Many of us who are concerned about a growing disregard for the rubrics of the Mass among many bishops and priests, have been looking forward to the release of new document from the Vatican intended to rein in the abusers. On Friday, April 23, 2004, The Congregation for Divine worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament released Redemptionis Sacramentum on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.
The document is of particular interest to me because it addresses the overuse of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. When our new pastor was assigned here about two years ago, one of the first changes he made was the manner in which the choir receives the Holy Eucharist. Our church is an old building with the choir loft in the rear. Previously, the choir and organist would come downstairs to be first in line, or one of the Extraordinary Ministers would bring Communion upstairs to the choir after everyone else had received. Being a member of the choir, Father asked me to come to the altar when the other EM's come forward, and he would give me a ciborium to take to the loft for distribution. I was never properly deputed as an EM, but Father said anyone who is confirmed could be appointed as a Eucharist Minister.
I was never comfortable with this arrangement, knowing I was not properly trained or appointed by the bishop, but I complied with our pastor's wish as a matter of obedience. To justify my participation in my own conscience, I felt that I held the Holy Eucharist in greater reverence than some of the other EEM's who distributed Holy Communion in blue jeans and tee shirts.
Father wanted me to count how many hosts would be needed and notify him before the start of the Mass. He would place the correct number in the ciborium and I could then leave the ciborium on the table in the choir loft until the end of Mass.
It sounds simple enough, but seldom worked out that way. Late arrivals or a person not receiving would often skew the count. And to make matters worse, Father frequently put the wrong number in the ciborium, forcing me to fracture some Hosts or give multiple Hosts to the last person in line.
On the Friday Redemptionis Sacramentum was released, I printed the entire document, about 58 pages, from the Vatican website. I placed it in a 3-ring binder complete with a cover page. I also printed a short news release from a Catholic internet site which described the main points of the text. Two sections of the document (#155 and #158) were pertinent to my situation. They are as follows with my emphasis added:
[155.] In addition to the ordinary ministers there is the formally instituted acolyte, who by virtue of his institution is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion even outside the celebration of Mass. If, moreover, reasons of real necessity prompt it, another lay member of Christ's faithful may also be delegated by the diocesan Bishop, in accordance with the norm of law, for one occasion or for a specified time, and an appropriate formula of blessing may be used for the occasion. This act of appointment, however, does not necessarily take a liturgical form, nor, if it does take a liturgical form, should it resemble sacred Ordination in any way. Finally, in special cases of an unforeseen nature, permission can be given for a single occasion by the Priest who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist.
[158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.
These two statements were my way out of an uncomfortable situation. I was never appointed by the diocesan Bishop, and the Priest can only grant permission for a single occasion for a special case of unforeseen nature. Furthermore, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion should only be used when the Mass would be unduly prolonged. Counting myself, our church routinely uses four extraordinary ministers in addition to the priest to distribute Holy Communion at the weekend Masses. If the Blood of Christ were not distributed, not using any extraordinary ministers on Sunday might make the Mass last 45 minutes instead of the usual 35 to 40.
Our parish rectory does not have internet access. I take care of the website from my home and deliver any email messages to Father, so he is accustomed to me handing him papers after Mass. I decided to take the news release with me to Mass on Saturday morning. Few people attend that Mass and I would have an opportunity to show the article to Father and ask to be relieved of my extraordinary minister duty.
I am fairly certain Father thinks of me as a conservative Catholic (and therefore, an adversary) from comments I have made about his proposals to rearrange the configuration of our church. I prefer to think of myself as a seeker of orthodoxy. While we are on good terms, a certain edginess exists in our relationship as if a confrontation is someday inevitable.
As I handed the news release to Father, I told him it was about a document just released by the Vatican. He said something about it probably being about an abortion issue. I said no. It is an instruction on the Holy Eucharist and talks about the use of extraordinary ministers. He glanced at the paper and saw the words liturgical abuse, and immediately went on the defensive. "Check your sources, Rich - Check your sources," he warned me without reading any further. He asked me if I got this from the Internet. I told him I did. And he repeated several times that I should "check my sources." I said, "Father, it's from the Vatican," but, he refused to believe it was a legitimate source.
