In all the debate about whether divorced and remarried Catholics and others in irregular unions should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, I have been pondering how routine it is for people who are for a range of reasons improperly disposed to receive Holy Communion line up because everyone else does as if the Blessed Sacrament is a token of belonging and not the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have been slowly making my way through a book by Cardinal Jean Danielou on The Bible and the Liturgy where he explores what the early Church Fathers said about the sacraments. Baptism, for example, was not merely a brief ceremony but a process that began with an examination by the bishop of a catechumen’s readiness, and a solemn writing of the candidate’s name in the register, akin to writing that person’s name in the Book of Life. (When I read that I thought, wow, too bad that sense of why Catholics are such sticklers for records has been lost!). Then there was a period of intense catechesis during Lent to prepare candidates to receive the Holy Mysteries.
In the early Church, there was a lot of hostility and misunderstanding of Christianity so the Holy Mysteries were kept behind closed doors. There was a process of initiation after people were evangelized before they could go behind those doors, fully prepared.
Now, however, after centuries of Christendom, those Holy Mysteries are right out in the open and everyone just seems to help themselves whether they truly believe the Catholic faith or not. The forms of initiation still take place, but how deeply do they penetrate the souls of those who go through them? If retention rates of Catholicism in the West are any indication, not very deeply, it would seem.
The other thing I have thought about is how God used a wonderful seeker-friendly Baptist Church to wean me from Gnosticism and a bizarre kind of cafeteria Christianity. From there I went to the Traditional Anglican Communion’s Anglican Catholic Church of Canada because I was hungry for Church history, and liturgy and intuitively attracted to Real Presence. We had open Communion then, though with strong Scriptural exhortations. I have often thought that had I been blocked from receiving Communion I would not have stuck around. And how impoverished I would have been as a result!
Now, of course, Holy Communion is restricted to Catholics in good standing now that we are part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
Which brings me to the doors. How can Catholic Churches reach people like I was—people who are seeking, who have had an initial encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, but believe a lot of lies from the world and who do not understand sacraments?
Should we not start thinking about protecting believers from sacrilege and protecting the Holy Mysteries from being desecrated? Should we not act as if there is something exceedingly precious that one must prepare one’s soul diligently to receive rather than hand it out like a token to everyone who comes forward?
Thus I found this beautifully written address by Martin Mosebach published at Rorate-Caeli intersting and thought provoking. An excerpt:
When it became apparent in the early 1950s that television sets would soon be in many households, German bishops deliberated about whether it would be wise to allow or even promote television broadcasts of the Holy Mass. Indeed, people thought about such questions sixty years ago and they asked the great philosopher Josef Pieper for an expert opinion. In his opinion, Pieper rejected such television broadcasts on principle, saying they were irreconcilable with the nature of the Holy Mass. In its origins, the Holy Mass is a discipline of the arcane, a sacred celebration of mysteries by the christened. He mentioned the lowest level in the order of priests – done away with following the Second Vatican Council – the ostiary, or doorkeeper, who once had to ensure that the non-baptized and those temporarily excluded leave the church and move to the narthex following the liturgy of the Word. The Orthodox still do so in some places; the call of the deacon, “Guard the doors” is heard in every Orthodox liturgy before the Eucharist. While in Georgia I once experienced this demand, often merely a ceremony of a recollected past, being taken literally. A monk approached me, fell to his knees and apologetically asked me to leave the church since I, as a Roman Catholic, was not in full agreement with the Orthodox Church. I gladly acquiesced as I think not everyone has to be permitted everywhere all the time. Sacred places and holy acts are first declared quite plainly by the drawing of boundaries and such boundaries must somehow be visible and palpable.
Now that society is increasingly hostile to Christianity,and even many Catholics need to be re-evangelized, is it time to rethink the kind of openness to the world that was possible when societies were steeped in Christianity and the faith was communicated by osmosis?
Is it time for parishes to think about having prayer meetings and other outreaches for the newly evangelized that do not always and routinely offer the Eucharist for those who are not prepared?
Also, from Mosebach’s address, this beautiful, beautiful passage:
He Himself taught them to associate the Last Supper, which already stood in ritual context to the Passover meal, with His bloody sacrificial death the next day. The biblical words spoken by Moses to establish the offering on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and the words of the Eucharist, which proclaim the surrogate sacrifice of Christ’s blood, are nearly identical. Exodus 24:8 says, “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.’” In Mark 14:23, Jesus “took a cup […] and said to them ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’”This is the clue to the correct understanding of the events: the foundation of a sacrificial ceremony devised for repetition. A rite is an ever-renewed repetition of an act prescribed by an outside will. But the framework within which this foundation should be seen was also clear to the disciples. Paul articulated it when he called Christ the High Priest who, however, no longer absolves the people with the blood of a calf, but with his own blood.This is a most incredible reinterpretation. For the apostles, however, it was purely an awareness of reality: the slave’s death as an outcast becomes the free sacrificial act of a High Priest. The passio of death on the cross becomes actio – and truly the part of the mass in which the sacrifice of Christ is visualized is called “actio” –, the suffering becomes a deed. The deed of a High Priest: with Christ we have a new way to see reality. Christ brings about knowledge of this reality by thinking in terms of opposites that will not be resolved until the end of human history. It is true that Jesus, bathed in sweat and blood, gasped out his life on the cross. It is just as true that He was the High Priest who sprinkled the world in his blood and with freely raised arms, “took everything on Himself.”
