Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments: January 2009 Archives

I am presenting excerpts of a lecture delivered by Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev at the Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, October 21, 2008. This work was made known to me by a friend, Paulist Father Ron Roberson heads the Orthodox desk for the US Bishops ecumenical office in Washington, DC. The emphasis I added to the lecture are the ideas that are striking deserve greater attention by us. The keys are "personal encounter,"  and the lex orandi tradition and being conscious of the great divorce of faith and reason. Thanks for your patience.

Evagrius.gifAccording to a classical definition by Evagrius, 'If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian'. In traditional Orthodox understanding, theology is not a science, or a scholarship, or an academic exercise. To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship.

Theology ought to be inspired by God: it ought not to be the word of a human person, but the word of the Spirit pronounced by human lips. A true Christian theologian is one who is able to be silent until the Holy Spirit touches the strings of his soul. And it is only when the human word falls silent and the word of the Spirit emerges from his soul, that true theology is born. From this moment 'a lover of words' is transformed into 'a lover of wisdom', a rhetorician into a theologian.

According to St Gregory Nazianzen, not everyone can be a theologian, but only the one who purifies himself for God. Not all can participate in theological discussions, but only those who are able to do it properly. Finally, not every theological concern can be discussed openly.

Discussion of theology is not for everyone, I tell you, not for everyone - it is not such inexpensive and effortless pursuit... It must be reserved for certain occasions, for certain audiences, and certain limits must be observed. It is not for all men, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul.

St Gregory Nazianzen.jpgTheology, according to St Gregory, is nothing other than the ascent to God. Gregory uses the traditional image of Moses on Mount Sinai to emphasize that the true theologian is only someone who is able to enter the cloud and encounter God face to face. In this multi-dimensional, allegorical picture Moses symbolizes the person whose theology emerges from the experience of an encounter with God. Aaron represents someone whose theology is based on what he heard from others; Nadab and Abihu typify those who claim to be theologians because of their high position in the church hierarchy. But neither acquaintance with the experience of others nor an ecclesiastical rank gives one the right to declare oneself a theologian. Those Christians who purify themselves according to God's commandments may take part in a theological discussion; the non-purified ought not.

Thus, purification of soul is a necessary precondition for practicing theology. Its central point is summed up in the following dictum: 'Is speaking about God a great thing? But greater still is to purify oneself for God'. Here, purification (katharsis) is not opposed to theology: rather, theology is that ascent to the peak of Mount Sinai which is impossible without purification. What is required for practicing theology is not so much intellectual effort, neither external erudition, nor wide reading, but first of all humility and modesty. According to Gregory, humility is not to be found in someone's external appearance, which may often be deceitful, and perhaps not even in how someone is related to other people, but in his attitude to God. The humble, in Gregory's judgment, is not he who speaks but little about himself, or who speaks in the presence of a few but rarely; not he who 'speaks about God with moderation, who knows what to say and what to pass over in silence'.

In other words, everyone can be a good Christian, but not everyone is able to investigate the depths of doctrine, where many things should be covered by an apophatic silence. Everyone can contemplate on matters of theology, but not everyone can be initiated into its mysteries.

All Christians must purify themselves for God: the more a person is purified, the more discernible are the words of the Spirit in his mouth. True theology is born out of a silent and humble standing before God rather than out of speculations on theological matters. We can see that this understanding is radically different from what we normally mean by 'theology'. One of the tragic consequences of the divorce between Christian theory and praxis, between faith and knowledge, is that nowadays knowledge about theological subjects does not necessarily presuppose faith. You can be a theologian and not belong to any church community; in principle, you do not need to believe in God to receive a theological degree. Theology is reduced to one of the subjects of human knowledge alongside with chemistry, mathematics or biology.

Another divorce which needs to be mentioned is that between theology and liturgy. schola.jpgFor an Orthodox theologian, liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis. The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the contrary, have been accepted by the whole Church as a 'rule of faith' (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries.

Throughout this time, any erroneous ideas foreign to Orthodoxy that might have crept in either through misunderstanding or oversight were eliminated by church Tradition itself, leaving only pure and authoritative doctrine clothed by the poetic forms of the Church's hymns.

Coptic dec.jpgSeveral years ago I came across a short article in a journal of the Coptic Church where it stated that this Church had decided to remove prayers for those detained in hell from its service books, since these prayers 'contradict Orthodox teaching.' Puzzled by this article, I decided to ask a representative of the Coptic Church about the reasons for this move. When such opportunity occurred, I raised this question before one Coptic metropolitan, who replied that the decision was made by his Synod because, according to their official doctrine, no prayers can help those in hell. I told the metropolitan that in the liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church and other local Orthodox Churches there are prayers for those detained in hell, and that we believe in their saving power. This surprised the metropolitan, and he promised to study this question in more detail.

