Apr 3, 2009

Distribution of Communion to the Sick

Recently on two occasions, I've been invited to receive Holy Communion from lay distributors--once while in the hospital (I'm fine now) and then while visiting in the home of an elderly woman. Both experiences caused me much heartache. First, the preparation for reception of Our Lord's body and blood was very short and perfunctory. Second, only a minute of thanksgiving passed before the lay distributor began talking about something else. The second distributor also was dressed very casually. Both were basically good women who seemed unaware of the awesome nature of what they were doing.

If lay distributors of Holy Communion provide service in priest-deficient Novus Ordo parishes, they must clearly and reverently acknowledge they are touching the Body and Blood of the second person of the Trinity--God Almighty. Currently I have little hope that this will occur.

The basic problem is that laymen are not clerically trained and ordained for this function. It's almost as if a Superintendent, short of skilled architects and engineers, asked for volunteers to service a great institution, and several people of good will offered their services. What grade of performance would result?

Does anyone remember when Pope John Paul II warned Brazilian bishops on the "serious abuses" stemming from the erroneous trend to "clericalize the laity"? One of his listed abuses was distribution of Communion by the laity. But since the Vatican now permits the clericalization of the laity, why was it surprised by the results?

The Mass is Serious Business is a very fine article in the April 2009 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, the oldest magazine for Catholic priests in the U.S. Here are a few quotes from author Rev. Bryce A. Sibley of the Diocese of Lafayette, LA who discusses his sadness at seeing large numbers of Catholics who do not take Sunday Mass [and Holy Communion} seriously:
...a significant portion of the blame [is] on the priests and pastors and their irreverent and apathetic celebration of Mass. By his words and deeds, such a priest states that the Mass is trivial. Consequently, the faithful, seeing this poor example, adopt the same lackadaisical attitude....

This is the heart of the issue--the Mass is above and beyond all else a sacrifice, a renewal of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ....It is serious business.
If the Mass is to be taken seriously, then Holy Communion distributed by lay men and women also needs to be taken seriously. Pope Benedict (in God is Near Us) is quoted by Fr. Sibley on the gravitas of the Eucharist:
The Eucharist is far more than just a meal; it has cost a death to provide it, and the majesty of death is present in it. Whenever we hold it, we should be filled with reverence and awe in the face of this mystery, with awe in the face of this mysterious death that becomes a present reality in our midst....
I was particularly interested in several other statements by Fr. Sibley in his article for HPR:
One can have no doubt that the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite [old Latin Mass] is very serious [my emphasis]. There exists little room for entertainment or innovation within its celebration. Its structured unfolding instills a sense of respect and awe in the priest and the congregation. Its sacral dimension is self-evident....

The chief problem is the casualness of dress seen at many parish Masses. People often look like they are heading to the beach or the health club instead of Holy Mass. In many parishes, the presence of sacred silence before and after Mass has been lost. People talk and mingle freely as if they were meeting in any public place. And of course, there is often a great lack of respect shown in the reception of Holy Communion.... Priests will regularly need to take appropriate measures to cure the lay faithful of these bad habits. It must be done in charity, but something must be done and the faithful must be held to a certain standard.
Until the Church revises its rules on lay distribution of the Eucharist, pastors must not leave lay distributors unmindful of their great responsibilities and must provide detailed and demanding training. However because lay distribution often is so neglectfully performed, I look forward to the day when sufficient priests take Holy Communion to all the sick on a regular basis, as was the case when I was young. Let us pray for many more good vocations to the religious life.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. It is highly important that Catholics continue writing about the typical use of EMs in parishes, and about 'Communion in the hand', because it is extremely important that these abuses and practices end.

It is clear that 'Fidei custos', 'Immensae caritatis', 'Dominicae coenae', and 'Inaestimabile donum' do not allow for the use of EMs in almost any Mass that is commonly held anywhere throughout the world. And since this is true, it is the responsibility of Roman Catholic priests everywhere to end this abuse in their parishes.

