Tag Archives: liturgy

Richard G. Cipolla celebrates 25 years of priestly service

This past Sunday, the Church gathered to worship God; she observed the Presentation of teh Lord in the Temple; and she observed 25 years of priestly service to the Divine Majesty of one her sons, The Reverend Father Richard G. Cipolla, PhD, DPhil (Oxon). Father Cipolla is a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, a teacher, a husband, the father of two, and a great friend. We were colleagues at Fairfield Prep (Fairfield, CT) in late 1990s and I served the Mass he celebrated faithfully at the Bridgettine Convent (Dairen, CT). The homily Father Cipolla delivered on Sunday follows. It bears reading and using for today’s lectio.

Candelmass, 25th Anniversary Mass, 1 February 2009, St Mary’s Norwalk

RGC preaching.jpgShe wraps him carefully, carefully against the cold, not the cold of a New England winter, but cold nevertheless. And as she wraps him she ponders all these things in her heart. And when all is ready she and her husband bring him to the temple, that the law may be fulfilled. And they bring their thank-offering for the birth of their son. They bring him to the temple to dedicate him, to redeem him as the first born with their little gift, meant to be a symbol and yet everything. As they enter the darkened temple the lamp burning before the holy of holies flickers, flickers in recognition of the reality replacing the symbol, the flesh of God enters the place of the symbol of God, and reality is changed, the warp and woof of the universe of space-time explodes silently, as the creator of space-time enters into the man made temple and shatters forever the disconnect between human history and the eternal God.

And you notice that is not the high priest who recognizes this child. It is not the religious authorities who officially wait for the Messiah, the redeemer. They are probably watching their wide screen plasma TV in the rectory. It is the pious old man, Simeon, who waits in the temple for the reality, and who recognizes this reality, mirabile dictu, when he sees it and when he recognizes the reality he takes the child in his arms and sings, he sings in perfect chant: Nunc dimittis. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation. And he holds the child to himself, the child who is his creator, and he sees the suffering of this child as a man, he sees what redemption means, he sees the sword of suffering in the heart of the child’s mother. He sees, he weeps, but he weeps with tears of joy.

The wreaths are long gone. The Christmas trees are part of the compost of town dumps. Our houses are bare, secular, waiting for the end of winter. And in the midst of all of this the Church demands that we celebrate the last feast of Christmas, the purification of St Mary the Virgin, commonly known as the Presentation of Christ in the temple, when we bless candles, reminding us that the child born on Christmas night is the light of the world. The world has forgotten Christmas until next Halloween. We, as St John reminds us, are not of the world, so we joyfully celebrate this last of the great Christmas feasts, a feast that is the climax of Epiphany, the feast that is one more answer to the question: who is this child? Who is this man? What does all of this mean? What is the cross? What is Easter? For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples. Quite an affirmation. This is not theoretical or cultural Christianity, no pie in the sky business, no teddy bear in the sky God, no warm fuzzies. The astounding claim that the child that Simeon takes from Mary and holds in his arms is the Logos of the universe, the meaning of existence, the auctor of creation itself: this is at the heart of what the Christian faith is and what we do this afternoon is an antidote not only to the grey and boring secularism that marches on and tramples almost everything in its path but also is an antidote to that reduction of Christianity to right living, to morality, or to personal feeling that is grounded in an individualism that is contrary to the entire New Testament.

RGC.jpgWhen people ask me, as they have for over twenty five years, why did you become Catholic? They ask me this for various reasons, some good, some bad. But in the end what they want is for me to give some sort of personal journey story, something that I could do on Oprah, and would warm people’s hearts. I am not adverse to warming people’s hearts, but that has nothing to do with why I became a Catholic and remain a dedicated Catholic. Why I became Catholic is because it is real and therefore true; it is true and therefore real. Someone with my scientific background could never believe in anything that did not have a grounding in this world of atoms, of electrons, of muons, of the very stuff of the universe, of the stuff of which we are made. An idealistic religion, as some forms of American Christianity have become with all of the attendant corollaries, is something I could never ultimately take seriously. At least classical Judaism takes history seriously, seeing history through the lens of the relationship of God with the Jewish people, not the individual, but the people, the collective, the community. Here the God of Israel is engaged with his people, to say the least, chastising them, goading them on, calling them back, but never less than real in their own history. History. This is the key. Cardinal Newman said: to know history is to cease to be protestant. Now saying this I emphasize my debt and my love for my protestant upbringing which gave me a knowledge of the Bible and which set me upon my path. But when I found out that the Bible has a history and that history is inseparable from the oral tradition of the Church and the living teaching magisterium of the Church beginning with St Paul down to today. When I found out that Christianity has a history and that history is inseparable from the human history of the past two thousand years and that the Church is imbedded and inseparable from that history, then one is forced to the conclusion that either God entered human history with the birth of Christ and therefore the very stuff of human history is forever transformed, or the whole thing is a nice story that gives us a vague hope that Kafka is not right and that we do not die like a dog.

