Wednesday, 29 December 2010

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

Father Gary Dickson commented on my post about Christmas and Holy Communion and brings up some points that strike me over and over again. I hope he won't mind if I use what he says to bring to light my own thoughts and experiences.

He says:
1. "My long-time irk that where priests are in short supply we rush to replace Holy Mass with 'Services of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion'. This is a favourite solution in our Deanery. "
Services of the Word to replace Mass are envisaged very strictly for Sundays (NOT weekdays). Pope John Paul II reminded us that where they occurred, there was to be intense prayer for vocations so that priests and the Mass could be provided. Any shortage of priests was NOT to be interpreted as a message from the Holy Spirit encouraging lay-presiding. Such services are meant for MISSIONARY areas where it really is impossible for a priest to get there on a Sunday. I have heard some priests recently rejoicing at the prospect of lay-led services on a Sunday in leiu of Mass taking place just up the road, the distance of a brisk walk or short car journey.

Ironically, when it's Father's day off, true lay-led devotions that could be encouraged: the Rosary, the Office, Divine Mercy, Novenas and, Litanies are rarely suggested, although this is what happened in my previous parish when I was away during the week. Of course, these devotions don't involve a lay person dressing up as a quasi-priest and standing at the altar.
To make it completely clear that such sercices are NEVER envisaged for weekdays and even on a Sunday only in very special circumstances with the express permission of the bishop, here is the quote from the Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio. (On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the Sacred ministry of the priest by eight dicastries of the Holy See. August 15th 1997).

Article 7

Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest
1. In some places in the absence of priests or deacons, non-ordained members of the faithful lead Sunday celebrations. In many instances, much good derives for the local community from this useful and delicate service when it is discharged in accordance with the spirit and the specific norms issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority.
A special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain specific instructions with regard to the term of applicability, the place and conditions in which it is operative, as well as indicate the priest responsible for overseeing these celebrations.

2. It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions and the text used at them must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. The practice of inserting into such celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass is prohibited. So as to avoid causing error in the minds of the faithful, the use of the eucharistic prayers, even in narrative form, at such celebrations is forbidden. For the same reasons, it should be emphasised for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy days is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfil this precept.

Which brings me to Fr Gary's next point:

2. "It was my very part-time parish secretary who reminded the meeting that we are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays, not to receive Holy Communion on Sundays."

I find again and again that people's understanding has shifted from the obligation to attend Mass to a right to receive Holy Communion. Firstly, no-one has a right to receive Holy Communion, it is always a profound gift. But we do all have an obligation to attend Mass if we possibly can. If you say this these days you are condemned for being a legalist but this is not so. The attendance at Mass brings a person into community with the living Body of Christ, the Mystical Body which is the Church. Without that actual human contact, our Faith begins to mean nothing. You cannot be a Christian by yourself - where two or three are gathered in my name... This is apart from the fact that it is actually good to recall that we do have a relationship of obedience to God, we owe Him worship. An act of self sacrifice of our time once a week is a reminder that self sacrifice is at the heart of our Faith and something we are asked to imitate.

I increasingly hear of people who receive Holy Communion at home because they can't get to Mass and yet they get to the hairdresser, the day centre, the shops, the family party. They will ask relatives to take them to many outings but when asked say, "I couldn't ask them to take me to Mass - they don't go." My own most extreme experience of this was a man who telephoned the parish wanting to know if I would bring him Holy Communion at home. He hadn't been to Mass for years but while he was on holiday in Malta he'd got chatting to a priest who suggested that he get in touch with his local parish! Sure, he had a game leg but it got him as far as Malta.

We seem to have developed an attitude of selfishness and materialism in that something is only valid if we are getting "something" - in this case, Holy Communion.

Fr Gary also says:
3. "How many folk will fulfil their Sunday obligation on Christmas Day night which is the Sunday Mass, or on Sunday (Boxing day) Morning? And will the folk who do not attend either of these Masses present themselves for Holy Communion next week without a second thought? Do we as priests remind then them that if they did not attend their Sunday Obligation they must go to Confession before receiving again, or presume they are in good faith and leave it at that? I shall be presuming good faith, but somewhat uncomfortably..."

Indeed. The missing of Mass seems to be accounted as nothing for many people and yet I have a suspicion that most people who lapse do so gradually. A missed Sunday here and there; life goes on and practice becomes less and very soon it's not even Christmas and Easter and so another family is lost to the practice of the Faith. I do know that there were only half the number of people at Mass last Sunday in my parish as would usually be. Presumably, attending Mass two days on the run is just too much to ask.

I'm sometimes told by other priests that being at Mass is not the be-all and end-all of everything but surely, being at Mass is also not just nothing. The practice of the Faith isn't just about Sunday Mass but I would want to include much else that goes with it. It is at Mass that people are encouraged to pray every day, to look after those in need, to live a moral life, to judge the world around them with a correct conscience, to pray for others, to learn and defend doctrine, to ponder the Scriptures, to worship the Lord. Or at least, I hope all this is happening at Mass.

I was going to say that I have no answers to these things. Rather, I have no understanding of why people think in these ways. While I personally don't have any answers - as a priest I believe that the Church does but in thinking that, Fr. Gary and myself find ourselves in a minority here in this country - and we try to get on with doing what we're supposed to be doing, as Cardinal Piacenza encourages. (See the post below.)

But we should not despair - we should rejoice to hold firm in the face of adversity. I am reminded of a certain speech:



This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

2 comments:

Gregory said...

I had to laugh when receiving Communion instructions prior to the televised "Midnight" Mass at Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral:-

Presumably jealous at the spontaneous round of applause offered to the (thankfully bemused) Choir master for issuing his expert pre-Mass instructions about antiphonal proceedings (is 2011 the year when we finally see lay-readers receiving applause for faultless performances?), another usher (actually he may even have been a BBC official) took to the lectern.

Paraphrasing (but near as verbatim as it gets): "A word also about Communion. There is a tight broadcasting schedule. So if the distribution of Communion overruns then the ushers will have to curtail it. However if you find that you have not been able to receive Communion during the general distribution then you are welcome to remain in the Blessed Sacrament chapel after Mass (i.e. at 1.20am in -11 degrees) for continued distribution."

One was tempted to stand up and suggest: 1) if you quickly reminded everyone that they need to be in a state of grace to receive Communion then that should cut the queues down quite considerably; 2) if you dispense with the unnecessary distribution of Precious Blood then that should also speed matters noticeably; 3) also, you could either quit with hideously elongated Sign of Peace (and anyway, isn't swine flu on the rise again?) or at least instruct people only to shake hands with those on their immediate right and left then that, too, should save another two minutes.

* One upside to the Beeb's broadcast: at least it meant we didn't have to suffer the infamous "Santa Mitre" with red felt, white cotton edgings and dangling gold baubles at the rear this year.

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RJ said...

To those who say that the Mass isn't everything (granted): it is the source of everything and the summit of everything.