Taking a defensive posture without even reading the article, and casting dispersions on my ability to discern a legitimate source did not sit well with me. I went to my truck where I happened to have Redemptionis Sacramentum in the three ring binder, complete with some items highlighted. I had not intended to give him the whole document, but I did take it with me just in case the opportunity arose. I followed him into the sacristy and gave it to him. He resisted, but I asked him to check the source, and if it was legitimate, I would like an opportunity to speak with him about it. He said okay.
The next day, the Parish Life Committee was serving breakfast after all the Sunday Masses. I was eating with my uncle when Father approached our table. He said, "I've never blessed your house, have I?" I said no, and he said he would like to come over to do it, either Monday or Tuesday. We agreed on Tuesday at 5 PM. After consulting with my wife, I spoke with Father after Mass on Monday and invited him to stay for dinner after the blessing.
I assumed the offer to bless our home was mostly an excuse for getting together for a talk which I welcomed. The next 48 hours were spent thinking about what I should say to Father about my concerns. As it turned out, I should have also given some thought to what blessing out house would entail.
As a parent of two teenagers still living at home, I have been often frustrated trying to get them to keep their rooms clean. My son's room has the look of an office or studio. It is filled with computers, musical instruments, and miscellaneous clutter. My daughter's room - well, I can hardly describe it. The carpet is barely visible. Entering her room requires special equipment. Need I say more?
Even my wife, a full time educator and avid reader, has little time for housekeeping while school is in session. By the time the school year draws to a close, an accumulation of books and papers fills all available storage space. The house generally gets reorganized during the summer and then the cycle begins again. May is probably the worst month to entertain visitors with plenty of activities crammed into the end of the school year for my wife and children. Some areas of the house were a bit cluttered when Father came to visit on Tuesday evening.
It is customary for the priest to sprinkle holy water in each room of the house when he does a blessing. I was so concerned about topics of discussion that I nearly forgot about the blessing. Despite our efforts to steer him away from some of our disaster areas, he persisted until we allowed access to the entire house. I hope some of my messier family members were embarrassed. I know I was.
After the blessing, we enjoyed a simple dinner with pleasant conversation. My wife had to attend a meeting shortly after we had finished eating, so I was left to fend for myself. I began by explaining my concern about serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in view of what Redemptoris Sacramentum says about their overuse. Having never been properly deputed by the bishop, I told Father that I would prefer not to act in that capacity anymore.
Surprisingly, he seemed agreeable. Father said it would be alright if all of us in the choir loft came downstairs to be first in line. Afterwards, we could return to the loft and begin the Communion hymn. This is precisely the way we received Communion prior to this priest's arrival. We changed the procedure at his request to comply with a directive from the bishop to begin the Communion hymn as soon as the priest receives. While going downstairs will delay the beginning of the hymn, that 'abuse' pales in comparison to any unintended profanation of the Holy Eucharist.
Despite a cordial start to our discussion, it was soon evident that our spiritual temperaments were not in harmony. Communication between us was very difficult, as though we were each broadcasting on different frequencies. I found myself questioning whether Father really said what I thought he said. I made mental notes and wrote them down later, paraphrasing his comments as best as I could.
In making my case for eliminating unnecessary ministers of Holy Communion, I pointed out that article 93 of Redemptionis Sacramentum says, "The Communion plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling." Neither the priest nor the extraordinary minister uses a paten during distribution in our parish. Father responded by saying that "communion plate" does not refer to a paten. Rather, this article means we are to distribute Holy Communion from large plates instead of using ciboria. In hindsight, I should have asked Father for documentation to support his interpretation. Perhaps he could be correct about this.
