Tag Archives: Holy Communion

Receiving Holy Communion these days

I am aware we’ve moved into the season of catechetical year of First Holy Communion. A rich and beautiful time. But it is also a distressing time for several reasons. As a sacrament, I look forward to being with Christ in this manner. I am aware that so many are not on the same page as I am or even Mother Church. For too many Holy Communion –and the first time a person receives– is more of a coming of age ceremony, a “right”, something that is owed to the child. All this  has nothing to do with a relationship with the Lord of Life, the Messiah who promised to be with His Church in a beautiful, unique and present way. Perhaps we have to look at what we are doing today and look at what was normative in our tradition. One of the Church Fathers taught the following to his flock:

“Thus, St Basil the Great refers to [receiving] communion four times a week as normative: ‘And to receive communion every day and to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ is good and beneficial, for [Christ] himself clearly says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life.” … We receive communion four times every week: on Sunday, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on Saturday, and on other days, if there happens to be a memorial of a Saint.”

(Letter 93 [89])

Can lay ministers give blessings?

The question always surfaces about the fittingness, according to Catholic liturgical theology and supported by  Canon Law, for the lay minister of Holy Communion to impart a blessing. The quick answer is that the Church does not offer this as a legitimate possibility for good reasons.

Recently, the priest offering Mass invited all people to the communion line to receive the Eucharist, and if not, to receive a blessing “because we are in communion with the deceased person” –the reason for all of us gathered at the Mass. Father missed the point. While we are in communion with the deceased in some sort of metaphysical level known only to God, the Church teaches what is revealed to us: we are first in communion with God the Holy Trinity, then the sacrament of the Church, and with one another. We have first principles. Coming forward to receive a blessing is a symbolic act reinforcing the painful separation of Christians, and it is clearly a second rate manner of being in communion which says to the person receiving such blessing that they are not good enough to receive the real thing. This priest confuses the faithful and opens the door to even more problems.

The exercise of the priesthood of the faithful is not expressed in giving blessings in the communion line, but it does demonstrate the error of clericalizing the laity. Therefore, let’s say from the outset that a person distributing the Eucharistic species may not bestow a blessing on a person because this is not one of the gifts given by the Church to the priesthood of the faithful. In fact, it is a serious cross-over from the laity to the ordained person.

Parishes rely, with good reason, on the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion because of the sizable the numbers of communicants and the lack of extra ordained ministers: priests and deacons, and the institute acolyte. The lay minister, as well as the clergy, have to respect the dignity of the Eucharist and the administration of the sacrament. But do we tend to see when a person has no intention of receiving the Eucharistic Lord? Typically, we encounter one of three things when the person presents him or herself with arms crossed over the chest:

1. they speak and gesture a sign of the cross over persons;
2. lay hands on such persons’ heads or shoulders while voicing a blessing;
3. waive or place the Holy Eucharist over them while speaking a blessing.

All three actions are liturgical abuses.

Ed Peters, a rather well-regarded canonist, teacher, and author, articulates why these acts are abuses in the sacred Liturgy. Professor Peters states,

Let’s consider them in order of gravity:

1. Blessing the faithful with the Most August Sacrament is expressly reserved to the ordained. Lay persons may not confer any blessings with the Host (Eucharistic worship outside of Mass nn. 91, 97-99, and 1983 CIC 1168). This practice should therefore be immediately halted wherever it has cropped up.

2. Touching many persons’ hair, faces, and/or garments while serving food (albeit divine Food) to the public has to be a violation of some health and safety regulation somewhere, not to mention its being poor manners. If the swine flu makes distribution from a common Cup an issue, surely touching hair and heads while serving others food from a common Plate is a problem. This particular practice should therefore be halted promptly, regardless of what one might think about lay blessings during Mass.

3. Ministers of holy Communion have, I suggest, no authority by their office to confer any sort of blessing on anyone. Neither the General Instruction on the Roman Missal nor the Book of Blessings (which later source makes provisions for laity to administer certain blessings) authorizes ministers of Communion to confer blessings during Mass. Given that lay persons serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion have no liturgical duties besides the administration of Communion, the introduction of a mini-blessing rite to be performed by them seems to me a plain violation of Canon 846. This practice should, I think, be halted pending a study of its liceity by qualified persons and, if appropriate, its authorization by the competent authority (1983 CIC 838,1167).

In brief, I suggest that lay ministers of holy Communion have no authority to bless anyone in Communion lines, they should refrain from touching people while distributing holy Communion, and they should immediately cease using the Blessed Sacrament for mini-Benediction rites.