The event we celebrate in this Mass, the presentation of Christ in the temple, is part of human history. If it is not, forget about it. It means nothing. And what we do together this evening is part of human history. It may not be observed by many people, just as the birth of Christ was observed by very few people, just as his death on the cross was observed by very few people, just as his post-resurrection appearances were observed by very few people. But nevertheless it is happening in this world in this place as a part of human history. And what we do here is the context of the Church’s liturgy, in the context of the Mass. We are not just a bunch of people coming together to commemorate a religious festival, like the Romans did with Saturnalia. We are not here to ponder intellectually or mentally or heartfully what
Trinity Botticelli.jpgChristianity means. We do not come here to learn
. We come here to connect and be connected to the pivot event of human history: the death and resurrection of the Lord of history. We come here to worship the God who is above his creation, eternal, all powerful, the ground of being, but who comes among us in the forms of bread and wine, stuff of the universe and pretty basic stuff at that, who comes to us in this church at this altar in this space and time, who comes as the Son to offer himself up to the Father in the eternal sacrifice that alone makes that connection between God and man possible and real. Simeon held the child Jesus in his arms. What a wonderful thing. But we go far beyond that. In this Mass the Son offers himself to the Father, Calvary is re-presented, and the infinite grace of that offering is bestowed upon us, and as we receive Holy Communion symbol and reality become one, as God enters our body to transform us from death into life. This is where worship and life come together. This is where culture and faith come together. This is where beauty and truth kiss, this is where eternity and time intersect. This is where those whom we have loved and who have died in Christ are with us in the most real way as part of the body of Christ. This is where the angels and archangels and the blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints join with us in this offering of sacrifice and praise.

And all of this in sign and symbol that partake of the reality of God in this extraordinary form of the Roman rite. The ordinary form, the Mass of Paul VI, is known as that because it happens to be celebrated in most Catholic parishes today. That is what ordinary means. The form we celebrate here and now, given back to the Church by the courage and foresight of the present Pope, is extraordinary in the jargon of the Church. Extraordinary means here not exceptional but rather not ordinary. This is the rite that is the distillation of the Catholic faith of at least fifteen hundred years; this is the stuff of Catholicism, not man made, not the product of scholarship or committees, but rather the product of organic growth, like a wonderful old house with some funny and strange features, rooms that seem too small or too large, some curious old furniture, and yet when you step into it, you know that this is a home, a home that has been lived in by countless generations, a home that is meant to be enjoyed, contemplated, a place to have fun in, a place that is home in the sense that it is full of that love that makes a home a real home and not merely a house.

Some of you know the ending of TS Eliot’s poem, “Little Gidding”:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The first time I celebrated this form of the Mass, these lines came to me, for I knew this place for the first time as the place for which I was ordained a Catholic priest. And what I have come to realize is that the Traditional Mass has been given back to the Church by the grace of God in order that new generations might know the place for the first time in all its beauty and truth. For how many years was this place deformed by lifeless, legalistic celebrations of the Mass? How long was this place hidden from a laity consigned to being mere spectators at a clerical event? How long was the entrance to this home barred by those who refused to believe that the people of God were intelligent enough and faithful enough and graceful enough to live fully in this home and so built a new home to appeal to a generation that already has grey hair and is as outdated as is the Brady Bunch split level house? This form of the Mass has been given back to the Church as a gift, a gift to be shared, a gift to be cherished, a gift that lies at the very heart of what it means to be Catholic.