During this conversation with the metropolitan I expressed my thoughts on how one could go very far and even lose important doctrinal teachings in the pursuit of correcting liturgical texts. Orthodox liturgical texts are important because of their ability to give exact criteria of theological truth, and one must always confirm theology using liturgical texts as a guideline, and not the other way round. The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are divergences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts, that need correction. Even more inadmissible, from my point of view, is the correction of liturgical texts in line with contemporary norms. Relatively recently the Roman Catholic Church decided to remove the so-called 'antisemitic' texts from the service of Holy Friday. Several members of the Orthodox Church have begun to propagate the idea of revising Orthodox services in order to bring them closer to contemporary standards of political correctness. For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, proposed the removal of all texts from the Holy Week services that speak of the guilt of the Jews in the death of Christ (cf. his article "How Western Theology after Auschwitz Corresponds to the Consciousness and Services of the Russian Orthodox Church," in Theology after Auschwitz and its Relation to Theology after the Gulag: Consequences and Conclusions, Saint Petersburg, 1999; in Russian). He also maintains that only a 'superficial and selective' reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ.

In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion. This is just one of innumerable examples of how a distortion of the lex credendi inevitably leads to 'corrections' in the lex orandi, and vice versa. This is not only a question of revising liturgical tradition, but also a re-examination of Christian history and doctrine. The main theme of all four Gospels is the conflict between Christ and the Jews, who in the end demanded the death penalty for Jesus. There was no conflict between Christ and the Roman administration, the latter being involved only because the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death penalty. It seems that all of this is so obvious that it does not need any explanation. This is exactly how the ancient Church understood the Gospel story, and this is the understanding that is reflected in liturgical texts. However, contemporary rules of 'political correctness' demand another interpretation in order to bring not only the Church's services, but also the Christian faith itself in line with modern trends.

Theotokos.jpgThe Orthodox Tradition possesses a sufficient number of 'defense mechanisms' that prevent foreign elements from penetrating into its liturgical practice. I have in mind those mechanisms that were set in motion when erroneous or heretical opinions were introduced into the liturgical texts under the pretext of revision. One may recall how Nestorianism began with the suggestion to replace the widely-used term Theotokos (Mother of God) with Christotokos (Mother of Christ), the latter was seen as more appropriate by Nestorius. When this suggestion was made, one of the defense mechanisms was activated: the Orthodox people were indignant and protested. Later, another mechanism was put into operation when theologians met to discuss the problem. Finally, an Ecumenical Council was convened. Thus, it turned out that a dangerous Christological heresy, lurking under the guise of a seemingly harmless liturgical introduction, was later condemned by a Council.

To rediscover the link between theology, liturgy and praxis, between lex orandi, lex credendi and lex Vivendi would be one of the urgent tasks of theological education in the 21st century. The whole notion of a 'theology' as exclusively bookish knowledge must be put into question. The whole idea of a 'theological faculty' as one of many other faculties of a secular university needs to be re-examined. The notions of 'nonconfessional', 'unbiased', 'objective' or 'inclusive' theology as opposed to 'confessional' or 'exclusive' must be reconsidered.


Hilarion.jpgHilarion Alfeyev was born on July 24, 1966 in Moscow. He studied violin, piano and composition. He graduated in 1991 with a Master of Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy. In 1995, Alfeyev earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford (UK) under the supervision of Bishop Kallistos Ware writing defending a thesis titled "St Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition."

He entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he was tonsured as a monk, ordained a deacon and a ordained priest in 1987. His bishop assigned him to serve as parish priest in Lithuania, including two years as dean of Annunciation Cathedral in Kaunas.

From 1995 to 2001 Hilarion Alfeyev served as Secretary for Inter-Christian Affairs of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. He also taught part time at Smolensk and Kaluga Theological Seminaries (Russia), at St Vladimir's and St Herman's Theological Seminaries (USA) and at Cambridge University (UK).

On 27 December 2001, Alfeyev was elected a bishop and consecrated by His Holiness Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia in January 2002. The Patriarch assigned him to serve as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain until the Holy Synod decided, only a few months later, that he was to be nominated as Head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. Since May 2003 he has served as Bishop of Vienna and Austria, administrator of the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary, in addition to his position in Brussels, which he continues to hold.

Bishop Hilarion has authored numerous musical compositions including "St Matthew Passion," grand oratorio for soloists, choir and orchestra, with performances at the Great Hall of Moscow Concervatory, the Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome and at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne. Equally well received was his 2008 "Christmas Oratorio," performed in Washington, Boston and New York and later in Moscow.

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.

Magi detail Bottocelli.jpgEpiphany inscription over the doorway of the home:

20 + C + M + B + 09


The letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. All three revered as saints and honored in the Munich cathedral. We abbreviate the Latin words "Christus mansionem benedicat" ("May Christ bless the house"). The letters recall the day on which the inscription is made, as well as the purpose of blessing.


