Thursday, May 15, 2008

Eucharistic Ministers

The following excerpt is taken from SACRED THEN AND SACRED NOW - THE RETURN OF THE OLD LATIN MASS by Thomas Woods, Jr., Roman Catholic Books,, Copytright 2008. (My emphases and comments appear in bold type.)

Important Features of the Extraordinary Form: Eucharistic Ministers Not Used

In the extraordinary form, the distribution of Holy Communion is confined to the ordained priest (or, in rare cases, to deacons who are on their way to becoming priests). Lay ministers of the Eucharist are not used.

This aspect will no doubt seem jarring to those who have grown accustomed to the sight of laymen flocking into the sanctuary in order to function as "Eucharistic ministers." But for one thing, this practice was supposed to be rare even in the ordinary form of the Mass-hence the official title "extraordinary [in the sense of unusual] ministers of the Eucharist." More importantly, the beautiful practice of receiving Holy Communion at the hands of a priest plays an important role in reinforcing priestly identity and gives meaning to the discipline of celibacy observed throughout the Roman Rite.

Father James McLucas, former Christendom College chaplain and a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, wrote an extended and important reflection on this subject in 1998. The celibate Catholic priest, who gives up the holy estate of marriage and an exclusive relationship with an earthly spouse in order to devote himself to God's service, was traditionally consoled by an exclusive relationship of his own; he alone could touch God." The traditional role of the celibate priest as the sole administrator of the sacred, "Fr. McLucas explained, "assisted him in sublimating his natural desire for exclusivity with another in marriage, and preserved his orientation toward his spiritual espousal to the Church and his spiritual fatherhood." (10)

The priest does not lose his normal human need for an exclusive relationship with another simply because he is a priest. But while other people satisfy this need through marriage, the priest finds it in his exclusive custodianship of the Eucharist-"an incomparable and unparalleled intimacy", with God, as Fr. McLucas put it. When laymen touch the Host, they (unwittingly, no doubt) deprive him of this exclusivity, which is supposed to ground and give strength to his celibate commitment.

Furthermore, the paternal dimension of the priesthood-the priest's role as spiritual father-is undermined when the priest is in effect told that after the consecration he is really no longer needed; the laity can take things from there. "The act of the priest 'feeding' the faithful with the Bread of Life incarnates his role as Its sole provider and, far more than the eye cans see, forms his and his people's perception of his spiritual fatherhood," wrote Fr. McLucas. And young boys are less likely to pursue priestly vocations, or indeed to be intrigued by and attracted to the priestly office in the first place, if the priest is not a figure of awe, who alone brings his people the divine gifts. If Mrs. Jones can do practically everything he can, young men will be less likely to be willing to make the sacrifices associated with the priesthood.

(10) This section is deeply indebted to an extraordinary article: Fr. James McLucas, "The Emasculation of the Priesthood," The Latin Mass, Spring 1998, available at http??

Monday, May 12, 2008

Male Altar Servers

The following excerpt is taken from SACRED THEN AND SACRED NOW - THE RETURN OF THE OLD LATIN MASS by Thomas Woods, Jr., Roman Catholic Books,, Copytright 2008. (My emphases and comments appear in bold type.)

In 1994 female altar servers were suddenly permitted for use in the ordinary form of the Roman rite. But the concession...came in the form of an indult - that is, an exception to a general rule - and one that bishops were at liberty to forbid in their dioceses. "The implication is that the general liturgical norm prohibiting female altar servers remains in existence, so that in general women may not serve at the altar undless a local ordinary intervenes by a positive act and grants permission for his territorial jurisdiction. Thus, the Congregation [for Divine Worship] has clarified the authentic interpretation to mean that an indult is given to diocesan bishops to permit the use of female servers." Instruction number 2 of the indult itself urges that "it will alway be very appropriate to follow the noble tardtion of having boys serve at the altar."