Ministers at the Altar RGC.jpgThis task of renewal is indeed formidable. It is much more formidable than that which President Obama faces in this time of national crisis. The liturgical damage of the past forty years is deep; it is as high as a mountain, for it is not only a question of liturgical form, it is that mountain of willful ignorance that has confused worship of God with worship of the self. And there are days when I look at that mountain and say to myself that there is no way to return. But then I look at the great number of young children at the coffee hour following the 9:30 Solemn Mass on Sunday; I see them running around, I see them stuffing a doughnut into their mouths, I see them with their young parents who have brought them to the Mass, I see them as children whose only experience of Mass is precisely this what we do today, the worship of the transcendent God who became flesh: then the mountain does not seem as high. How fitting is that we celebrate this Mass in this church whose lack of an altar rail, whose absent side altars, whose soiled wall to wall carpet, all speak of the liturgical deterioration of the past forty years. And how fitting it is that this parish church, not one of the wealthy parish churches of this diocese, is determined to bring back the beauty of this church, not for beauty per se, but so that it can once again be a fit setting for the coming of God in the flesh to his people and their response of adoration.

Heady stuff, you say. Quite far from the happy-slappy Catholicism most Catholics have know for the past forty years. Quite far from the liberal Protestantism that has joined forces with the secular steamroller, quite far from the radically individualistic evangelical Christianity that draws thousands to the mega-churches on a Sunday. Quite far from the generic American religion that is a cross between vestiges of Christianity and vague moral stirrings. Quite far indeed. As far as eternity. As far as infinity. The infinity of the Logos, of the reason that holds the universe together. The infinity of the God who did not need us yet created us of his will. But ultimately the infinity of love, the love that knows no bounds, no not any, even to death, even to death on a cross for us, pro nobis, death for life, my life, your life, the only infinity that means anything at all, the infinity that became finite in the womb of Mary for the sake of love.

Saint Blase

St Blaise.jpgO God, Who does gladden us by the annual solemnity of blessed Blase, Thy Martyr and Bishop; mercifully grant that we may rejoice in the protection of him whose heavenly birth we celebrate.


Jesus Christ cares for the ill and the Church, the sacrament of Christ on earth, continues the mission of Christ of healing by asking God to do the loving thing: to heal the sick according to His holy Will. One of the most ancient and revered customs in the Church, therefore, is the offering of prayer and doing fitting good works for the sick to relieve greatest burdens which afflict the human body and spirit.

The ministry of the Church is not what heals or saves someone because on its own it has no such power; it is the faith in the power of the Lord Jesus whose grace provides comfort to the sick; it is the Lord who heals and it is Holy Spirit which works through human agency. And in all that, we believe that our sufferings are connected to (identified with) the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of sinners. As the Pope said recently, “Jesus suffered and died on the cross for love. In this way He gave meaning to our own suffering, a meaning that many men and women of all ages have understood and made their own, thus experiencing profound serenity even amid the bitterness of harsh physical and moral trials”.

Still, it is the will of God that believers should pray for the blessing of good health so that they might engage fully in sharing the knowledge and love of God to the world in which they live. Let’s be clear: God wants us to be happy here, right now. It is important to remember that these prayers offered by Christ’s faithful people remind us of the Lord’s special care and compassion for the sick and infirm and that it is ultimately God’s Will that is followed.

Saint Blase was bishop of Sebaste in what is present day Armenia during the fourth century. We know little about his life yet there are numerous accounts which suggest that he practiced medicine before converting to Jesus Christ and becoming a bishop. He is reputed to have miraculously cured a little child who almost died because of a fishbone in the throat.

From about the eighth century to the present, the Church has liturgicall remembered Saint Blase and has been imparted an annual blessing of the sick, especially those who suffer ailments of the throat.

The blessing is typically given by touching the throat of each person with two candles blessed on the preceding day, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

The blessing of the throat is imparted by the ordained and in some cases, a lay minister may perform the blessing without making the sign of the cross. If imparted during Mass, it usually follows the homily and general intercessions. Some priests offer the blessing in place of the final blessing of the Mass. BUT the intercession of Saint Blase is not limited to today’s liturgical memorial and it is encouraged to request the blessing at other times to those who suffer from illness or diseases of the throat.