The crosses represent the protection of the Precious Blood of Christ, whom we invoke, and the holiness of the Magi who adored of the infant Jesus. The inscription is made above the front door, so that all who enter and depart this year may enjoy God's blessing. The month of January bears the name of the Roman god Janus, the doorkeeper of heaven and protector of the beginning and end of things. This blessing "christens" the ancient Roman observance of the first month.

Blessing of Chalk

V. Our help is the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk
to render it helpful to your people.
Grant that they who use it in faith
and with it inscribe upon the doors of their homes
the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar,
may through their merits and intercession
enjoy health of body and protection of soul.
Through Christ our Lord.

And the chalk is sprinkled with Holy Water.


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

Most Holy Name of Jesus

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Virgin & child botticelli.jpgLord, may we honor the Holy Name of Jesus enjoy His friendship in this life and be filled with eternal joy in His Kingdom, where He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Jesu Dulcis Memoria


Jesu, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest!


Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name,
O Savior of mankind!


O hope of every contrite heart!
O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind thou art,
How good to those who seek!


But what to those who find? Ah this
Nor tongue nor pen can show:
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but his lovers know.


O Jesu, light of all below!
Thou Fount of life and fire!
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!


Thee will I seek, at home, abroad,
Who everywhere art nigh;
Thee in my bosom's cell, O Lord,
As on my bed I lie.


With Mary to thy tomb, I'll haste,
Before the dawning skies,
And all around with longing cast
My soul's inquiring eyes;


Beside thy grave will make my moan,
And sob my heart away;
Then at thy feet sink trembling down,
And there adoring stay;


Nor from my tears and sighs refrain,
Nor those dear feet release,
My Jesu, still from thee I gain
Some blessed word of peace!

A Vespers hymn by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century)


The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus  has been celebrated in various places since the fifteenth century and was extended to the whole Catholic Church 20 December 1721 by Pope Innocent XIII but it was a devotion of many holy men and women before this time. There are antecedents which indicate that the faithful's veneration of the Holy Name was encouraged Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Bernardine of Siena and Saint John Capistrano. Various religious orders had their dates for the observance of this feast. Sadly, one of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council was to excise the feast from the liturgical calendar thinking that the Holy name was honored enough in the Divine Office and that the Mass texts were reduced to a Votive Mass. When Pope John Paul II published the third edition of the Roman Missal in 2002 he restored the feast to the liturgical calendar as an optional memorial on the first free day after January 1st, that is January 3rd.


IHS2.jpgBy the time of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and his companions, the newly of priests chose the name of Jesus by which they would identify themselves. With the pope's permission the Loyola called his groups the Company of Jesus, translated into Latin to be the Societas Iesus, hence the Society of Jesus. The image adopted was Saint Bernardine's IHS monogram. The observance of the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, with its Votive Mass, set the tone of mission of the Company of Jesus. As a side note, the Votive Mass of the Holy Name of Jesus was one the Masses offered for the repose of the soul of Avery Cardinal Dulles at the University Chapel at Fordham. The devotion still is observed in the Society of Jesus.


Does your parish have a Holy Name Society? If not, why not ask the pastor to begin one. See the US confraternity's webpage.


Veni, Creator Spiritus

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At the beginning of the new calendar year we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us. You will recognize the text if you've attended an Ordination and Confirmation Masses or if you recall the Liturgy from Pentecost. Veni, Creator Spiritus is frequently used at the annual Red Mass which marks the beginning of the academic year or the opening of the judicial year. This hymn to the Paraclete is attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856). A plenary indulgence is granted if it is recited on January 1st. 

Holy Spirit2.jpgCreator Spirit all Divine,
come visit every soul of Thine.
And fill with Thy Celestial Flame
the hearts which Thou Thyself did frame.

O Gift of God, Thine is the Sweet
consoling name of Paraclete.
And spring of life and fire of love,
and unction flowing from above.

The mystic seven-fold gifts are Thine,
finger of God's Right Hand Divine.
The Father's Promise sent to teach,
the tongue a rich and heavenly speech.

Kindle with fire brought from above
each sense, and fill our hearts with love,
And grant our flesh so weak and frail,
the strength of Thine which cannot fail.

Drive far away our deadly foe,
and grant us Thy true peace to know,
So we, led by Thy Guidance still,
may safely pass through every ill.

To us, through Thee, the grace be shown,
To know the Father and the Son,
And Spirit of Them Both, may we
forever rest our Faith in Thee.

To Father and Son be praises meet,
and to the Holy Paraclete.
And may Christ send us from above,
that Holy Spirit's gift of love. Amen.

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]



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This page is a archive of entries in the Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments category from January 2009.

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