NASA

Was Holy Communion celebrated during the first moon landing 50 years ago?

Was Holy Communion celebrated during the first moon landing 50 years ago?

DAVID’S QUESTION:

Do you know if it’s true Christian Communion was celebrated during the first moon landing?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Yes, though this was top-secret at the time.

Something about such momentous events makes mere mortals reach for transcendent themes. For example, media coverage of last month’s 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing featured President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous radio address leading the nation and world in a prayer that God would bless the invading Allied soldiers in the “struggle to preserve our republic, our religion and our civilization.”

Astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin performed the Christian sacrament on the moon in 1969, and revealed this in a 1970 article for the inspirational magazine Guideposts that was picked up by other media (full text here). The Communion is mentioned in the official history posted online by NASA.

At the time of the moon adventure, Aldrin was a lay elder of the Webster (Texas) Presbyterian Church and discussed ways to mark such an historic event with his pastor, Dean Woodruff. Aldrin raised the idea of Communion and Woodruff checked with Presbyterian headquarters, which said under those unusual circumstances it was proper for a solitary layman to serve himself elements that had been consecrated previously. (While Catholicism allows priests to celebrate Mass by themselves, Protestants only perform sacraments or ordinances in group worship.)

Two Sundays before liftoff, Aldrin received Communion in a private worship service. Woodruff gave him a second bit of the bread and a tiny silver chalice containing some of the wine, which he included with the personal items the astronauts were allowed to take into space.

After the Eagle landed on the moon, Aldrin asked mission control for brief radio silence. As Commander Neil Armstrong looked on, Aldrin read New Testament words of Jesus he had scrawled on a bit of paper:

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One spacey assignment: What's the story on alien life and scriptural literalism?

One spacey assignment: What's the story on alien life and scriptural literalism?

My GetReligion posts run under the rubric "Global Wire," so I may be stepping outside my designated orbit with this one. But since our Hubble site -- excuse me, that should be humble website -- provides us near infinite space (Anyone know just how big the internet actually is?) in which to indulge ourselves, I figure, "Why not indulge?"

(Corny lede, you say? Well, excuse me.)

To get to the point, we're talking universalism. Not the sort of doctrinal universalism you might expect on a site devoted to religion journalism. I'm referring to the spacial universalism of, you know, the universe.

Why? Because of this piece spotted earlier this month on the Website of the Washington Post. How could I pass up a story headlined, "Why the Vatican doesn’t think we’ll ever meet an alien Jesus"?

The story followed July's NASA announcement that it's Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft had discovered one of the closest analogues to our own planet found to date, a planet little more than one and a half times as big in radius as Earth and called Kepler 452b. The plant, said The New York Times, "circles a sunlike star in an orbit that takes 385 days, just slightly longer than our own year, putting it firmly in the 'Goldilocks' habitable zone where the temperatures are lukewarm and suitable for liquid water on the surface -- if it has a surface."

So we're talking the possibility of organic life, no matter how primitive, of a sort recognizable to humans. 

Which brings us back to the Post, the Vatican and Jesus.

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