You wrote: In all the debate about whether divorced and remarried Catholics and others in irregular unions should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, I have been pondering how routine it is for people who are for a range of reasons improperly disposed to receive Holy Communion line up because everyone else does as if the Blessed Sacrament is a token of belonging and not the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, you are onto a profound reality here. One sin is no worse than another, for all sin is rejection of God’s will. One who intends to maintain a lifestyle of sin is not in a state of grace, and thus should not receive the sacraments of the church. In the context of sexual sin, this is not only true of those who are divorced and “remarried” non-sacramentally under secular law, but of those who are “shacking up,” those who maintain so-called “open marriages” or live the so-called “swinging” lifestyle, those who are persevering in active homosexual relationships, and those who engage in prostitution. Of course, it is also true of those who are active in criminal enterprises (“the mob,” human trafficking, street gangs, motorcycle gangs, drug gangs, etc.), those who maintain self-destructive lifestyles or lifestyles that abuse others, those who reject the theological and/or moral doctrine articulated by the magisterium or otherwise fail to maintain ecclesial communion with their own bishop, and especially those who publicly articulate political positions that are contrary to the moral order.
Of course, those who live lives of committed faith don’t get into these situations. Thus, reception of communion should be normative whenever we assist in the celebration of the mass — and the best corrective is that of leading parishioners to a commitment of faith. On the other hand, a reassertion of the doctrine of the church on reception of the sacraments also might help.
Ultimately, this situation is connected to a much larger problem of “easy” access to the sacraments — baptism of infants even when their parents are not living (“practicing”) the faith, allowing ecclesial marriage even when people manifest intentions contrary to the church’s teaching on the sacrament, confirmation programs that are more focused on service projects than on commitment of faith, granting of sacramental absolution even when there is no willingness to take concrete steps toward ending an area of ongoing sin, trivial penances that do little to address a problem of ongoing sin, etc. We need to fix the whole of the problem.
You wrote: I have been slowly making my way through a book by Cardinal Jean Danielou on The Bible and the Liturgy where he explores what the early Church Fathers said about the sacraments. Baptism, for example, was not merely a brief ceremony but a process that began with an examination by the bishop of a catechumen’s readiness, and a solemn writing of the candidate’s name in the register, akin to writing that person’s name in the Book of Life. (When I read that I thought, wow, too bad that sense of why Catholics are such sticklers for records has been lost!). Then there was a period of intense catechesis during Lent to prepare candidates to receive the Holy Mysteries.
Yes, and this is precisely what the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) intends to restore. The RCIA is NOT supposed to be a program consisting of several months of classes culminating to baptism, confirmation, and admission to communion at the Easter Vigil. Rather, the RCIA is supposed to be an ongoing process of spiritual growth and formation, with a discernment just before the start of Lent as to which of the catechumens are ready to complete the final preparation for baptism in the current year and which are not. Those who are ready come forward with their sponsors to have their names inscribed in the Book of the Elect on the first Sunday of Lent, then again come forward with their sponsors for their scrutinies on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent as part of their final preparation for baptism. Indeed, the origin of the liturgical season of Lent is precisely a retreat of forty days for the Elect, with the community of faith, that constitutes the final preparation for baptism.
You wrote: Now, however, after centuries of Christendom, those Holy Mysteries are right out in the open and everyone just seems to help themselves whether they truly believe the Catholic faith or not. The forms of initiation still take place, but how deeply do they penetrate the souls of those who go through them? If retention rates of Catholicism in the West are any indication, not very deeply, it would seem.
BTW, the need for the “New Evangelism” also extends to far too many cases among the ranks of our clergy.
I certainly hope it is fairly common for people to NOT go up for Communion when they are not properly disposed—which could include everything ranging from mortal sin down to lingering a little too long over their morning coffee. Various folks in my family have done this from time to time.