The Blessing:

Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

Presentation of the Lord: Candlemas

Presentation of the Lord Weyden.jpgLord, now Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.


Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly beseech Thy majesty, that as Thine only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so too Thou would grant us to be presented unto Thee with purified souls.


The blessings of candles, symbolic of Christ the Light to all peoples, is observed on this feast is a poignant reminder that the great feast of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior means something as it fails to reduce God-becoming man to sentiment or ethics.  Taken by the faithful to their homes, the blessed candles are a reminder that Jesus Christ is indeed “Light from Light, True God from True God.”

The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple emphasizes in yet a more radical way the manifestation of the Christ child at Epiphany celebrated a few weeks ago. This feast, like the Christmas-Epiphany cycle, proclaims Jesus as Lumen gentium (the Light of the world). He is the true foundation of our lives. At the singing of the Canticle of Simeon (see above) the Church puts on our lips the words of Scripture instructing us that Jesus is “The light for the revelation of the Gentiles: and for the glory of Thy people Israel.”

 In a nutshell, the Church says of the observance of the feast of the Presentation:

The feast of February 2 still retains a popular character. It is necessary, however, that such should reflect the true Christian significance of the feast. It would not be proper for popular piety in its celebration of this feast to overlook its Christological significance and concentrate exclusively on its Marian aspects. The fact that this feast should be “considered […] a joint memorial of Son and Mother” would not support such an inversion. The candles kept by the faithful in their homes should be seen as a sign of Christ “the light of the world” and an expression of faith. (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 123)

True Worship is communion with Christ, Pope says

On January 7, 2009, His Holiness delivered this address. It bears reading the whole thing. It is excellent, per usual!

In this first general audience of 2009, I want to offer all of you fervent best wishes for the New Year that just began. Let us renew our determination to open the mind and heart to Christ, to be and live as his true friends. His company will make this year, even with its inevitable difficulties, be a path full of joy and peace. In fact, only if we remain united to Jesus will the New Year be good and happy.

St Paul at St Peter's.jpgThe commitment of union with Christ is the example that St. Paul offers us. Continuing the catecheses dedicated to him, we pause today to reflect on one of the important aspects of his thought, the worship that Christians are called to offer. In the past, there was a leaning toward speaking of an anti-worship tendency in the Apostle, of a “spiritualization” of the idea of worship. Today we better understand that St. Paul sees in the cross of Christ a historical change, which transforms and radically renews the reality of worship. There are above all three passages from the Letter to the Romans in which this new vision of worship is presented.

1. In Romans 3:25, after having spoken of the “redemption brought about by Christ Jesus,” Paul goes on with a formula that is mysterious to us, saying: God “set [him] forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood.” With this expression that is quite strange for us — “instrument of expiation” — St. Paul refers to the so-called propitiatory of the ancient temple, that is, the lid of the ark of the covenant, which was considered a point of contact between God and man, the point of the mysterious presence of God in the world of man. This “propitiatory,” on the great day of reconciliation — Yom Kippur — was sprinkled with the blood of sacrificed animals, blood that symbolically put the sins of the past year in contact with God, and thus, the sins hurled to the abyss of the divine will were almost absorbed by the strength of God, overcome, pardoned. Life began anew.

St. Paul makes reference to this rite and says: This rite was the expression of the desire
Cimabue S Domenico Crucifix Arezzo c1275.jpgthat all our faults could really be put in the abyss of divine mercy and thus made to disappear. But with the blood of animals, this process was not fulfilled. A more real contact between human fault and divine love was necessary. This contact has taken place with the cross of Christ. Christ, Son of God, who has become true man, has assumed in himself all our faults. He himself is the place of contact between human misery and divine mercy; in his heart, the sad multitude of evil carried out by humanity is undone, and life is renewed.

