevent people from getting the swine flu? If their god is really omnipotent, isn’t he more powerful than a few puny viruses swimming in the holy water or hanging out on the rim of the communion cup?” “But we Latter-day Saints don’t drink wine from a common cup. We just take a refreshing sip of sanctified water from those convenience-size paper sacrament cups.”
“That’s not the point. We believe our Heavenly Father will neutralize any of those nasty viruses that no doubt are squirming around the sacrament trays, especially since they get passed from hand to hand during sacrament meeting. And I don’t even want to think about bread that’s been mangled into bite-size pieces by the hands of the 16-year-old holders of the Aaronic priesthood. Do you think those kids wash their hands, let alone squirt Purell into their palms before mumbling over the sacrament treats?” I had no answer, as I recalled with a surge of shame my own relaxed standards of hygiene back in the days when I was kneeling at the sacrament table. Brother Smoot, now obviously infused with the Holy Spirit, was warming to his topic.
“We need to strike while the iron is hot. This will take the heat off of us for the numbskull remarks by Elder Oats [Editor’s note: Mr. Smoot was probably referring to Elder Oakes, one of the Twelve Apostles] about Mormons being persecuted like the blacks because of our bigotry against gay people. No later than tomorrow we need to get one of the General Authorities out there to announce that the Church is going full speed ahead on all ordinances, endowments and anointings.
We will touch and bless and lay on hands with all our usual fervor. Swine flu be damned! Before now, we have merely known that the Gospel is true. Now, with the Lord God keeping the swine flu away from our wards and temples, we will prove to the stiff-necked scoffing world that the Gospel is true.”
I still had my doubts, and though it was always difficult to go up against Brother Smoot, I screwed up my courage and voiced some of my concerns.
“I was just thinking that even though we’ve changed a lot of the temple ceremonies that involve bodily contact, like the naked washings and anointings and the five points of fellowship, we still get a lot of people coming down with colds and the flu after they’ve gone through the temple. And all the tricky tokens and handshakes still spread germs around like crazy. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to temporarily suspend the Sign of the Nail and the Sure Sign of the Nail and have the temple goers bow and press their palms together, like they do in Asia, or perhaps make the Lamanite how sign?” Brother Smoot shot me a puzzled look.
“What’s the how sign?” “Haven’t you seen any Westerns, you know, with the Indians raising their right hand and saying, ‘How?’” “Oh, that. Sort of like the sign of the square in the endowment ceremony.” said Brother Smoot. “In any event, there’s no need whatsoever to change the ceremonies, which, as you know, are unchangeable and eternal, despite all the changes that have been made.
“Anyway, we have our usual fall-back position: Anyone who catches the swine flu in the temple is simply unworthy and deficient in the Holy Spirit department.”