Article 106 says, ". . . the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms." Though I did not question him about this practice, Father continues to use a flagon for the consecration. Flagons are impossible to purify properly as the purificator cannot be used to wipe the inside.
Also regarding Sacred vessels, article 117 says (with my emphasis added), "Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. The Bishops' Conferences have the faculty to decide whether it is appropriate, once their decisions have been given the recognition by the Apostolic See, for sacred vessels to be made of other solid materials as well. It is strictly required, however, that such materials be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honour will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate.
We use wine glasses in our parish for the distributing the Precious Blood. I questioned Father about this practice in view of what the document says. He replied that it means we should not use "cheap" glass. Father held up a heavy tumbler in which we had served him soda as an example of "cheap" glass. Again, Father had his own interpretation. Since the possibility of breakage seems to be a concern of article 117, the tumbler might be more appropriate than wine glasses despite its lack of artistic merit.
A pattern seemed to be emerging - a pattern not unique to our priest, but one uncomfortably common among many Catholic clergy. Catholic apologists see a similar pattern in dialogue with Protestants. Because of their rejection of Magesterial Authority and Apostolic Tradition, Protestants are relegated to self-interpretation of Scripture. In order to counter Catholic teaching, they must often twist biblical interpretation to conform to their own ideology. In some cases, very obvious Biblical teaching is just plain ignored if the interpreter finds it too difficult to accept. Similarly, some Catholics arbitrarily pick which doctrines they wish to observe according to their own consciences. Is this not the same thing our pastor and others like him are doing? By twisting the interpretation of certain articles and ignoring others, they are free to do as they please. They are not obeying authority as good Catholics should. The adherence to Christ-delegated authority is what separates us from all the rest.
I attempted to make this point using abortion as an example. Presidential candidate John Kerry, reportedly a Catholic, is currently in the news defending abortion rights. I asked Father if he could see a parallel between a Catholic ignoring Church teaching on abortion and a priest ignoring Church instructions on the Liturgy. He said that I was comparing mountains and mole hills. He also indicated that many of these directives are issued because of a shortage of priests leading to problems in some localities. He said we are far more orthodox than many European countries, especially France. In other words, we can ignore some of these instructions because they are not really directed at us. In my view, dissention or disagreement infers a perception of error, and if the clergy thinks the Vatican directive is in error or unimportant, the same clergy cannot expect their flock to follow all Vatican directives or teachings.
The discussion got interesting when I expressed my concern for the loss of reverence for Holy Eucharist in the Tabernacle. Father passionately emphasized the REAL presence of Christ is within US- not the Tabernacle. "WE are the Body of Christ," he said clutching his heart. I said, "He is not present in US the same way as in the Tabernacle." Father disagreed. He said the original tabernacle was just a breadbox, and anyone who ministered to the sick could take Eucharistic bread to the infirmed. He mentioned how one of our parishioners attended Mass at a parish where the Sanctuary Lamp hung from the center of the ceiling. Father seemed to indicate that this positioning more properly signified Christ's presence in the entire congregation, and this is why having a circular configuration surrounding the altar is most appropriate.
Thinking I must be misunderstanding Father's expression of the Eucharist, I tried to restate that Christ is present physically. (Note: See my 9/26/04 Blog entry where I qualify my use of the word physically here. The word physical applies to the accidents rather than the substance. The accidents or physical appearance of bread and wine remains. It is the substance that becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. The argument here is whether Christ's Bodily Presence in the Eucharistic substance is the same as a spiritual presence in all of us as members of Christ's Body, that being the Church.) Father replied by saying it is a spiritual presence. I said present "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity." Father shot back with "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." In retrospect, I am confused about whether he meant I was wrong, or whether my answer was insufficient. In either case, I am now wondering whether his views are heretical.
As our evening neared an end, Father stated that the problem with the church today is the 500 years preceding Vatican II. He told me I was stuck in the Tridentine - that I misunderstand the Body of Christ. I told him that we will just have to disagree, then. As he left, he said, "At least, you aren't like some of the others."