Revealing this change, St. Paul tells us: With the cross of Christ — the supreme act of divine love, converted into human love — the ancient worship with the sacrifice of animals in the temple of Jerusalem has ended. This symbolic worship, worship of desire, has now been replaced by real worship: the love of God incarnated in Christ and taken to its fullness in the death on the cross. Therefore, this is not a spiritualization of the real worship, but on the contrary, this is the real worship, the true divine-human love, that replaces the symbolic and provisional worship. The cross of Christ, his love with flesh and blood, is the real worship, corresponding to the reality of God and man. Already before the external destruction of the temple, for Paul, the era of the temple and its worship had ended: Paul is found here in perfect consonance with the words of Jesus, who had announced the end of the temple and announced another temple “not made by human hands” — the temple of his risen body (cf. Mark 14:58; John 2:19 ff). This is the first passage.

2. The second passage about which I would like to speak today is found in the first verse of Chapter 12 of the Letter to the Romans. We have heard it and I repeat it once again: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”

In these words, an apparent paradox is verified: While sacrifice demands as a norm the death of the victim, Paul makes reference to the life of the Christian. The expression “offer your bodies,” united to the successive concept of sacrifice, takes on the worship nuance of “give in oblation, offer.” The exhortation to “offer your bodies” refers to the whole person; in fact, in Romans 6:13, [Paul] makes the invitation to “present yourselves to God.” For the rest, the explicit reference to the physical dimension of the Christian coincides with the invitation to “glorify God in your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20): It’s a matter of honoring God in the most concrete daily existence, made of relational and perceptible visibility.

Conduct of this type is classified by Paul as “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” It is here where we find precisely the term “sacrifice.” In prevalent use, this term forms part of a sacred context and serves to designate the throat-splitting of an animal, of which one part can be burned in honor of the gods and another part consumed by the offerers in a banquet. Paul instead applied it to the life of the Christian. In fact he classifies such a sacrifice by using three adjectives. The first — “living” — expresses a vitality. The second — “holy” — recalls the Pauline concept of a sanctity that is not linked to places or objects, but to the very person of the Christian. The third — “pleasing to God” — perhaps recalls the common biblical expression of a sweet-smelling sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 1:13, 17; 23:18; 26:31, etc.).

Immediately afterward, Paul thus defines this new way of living: this is “your spiritual worship.” Commentators of the text know well that the Greek expression (tçn logikçn latreían) is not easy to translate. The Latin Bible renders it: “rationabile obsequium.” The same word “rationabile” appears in the first Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon: In it, we pray so that God accepts this offering as “rationabile.” The traditional Italian translation, “spiritual worship,” [an offering in spirit], does not reflect all the details of the Greek text, nor even of the Latin. In any case, it is not a matter of a less real worship or even a merely metaphorical one, but of a more concrete and realistic worship, a worship in which man himself in his totality, as a being gifted with reason, transforms into adoration and glorification of the living God.

Christ & cup.jpgThis Pauline formula, which appears again in the Roman Eucharistic prayer, is fruit of a long development of the religious experience in the centuries preceding Christ. In this experience are found theological developments of the Old Testament and currents of Greek thought. I would like to show at least certain elements of this development. The prophets and many psalms strongly criticize the bloody sacrifices of the temple. For example, Psalm 50 (49), in which it is God who speaks, says, “Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for mine is the world and all that fills it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer praise as your sacrifice to God” (verses 12-14).

In the same sense, the following Psalm 51 (50), says, ” …for you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart” (verse 18 and following).

In the Book of Daniel, in the times of the new destruction of the temple at the hands of the Hellenistic regime (2nd century B.C.), we find a new step in the same direction. In midst of the fire — that is, persecution and suffering — Azariah prays thus: “We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks … So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly” (Daniel 3:38ff).

In the destruction of the sanctuary and of worship, in this situation of being deprived of every sign of the presence of God, the believer offers as a true holocaust a contrite heart, his desire of God.

We see an important development, beautiful, but with a danger. There exists a spiritualization, a moralization of worship: Worship becomes only something of the heart, of the spirit. But the body is lacking; the community is lacking. Thus is understood that Psalm 51, for example, and also the Book of Daniel, despite criticizing worship, desire the return of the time of sacrifices. But it is a matter of a renewed time, in a synthesis that still was unforeseeable, that could not yet be thought of.

altar.jpgLet us return to St. Paul. He is heir to these developments, of the desire for true worship, in which man himself becomes glory of God, living adoration with all his being. In this sense, he says to the Romans: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice … your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Paul thus repeats what he had already indicated in Chapter 3: The time of the sacrifice of animals, sacrifices of substitution, has ended. The time of true worship has arrived. But here too arises the danger of a misunderstanding: This new worship can easily be interpreted in a moralist sense — offering our lives we make true worship. In this way, worship with animals would be substituted by moralism: Man would do everything for himself with his moral strength. And this certainly was not the intention of St. Paul.