When we enter a Catholic Church, one must have a sense that the world has been left behind. All the politics, all the problems, all the gender-agendas, attitudes, banalities, bigotries, acts of shallowness, pridefulness, and other shameful behaviors must be left behind.

Many of us are capable of acting better than we frequently do while we are all worshiping together at Mass. However, far too many of us it seems, see their parish merely as one more stage on which to perform -- one more career path for one to conquer and to beat-down whatever opposition that arises. And so, I think it is important for priests to keep all this in mind, and to stop such behaviors when they see it has become necessary. Without such leadership, parishes fall apart. Those who doubt such things would do well to thoughtfully peruse Chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus.

Even Latin Masses are now having this problem. I attended an ICRSP Mass in California recently, where I watched an elderly women going in and out of the sacristy before Mass. Every now and then she would step out, look at everyone carefully, and then go back inside (in a rather obvious effort to convey the idea that she was some sort of leader in charge of something important). I could hear her talking inside, and it appeared that there was some sort of business she was engaged in. Then the bell was rung indicating that the Mass had begun, and out walked the server and priest. Guess who chose this precise moment to exit the sacristy -- *right* *behind* *the* *priest*?

The Catholic Church has been richly blessed in America. It has encountered little real opposition -- few Churches have been destroyed, mobs with torches have rarely appeared at the front doors of our parishes. But unless I'm greatly mistaken, it is becoming rather clear that a great age in America is coming to an end. Catholic priests are now widely-regarded with suspicion for no reason whatsoever. Many towns and municipalities count the number of parishioners that enter our Churches, in order to look for a reason to withdraw a parish's tax-exempt status. Laws have now been put forward in Connecticut in order to strip the Catholic Church's authority to manage its own finances. The times are changing markedly, and yet we continue to tear ourselves apart from the inside.

And so, it is high time that we start acting differently. We've had it so good for so long, many of us have forgotten that a significant amount of time has already passed us by. Future generations will, for the most part, learn only from what they can see. Tens of millions of Catholics in the United States alone are now almost completely ignorant of true Catholic tradition and reverent Catholic worship practices.

- Keith

Anonymous said...

In our local "Catholic" hospital the EMs bring Holy Communion regularly but one cannot go to confession.

My dad walked into my (extremely ill)mother's hospital room and found a consecrated Host in her lap one morning. What would have happened if he had not come in the room?

A day later I was in her room talking on the telephone when I pivoted around and beheld Our Precious Lord right in front of my face! The EM holding up the Host did not even know me! There was NO preparation! NONE! And I was ON THE PHONE! I dropped to my knees and whispered something about not being prepared. She seemed disappointed.

I wrote the bishop every detail. I am unsatisfied with the response but have done all I can do, save Holy Communions of reparation. If you read this, please help me with one or more of your own.

Anonymous said...

You can simply contact your priest at your parish, and tell him that you want him to bring your mother the Holy Eucharist. If he can not do so, call another parish and ask the priests there to bring her the Eucharist. And when they do so, they can hear your mother's confession before they give her the consecrated Host.

That should be it. If you still cannot find a priest to bring her the Eucharist, call the diocese directly and ask for the Bishop, and respectfully ask him to send a priest or deacon to your hospital for this reason.

If, however, there is no priest who has the time to visit your hospital then your mother will have to accept the Eucharist from an EM, and schedule a time with a priest to have her confession heard. You see, if no priest is able to get away from other duties in his parish and diocese, then the conditions described by 'Immensae caritatis', 'Dominicae coenae', and other Papal documents must truly exist -- that every priest and deacon in your diocese are too busy to provide the Holy Eucharist for all of their parishioners, and that your mother will have to accept an EM's service in this regard.

- Keith

Anonymous said...

Dust, maybe you can volunteer to give Holy Communion to the sick in the future since you would do it properly and without fault.

Remember you will be judged by the same measure you are judging others. Why not be hands and feet for Christ instead of just being a mouth piece for the rule book.

You might bring about more positive change with prayer verses pointing out the flaws of the faithful. The Jews weren't saved by "the law" and Catholics won't be either.