As for various liturgies that do not involve receiving communion: these exist, e.g. Stations of the Cross when led by a priest or deacon, morning and evening prayer (a.k.a. Lauds and Vespers), and Eucharistic adoration spring to mind. They should be more available and better publicized certainly! But I am pessimistic. With the exception of the small fraction of “keeners” who show up for everything, I wonder if anyone would even show up to these if they were offered at St. Anywhere’s Parish. Why are the majority of Catholics so apathetic? I mean practicing Catholics. They’ll come out Sundays, but zero interest in anything else….
You wrote: I certainly hope it is fairly common for people to NOT go up for Communion when they are not properly disposed—which could include everything ranging from mortal sin down to lingering a little too long over their morning coffee. Various folks in my family have done this from time to time.
That would be nice.
Unfortunately, one must first recognize that one is “not properly disposed” in order to refrain from receiving communion in that situation. In this regard, there are significant numbers of people who err in both directions.
>> There are many who don’t accept the church’s teaching with regard to particular areas of sin, and thus don’t recognize that they are “not properly disposed” and proceed to communion in spite of their situations. In this regard, the various categories of sexual sin seem to be the most prevalent.
>> There are also many who are overly scrupulous, and thus who refrain from partaking of communion even when circumstances really don’t warrant — for example, when they come into mass a few minutes late because they got snarled in unusually bad traffic en route to church, or because they had an extra glass of wine at a wedding on the previous evening, or something similarly trivial.
The bottom line here is that people who are striving to live in faith should be receiving communion as a matter of normal course, even if they are conscious of minor transgressions (“venial sin”), while people who are not striving to live in faith should not receive the sacraments.
You wrote: As for various liturgies that do not involve receiving communion: these exist, e.g. Stations of the Cross when led by a priest or deacon, morning and evening prayer (a.k.a. Lauds and Vespers), and Eucharistic adoration spring to mind.
Actually, there is no liturgical rite for the Stations of the Cross. This is actually a pious devotion rather than a liturgical celebration, even when it’s led by a member of the clergy of any rank.
You are correct about the Liturgy of the Hours, of which Lauds and Vespers are the primary hours, and adoration of the blessed sacrament. Significantly, these liturgical celebrations do not require the presence of clergy. Rather, laity can pray the Liturgy of the Hours without clergy — and it is still considered to be liturgical prayer. Likewise, the pastor of a parish can depute an extraordinary minister of communion or another competent lay man or woman to expose and repose the blessed sacrament at the start and end of adoration, though the deputed lay man or woman cannot give benediction (that is, the blessing with the sacrament) before removing the host from the monstrance and reposing it.
You wrote: With the exception of the small fraction of “keeners” who show up for everything, I wonder if anyone would even show up to these if they were offered at St. Anywhere’s Parish.
The General Instructions to the Liturgy of the Hours state that the clergy of the parish should pray the hours with the faithful, if possible, but I don’t know very many diocesan clergy who actually do so.
That said, there are three significant factors in participation of the faithful.
>> 1. The majority of the faithful won’t participate if the pastor does not actively encourage them to do so.
>> 2. The majority of the faithful will participate more readily if the hours are scheduled at convenient times. There is no reason why morning prayer can’t be joined to morning mass (both Sunday and weekday), first vespers of Sundays and solemnities be joined to the mass of anticipation on the eve, etc. Also, evening events and meetings in the parish can be sandwiched between vespers and compline with participants encouraged — aye, expected! — to participate in both.
>> 3. The quality of liturgical celebration and preaching also is important. Parishioners who feel that they get little out of mass, and thus come to mass only out of some sense of obligation, are not going to do more than what is necessary. Fix the celebration of mass and preaching, especially on Sundays, so that parishioners perceive it to be worthwhile, and those same parishioners will be open to try something more.
I have personal experience with this. Some years ago, at a naval base chapel, we started an adult study and formation group (with coffee available) in the same time slot as the formation program for children, and invited parents to come in, have a cup of coffee, and discuss our faith. The chaplain made it a point to stop in for a few minutes when he made his rounds of the classrooms. We started with a few parents, and it slowly grew.
You wrote: Why are the majority of Catholics so apathetic? I mean practicing Catholics. They’ll come out Sundays, but zero interest in anything else….
Most of those who are apathetic lack a real commitment of faith, and their understanding of the faith is quite superficial. They go through the motions of what they perceive to be necessary to maintain good standing, but that’s it. Here, I’m referring to the difference between going to mass out of sense of obligation and going to mass out of love of the Lord and desire to encounter the Lord in the sacrament.
I note that the St Anselm’s Ordinariate Community, Greenville, NC, offers Morning Prayer every Sunday. Full members of the Church attend the regular OF mass at 9 o’clock at the host parish then meet, sometimes with friends and seekers, for a service of Morning Prayer from Divine Worship, providing what they describe as “a non-sacramental entry-point”. Once a month Choral Evensong is also offered.