But the question persists: Then how should we interpret this “reasonable spiritual worship”? Paul always supposes that we have come to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), that we have died in baptism (Romans 1) and we live now with Christ, through Christ and in Christ. In this union — and only in this way — we can be in him and with him a “living sacrifice,” to offer the “true worship.” The sacrificed animals should have substituted man, the gift of self of man, and they could not. Jesus Christ, in his surrender to the Father and to us, is not a substitution, but rather really entails in himself the human being, our faults and our desire; he truly represents us, he assumes us in himself. In communion with Christ, accomplished in the faith and in the sacraments, we transform, despite our deficiencies, into living sacrifice: “True worship” is fulfilled.

This synthesis is the backdrop of the Roman Canon in which we pray that this offering be “rationabile,” so that spiritual worship is accomplished. The Church knows that in the holy Eucharist, the self-gift of Christ, his true sacrifice, is made present. But the Church prays so that the celebrating community is really united to Christ, is transformed; it prays so that we ourselves come to be that which we cannot be with our efforts: offering “rationabile” that is pleasing to God. In this way the Eucharistic prayer interprets in an adequate way the words of St. Paul.

St. Augustine clarified all of this in a marvelous way in the 10th book of his City of God. I cite only two phrase: “This is the sacrifice of the Christians: though being many we are only one body in Christ” … “All of the redeemed community (civitas), that is, the congregation and the society of the saints, is offered to God through the High Priest who has given himself up” (10,6: CCL 47,27ff).

3. Finally, I want to leave a brief reflection on the third passage of the Letter to the Romans referring to the new worship. St. Paul says thus in Chapter 15: “the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service (hierourgein) of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the holy Spirit” (15:15ff).

I would like to emphasize only two aspects of this marvelous text and one aspect of the unique terminology of the Pauline letters. Before all else, St. Paul interprets his missionary action among the peoples of the world to construct the universal Church as a priestly action. To announce the Gospel to unify the peoples in communion with the Risen Christ is a “priestly” action. The apostle of the Gospel is a true priest; he does what is at the center of the priesthood: prepares the true sacrifice.

LITURGY.JPGAnd then the second aspect: the goal of missionary action is — we could say in this way — the cosmic liturgy: that the peoples united in Christ, the world, becomes as such the glory of God “pleasing oblation, sanctified in the Holy Spirit.” Here appears a dynamic aspect, the aspect of hope in the Pauline concept of worship: the self-gift of Christ implies the tendency to attract everyone to communion in his body, to unite the world. Only in communion with Christ, the model man, one with God, the world comes to be just as we all want it to be: a mirror of divine love. This dynamism is always present in Scripture; this dynamism should inspire and form our life. And with this dynamism we begin the New Year. Thanks for your patience.

Reclaiming reverence when receiving Holy Communion

On December 19th I brought to our attention a recently published book about Communion in the hand by Bishop Schneider. You can read the entry here. As a follow-up, here is a bulletin note from a Connecticut pastor raising the question of the fittingness of the faithful’s reception of Holy Communion in the hand. The argument is cogent.


The beginning of each year is often a time of “New Year Resolutions”. Over the next few weeks in this Pastor’s Column I would like to suggest some “New Year Resolutions” having to do with our Catholic Faith. My first suggestion is during 2009 start exercising the option of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue in Mass. Let me explain why.

This past summer Catholics were horrified when a professor at the University of Minnesota willfully desecrated the Eucharist. On the internet Professor Paul Zachary Myers invited anyone to obtain for him a consecrated Host from a Catholic Church so that he could desecrate It. Another man read about the request and took a Host from the London Oratory, videotaping Himself taking It from the Mass. He then sent the Host to Professor Myers and posted the video on the internet. Professor Myer then proceeded to drive a rusty nail through the Host in order to show the “absurdity” of the Catholic belief in the True Presence, and posted photos of the event on his website. Unfortunately the event set off a series of copycat crimes, and these desecrations are all over the internet.

