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.

Mar 30, 2009

The Devil in the Next Office

A friendly blogger writes to me:
I am sending you this email because I need prayer support and I know that you will do so. I am in a situation where a woman I know and work with may be possessed. I am working with a priest to help this poor woman but since I am working with this person and have worked with her, I need prayer support too. Please pray for this entire situation.
I remembered my friend's urgent request this morning at Mass and hope that other readers will add her intention to their prayers too. The situation reminds me of one that I encountered many years ago.

I also believed my co-worker might have been possessed by the devil, and another Catholic lady didn't disagree with me. The reasons were that evil always seemed good to her, and good was evil. Here are just a few of the things this 40-year old divorced professional woman did or told me she did:
  1. Met an unhappy Catholic married man in a bar, and went home with him overnight. When he said he needed to go to Mass the next (Sunday) morning, she didn't want to let him go so she decided to go with him.
  2. Then she decided to join the divorced/singles group at a Catholic parish to meet more men. [No, she wasn't Catholic but she liked men.]
  3. Was very antagonistic to and hateful of her own mother. When her mother had a stroke she took the total $20,000+ savings and spent it all within six weeks. Otherwise, she would have been forced to use it to pay for her mother's nursing home expenses.
  4. Provided no phone for her mother in the nursing home to call her friendds, until I complained that this was terribly wrong.
  5. Believed her teenage son was unfair because he preferred living with his father, even though she plied her son with expensive gifts.
  6. Bought a very expensive car even though she was fearful of bankruptcy [yes, eventually that happened even though as a professional she made a very good salary]. She said the monthly payments for the snazzy new car would be somewhat less than for her slightly older car, even though it would have been paid off much, much sooner.
  7. Caused lots of problems at work, always insinuating that she would file a discrimination lawsuit if she were fired [yes, she was discharged as soon as an overall RIF was necessary].
What advice can be offered for a similar situation? Try to help, and see whether your good advice, prayers, and acts have any effect. If and when it becomes clear that the person always chooses evil over good, then leave the person. Select and work with another who will sincerely listen to God's words of truth and goodness.
If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. (Matthew 10:12-13)