Wednesday 11 August 2010

No blessings at Communion time!

I have always found it odd to be giving blessings at the altar rail as communion is distributed. It seems to me that everyone receives a blessing very shortly afterwards and that the whole point for those who can't receive is to make them want to! In the case of non-catholics, to become catholics. In the case of those barred for some reason, to encourage them to be reconciled. I've never ignored someone asking for a blessing at the rail but I don't make a fuss of it or encourage it because people have often been told by other priests to come forward in that manner. Of course, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (in those places that have them) should never attempt to give a blessing in a liturgical setting, for that belongs to the priest.

Recently, I had a letter which spoke of my perceived reluctance to bestow blessings at communion time, so I set about the task of looking up the relevant documents. Having been told in the past, by those in authority, that "Rome knows all about such things" and encouraged to go with the flow and do what most others do, I was delighted to find a clear statement from the Congregation of Divine Worship from as recently as 2008.

From the Congregation for Divine Worship (Protocol No. 930/08/L), dated November 22, 2008, and signed by Fr Anthony Ward, SM, Under-secretary of the Congregation stated the following:
“this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations”:
1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. ‘97), art. 6, §2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin)”.

So it would seem clear that the giving of blessings at Communion time to anyone, for any reason is not permissible. This is not a matter of personal preference, but of obedience to Holy Church. What seems strange is that no-one seems to know of this - and many other rulings - that come from the various Roman Congregations. So much comes from the diocesan offices for this and that at a local level but documents from Rome (on topics great and small) seem to get very little publicity.

A great many little habits seem to be accruing to the liturgy in these days: "something nice I saw at a Methodist service", "a lovely thing we did at children's camp". I even know somewhere that is still doing that 1970's thing of bringing up stones to the altar during Lent to represent our sins - all so very nice if you like that sort of thing but, please, not inserted into the Mass! (We have a perfectly good, Church-mandated and biblically based symbol for sin in Lent - the imposition of ashes).

The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, aimed to 'reform' the sacred Mysteries by removing 'unnecessary repetition' and 'accretions' - lamenting "the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy" (SC 21).

Fr. Joseph Jungmann (The Mass of the Roman Rite, 3 vols., Christian Classics, 1950, 1986), shows that from the time of the earliest known Roman sacramentaries (5th and 6th century) the Roman Rite had absorbed customs from other local Churches (e.g. Gaul), as well as developed it's own, an evolution that ended with Pius V and Trent. What had once been "novelties" when first adopted at Rome became fixed parts of the "immemorial Mass". The only constant being the authority of the Apostolic See to permit, order and even to impose them or abolish them.

Priests (well, at least me) are often faced with the claim that “these things happen at other Churches”. Our reply must be that such things should be addressed to the competent authorities, since no-one "even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority". (SC 22.3). Would that such things were more widely publicised by our diocesan liturgy offices. (Month by month I scour their literature for a chant workshop or how to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form - hope springs eternal). Doesn't it say somewhere that every priest is responsible for the Sacred Liturgy in his Parish which he is“bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in” - yes it does, Canon 528 §2.


Peter said...

Thank you Father
When nearly everybody goes for Communion anybody who stays behind may thus draw attention to themselves. This is the case particularly if the narrow asile means that a system is in force on the order of people going forward.
Now if all the other children go forward what is a parent to do? I direct my young daughter to the Priest rather than a lay minister.
What is the lay minister to do if someone approaches for a blessing? Not so easy.
It will be interesting to hear what your parisoners make of this.

GWAM said...

It is heartening to see you address such issues with searing clarity, Father.

Some might say these are mere matters of insignificant liturgical minutiae and relatively trivial - but very often the blurring of lines can lead to serious errors, particularly concerning Holy Communion.

For I’ve been especially troubled, of late, about a situation I have been made aware of that has developed gradually - but insidiously - in a northern England Catholic parish: and it all stemmed from the type of sentimentalism (my word choice) you have written about.

Moreover, the messy issue in question did arise from within the ranks of a parish’s team of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC).

Whilst I should make it clear, ahead of relating the story, that I don’t wish to necessarily equate local sentimentalism (lower case) with the more philosophical notion of Sentimentalism that seems to have dominated the worldwide Church in the last half century (which the Swiss theologian Amerio Romano wrote so majestically about in his opus Iota Unum), it is nevertheless a deep worry that a seemingly benign spat amongst laity has mushroomed to the point where the heresy of utraquism (I kid you not) has become assumed teaching at the parish.