What can be behind so much hatred? Even a child understands that it is not right to mock what others hold to be sacred. I have offered Mass in reparation for this sacrilege, and I know that many good Catholics have also done forms of prayer and penance in order to console the wounded heart of Our Lord.

Pope Communion.jpgDo you remember last year here at St. Mary’s when we found a Host under one of the pews in the church? I know from other priests that this happens every once in a while in other parishes as well. These incidents remind us that it would certainly be more difficult for people to take the Host improperly if everyone were receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. As the Catholic Church teaches, “If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 92).

Many people born prior to the Second Vatican Council will remember when everyone received Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. This has been the long held practice for thousands of years (although during certain periods of the early Church it did allow Communion in the hand). While many think that it was Vatican II that called for this change, it is important to note: Vatican II never called for Communion in the hand. Communion in the hand was the result of disobedience which forced the hand of the Church (no pun intended!).

After the Second Vatican Council some dioceses in the world started to make their own rules about receiving the Communion in the hand, disobeying the laws of the universal Church. Witnessing this practice without approval, the Vatican stated that it feared that this disobedience would lead to “…both the possibility of a lessening of reverence toward the august sacrament of the altar, its profanation, and the watering down of the true doctrine of the Eucharist” (Memoriale Domini).

Therefore in 1968 Pope Paul VI graciously sent out a questionnaire to all the bishops of the world asking if there should be a prudent change in the Church’s practice on how Communion would be distributed. The poll numbers came back overwhelming against Communion in the hand. Hence the Vatican concluded: “The answers given show that by far the greater number of bishops think that the discipline currently in force should not be changed. And if it were to be changed, it would be an offense to the sensibilities and spiritual outlook of these bishops and a great many of the faithful” (Memoriale Domini).

Nonetheless the disobedience continued and some of these dioceses petitioned Rome to officially permit Communion in the hand. A year later, in 1969, Pope Paul VI gave an indult to the French bishops permitting each bishop to decide the question in his own diocese (En réponse a la Demande). An indult is a special permission for a particular situation, rather than a universal norm. Nonetheless eventually the majority of dioceses in the world took advantage of the indult and simply permitted the practice.

Why did the Pope allow it? Perhaps it can be best summed up by the words of Our Lord about why divorce was allowed in the Old Testament: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives” (Matthew 19:8). Their disobedience had reached such a point that it would have been difficult to have them return to the traditional practice.

Nonetheless some countries like Sri Lanka did not use the indult, and maintained the long held tradition of receiving only on the tongue. Recently there have also been dioceses around the world such San Luis, Argentina and Lima, Peru that have returned to the traditional practice and no longer permit Communion in the hand. This is an option fully supported by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Furthermore, if one does receive Communion on the hand, there is always the danger that particles may be remain in the hand. The Council of Trent infallibly teaches that Our Blessed Lord is truly present even in the particles as well: “If anyone denies that in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist the whole Christ is contained under each form and under every part of each form when separated, let him be anathema” (Chapter VIII, Canon 3). For this reason the priest always purifies his hands of particles at the end of Mass, and uses a corporal (a small white cloth meant to catch the corpus, or body, of Our Lord).

Communion.jpgFinally another major event occurred this past year when Pope Benedict XVI asked that from now on, all who receive Holy Communion from him must receive It on the tongue and kneeling. I am sure that by insisting on this ancient practice the Pope is trying to foster a deeper respect for the Eucharist as well.

When Rome did give the indult to the French bishops in 1969 it stated, “The new manner of giving Communion must not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional practice.” Therefore Communion is on the tongue is still the common practice for the universal Church. While both practices are permitted in the diocese of Bridgeport, I encourage parishioners to give prayerful consideration to following Pope Benedict XVI’s lead by receiving Holy Communion on the tongue in the new year.

Sincerely in Christ,
Father Greg J. Markey, Pastor
Saint Mary’s Church, Norwalk, CT

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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