If you are looking for another way of knowing what the Church teaches, Paul Matenaer gives  a response in his 2011 article “Can lay ministers give blessings during Communion?” which is worth reading critically as this is no small thing in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. He gives more detail to the answer than Ed Peters did.

Let me conclude: we want to be welcoming to all people, but there are appropriate places, actions and times for one to be hospitable. The communion line is not one of those places.

Eucharistic coherence today when there’s division of communio

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There is an interesting concept introduced in ecclesial document that has caused me to pause to consider: eucharistic coherence. In reflecting upon its meaning and application, it is also connected with the theological concept of communio, said to have derived from Trinitarian theology. Communio is used in all areas of Catholic life: how we know and live in the Church, our sacramental life, our life with each other, and our hope in salvation.

Today, more than ever we need to have an intelligent understanding of eucharistic coherence. One such place for me is looking at the experience when members of the Church are in disagree, privately and publicly with what is revealed in sacred Scripture and taught by and lived in the Church. There are many examples that come to mind. I write this reflection knowing full well that my own conversion is ongoing, that I am not a perfect witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that I need to live more coherently not because of a moralism but because I want to be in a better loving relationship with the Lord.

The reception of Holy Communion to Catholics is a contentious issue in the USA. The communio among Catholics is in weakened state by a lack of coherence in belief and practice when comes to who receives Holy Communion. My own assessment is that there is no uniform approach to the thinking and pastoral practice among the bishops in this country and that some bishops have fuzzy approach which has trickled down to the lower clergy and laity who distribute the Eucharistic Lord (i.e., Holy Communion) at Mass. Cardinal Dolan has his approach to the issue, so does Cardinal Wuerl, as Archbishop Nauman as I am sure that the newly appointed Bishop Barber has an idea what  practice will be followed in his diocese. We saw in the time when Cardinal Burke was the archbishop of St Louis that he tried to teach with a distinct voice on this subject, and we can look also Cardinal George, Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Finn in the way they connect with other bishops in the USA, or not. In some ways all bishops agree; but in others they differ in how deal with the matter. Cardinal Dolan recently gave Communion to Vice President Joe Biden at Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. The debates have been unhelpful because the baptized faithful, never mind the distinguishing those who have clerical status, are unclear in personal terms as to what ought to be done. But this can’t be said for all: plenty of Catholics in the USA have voiced their opinion when it comes to those who don’t adhere to the teachings of the Gospel, and the clear and consistent teaching of the Church. There are 64 million Catholics in the USA and not all of them are aware of the need to be coherent in matters of faith and practice. Receiving the Lord in the Eucharist is not a political choice, it is not a policy, it is not merely a nice thing to do because my grandmother would be disappointed and nor is receiving Communion the right thing to do when you are in mortal sin. Recall what Saint Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).

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Receiving Holy Communion: correct gestures?

Three things came at me recently that I think needs to be looked at with intellectual and affective honesty. That is, from a perspective of faith and reason, the mind and the heart. The issue of how we receive Holy Communion.

When I was prepared to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion in the third grade by Sister M. Rosetta, CSFN, I was taught to receive our Eucharistic Lord kneeling and on the tongue. In fact, there were no other options available. At some point, for some unknown reason, I began to receive the Eucharist in my hand. And then the parishes I would attend all distributed Holy Communion standing. “That’s the way it’s done.” Surely there is a disconnect between what I was taught and what I eventually adopted. Mind you, I didn’t adopt a new way to receive Communion out of protest or because I thought better than the Magisterium. Sheer habit was born because, well, “just because.”
Back to the recent three things.
I heard, saw, experienced:

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1. At the beginning of January, I heard Bishop Athanasius Schneider make a reasoned argument for receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling;
2. I’ve recently been re-adopting, in a conscientious manner, the way I receive Holy Communion: experience tells my heart and my mind that Communion received in a more traditional way, taking my example the papal Masses, is what the Lord requires in a relationship;
3. Deacon Greg Kendra (a permanent deacon of the Brooklyn Diocese) wrote on his blog that he thought it’s time to restore a greater sense of reverence in our liturgical practice by kneeling at the rail for Communion.
So, who cares what Deacon Kendra thinks? I am sure a few do; I think his blog piece opened a new window of opportunity to rethink pastoral practice for sensible and honest reasons. But if truth be told, Pope Benedict and Bishop Schneider carry the burden of argument.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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