Communion on the Moon

Finally, during the recent fiftieth anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, an event that has been kept quiet by NASA for all those years was generally acknowledged at last. For the first thing a human did on the lunar surface was to take Communion.

Moments after touchdown, the LEM Pilot, Astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, who was also an elder at the Presbyterian church favored by the astronauts, requested a moment of silence. “I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be,” Aldrin said, “to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

While the mission commander, Neil Armstrong, looked on with a bemused expression, Buzz unpacked a tiny silver chalice, a miniature bottle of wine and a small piece of bread that he had brought onboard with the approval of NASA. “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” Buzz later wrote.

Then Aldrin read a bit of Scripture from a card he brought, and consumed the first food on another world, and the first alcohol in space.

This was not the first time men had prayed in space starting just before the first American launch, when Astronaut Alan Shepherd supposedly muttered, “Dear lord, please don’t let me f**k up.” Publicly, of course, there was the famous reading from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 1:1-10) on Christmas Eve in 1968, but there have been many more occasions since.

Three Catholic astronauts took Communion on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994 (but only bread). Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon may have said Jewish Sabbath prayers during the doomed Columbia shuttle mission in 2003 – incredibly, most of his diary where they had been written survived.

Russian Orthodox cosmonaut Sergei Ryzhikov took a relic of St. Serafim of Sarov with him to the International Space Station, and in 2007, the third Muslim in space, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, got instructions from his faith leaders on how to pray in while orbit (facing Mecca being particularly challenging when whizzing around the world every 90 minutes).

So the Abrahamic religions, at least, have been well-represented. It is rather amazing, though, that NASA officials were surprisingly cool letting Buzz do his ceremony, seeing that they had been sued by atheists for allowing the Genesis reading.

Could there have been another reason however?

The Spanish Conquistadors, whenever they entered a new land, planted the cross even before the banner of the king. And they would give thanks by having the padre they inevitably brought along say a Mass.

For the conquistadors believed that God had given the world he had created to the Pope who ruled through the King so that the Gospel would be spread throughout the world. And unless the natives accepted the Gospel, the Pope, and the King they could – and would – be warred upon and enslaved.

Of course, there were no natives that they encountered on the Moon (we think), but it was the first alien world touched by humanity. To take Communion as the first act upon arrival was an affirmation of human ideals and a sanctification of the new land. But beyond that, whether intentionally meant as such or not, it was a highly-loaded symbolic act of dominance of Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Perhaps it’s best not to get too hung up on this. Buzz also participated in another ritual activity on the Moon. As a Master Mason, he also brought along a silk, handmade, Masonic banner, “to open a Representation of the Grand Lodge of Texas on the Moon and, thereby, establish Masonic Territorial Jurisdiction there.”

So the Moon may have been claimed for Christ, but also for Texas Scottish Rite Freemasons. What would the aliens think of that?