Here’s the background. About 12 months ago, some female EMHCs perceived it to be both a slight against them - and indeed the general standing of women in the Catholic Church - whenever certain parishioners would, after receiving Holy Communion, walk straight past them and the chalice they were holding containing the Precious Blood.

The matter simmered and then it was finally brought to the attention of the parish priest (quite young, very stretched and under immense pressure).

Unfortunately, in opting to address the matter from the pulpit, the priest issued some ambiguous (at best) teaching, suggesting that it was an insult both to the female EMHCs and more especially Christ to walk past and not receive from the chalice.

This created further confusion. A few months later (just before Christmas 2009), the priest, not surprisingly, was moved to again address the matter from the pulpit. He was more pointed this time but still his language was ambiguous and he asserted that parishioners shouldn’t refuse the opportunity to participate more fully in the Eucharist.

Nothing changed. Finally, earlier this summer, the priest spoke on the matter for a third time from the pulpit and stressed that parishioners who continue to refuse the chalice should be aware that they are not receiving the whole Body and Blood of Christ.

I have been careful to present the matter as succinctly as possible and have not used quote marks. I have given an honest account, though. I suppose one could argue all day about whether the priest definitively preached utraquism. I wonder? It’s also debatable whether he was employing some deliberately careful phraseology to actually ensure he didn’t directly preach utraquism or even that he was simply ignorant of the matter (which, according to some sound priestly advice I have sought, suggested that this might indeed be the case...which throws up another debate).

However, the end result has been that, even giving the priest the benefit of the doubt, the unfortunate result is that many parishioners are left with the impression that they don’t receive Jesus wholly unless it’s under both kinds.

All because of a wrongly perceived personal insult! How did we get to such a stage?

Really, it would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

* As I’ve hinted above, I have sought some solid priestly advice about how to address this matter charitably and I will do so.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Thanks for that point. Two things struck me.
1. As you say, nearly everybody goes to Holy Communion all the time even though our confessionals are nearly always empty. Some further reflection on being in a fit state to receive the Lord is definitely needed. Surely, part of the purpose of encouraging frequent communion is that we keep ourselves in a proper state to do so, which should include reflection on the state of our soul and availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession. If this was taken more to heart, perhaps there would be more people kneeling in the benches and those few who at present do, would not feel so on show. Redemtionis Sacramentum makes the point:
[82.] Moreover, “the Church has drawn up norms aimed at fostering the frequent and fruitful access of the faithful to the Eucharistic table and at determining the objective conditions under which Communion may not be given”.[165]

[83.] It is certainly best that all who are participating in the celebration of Holy Mass with the necessary dispositions should receive Communion. Nevertheless, it sometimes happens that Christ’s faithful approach the altar as a group indiscriminately. It pertains to the Pastors prudently and firmly to correct such an abuse.

2. There is nothing to stop younger children accompanying their parents up to the altar, standing as a family group or kneeling next to their parents and being taught to pray to Jesus as the Blessed Sacrament passes them with a simple prayer of longing: My Jesus I love you, I long to receive you in Holy Communion.

GWAM said...

Erratum: Romano Amerio

Peter said...

Thank you Father.
Like many I find confession hard. The modern style of no screens does not help. I wonder if parish priests could organise a rota of offering confessions in each other's parishes to give anonymity. The Chapel or Reconciliation in Lourdes is useful here.
When one arrives at Mass late, not in a prayerful state of mind, or perhaps with an unconfessed sin, or struggling to pay attention it may be better to miss Communion. And we may benefit from the occasional fast so that we do not treat it as wholly routine.
Gregory's story seems to make the point about conformity, peer pressure and political correctness. Pity the priest trying to defuse that. Perhaps those who prefer to take only one kind can argue that it is a matter of hygiene and "health & safety". Sadly I can think of no such argument against going forward for a blessing.
My daughter, 6 years old, does look forward to receiving Communion but I cannot tell how much that is desire to join in and how much is understanding. Just as Gregory's priest had a tough time so do parents.
Now dare I annoy our priest by quoting your teaching at him?
I think I will enjoy your blog.

Stephen Davis said...

Hi Father,

How about the blessing of children? Is it proper to 'deny' (as parents might perceive it) children who are yet to receive their first Holy Communion a blessing?