[While Rome of course is within its right to do this, I have always felt that such "indults" place the bishop in an awkward position, evidenced by the fact that most of the bishops eventually "cave". However, today's bishop is the one clamoring for more autonomy and local authority in manners of church discipline. So with that freedom has come the responsibility to be the "bad guy" once in awhile. Much praise to the bishops who stand up to popular opinion and, despite indults, continue with what the Church actually prefers.]

...The very fact that the exclusively male preserve of altar service can be traced back to the beginning of the Church weighs very heavily in the equation, particularly for a Church that values Tradition as one of its pillars. ..."In the case of religious tradition which has not only existed, but has been consciously, continuously, and emphatically reaffirmed and insisted upon for two millenia, there must be an enormous and overwhelming presumption that such a traditon reflects the will of Christ." ... the "general discipline of the Church [against female altar service] has been set in stone by canon 44 of the Collection of Laodicea which dates generally from the end of the 4th century and which has figured in almost all canonical collections of East and West."

Many of the arguments against female altar servers are similar to those that justify the reservation of the priesthood to men alone, particularly since altar servers are often considered extensions of the priest (Arguments in defencse of a male-only preisthood are well summarized in Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the Congreagation for the Doctirine of the Faith's 1976 document Inter Insigniores, both of which are available online.) We see this close relationship between altar service and its culminationtion in the priesthood not only in that both the priest and altar servers wear the cassock and surplice, but also in certain linguistic conventions. The Spanish word fo altar boy is monaguillo, which means a "little monk." In Italian, ... "the word for altar boy is chierichetto - a "little cleric," which means that the term used naturally for "altar girs" in Italian is in itself an affront to Catholic doctrine: they are called donne chierichettoa, "little female clerics."

A married person, according to Catholic teaching as well as common sense, may not flirt or become involved romatically with a member of the opposite sex even if their relationshiop should remain technically chaste. Their behavior toward each other is logically ordered toward physical consummation even if such consummation does not in fact occur.

..."From this perspective...we could say that a woman or girl serving at the altar, no matter how devout her personal intentions, no matter how reverent, recollected and modest her deportment and dress, is by her very presence in the sanctuary engaging in what is objectively a kind of spiritual immodesty. She is flirting, as it were, with priestly ordination-mimicking it, drawing as near as she can to it with an indecorous familiartiy and an intrusive intimacy. Her liturgical role insinuates and suggests ordination as its proper goal or fulfillment, even though this is absolutely excluded by the Law of Christ."

Female altar service, in short, introduces a deep tension, an inner contradition, into the sacred litrugy. It makes an ideological statement which both politicizes and secularizes our Eucharistic worship. Instead of reflecting the sublime harmony of the communion of saints, a foretatste of Heaven itself, the sanctuary comes to symbolize an earthly battlefield in the new cold war against "patriarchy."

Kneeling for Holy Communion

The following excerpt is taken from SACRED THEN AND SACRED NOW - THE RETURN OF THE OLD LATIN MASS by Thomas Woods, Jr., Roman Catholic Books,, Copytright 2008. (My emphases and comments appear in bold type.)

The abandonment of this pious practice is of very recent origin - four decades ago it was still the common manner of receivng Holy Communion.

Why shouldn't we receive Christ on our knees - as was (and in some places still is) even the the traditional Lutheran posture when receiving Communion? A parish bulletin insert from several years ago employed a common argument to justify the change: "We should remember that standing itself is a gesture of reverence. It is our cultural custom to stand when a dignitary enters a room or when we sing the national anthem."

[This comment is incredibly ignorant. But I withhold comment because the author says here what I would say.]

To be sure, at some times and in certain places, standing was the posture that indicated the highest form of reverence. But that is not the case in modern Western culture, and so appeals to the practice of the early Church are irrelevant to the situation in the West here and now. It is surely unwise to disrupt traditional Catholic piety for the sake of intruducting a gesture that is less suggestive of the kind of reverence that is owed to God alone, and more suggestive of the reverence we show when a a mere "dignitary enters a room." Jesus Christ is rather more important than the ambassodor from Liechtenstein.

[I would add that this goes for the standing after Communion, and in some places, standing through the consecration as well.]

In practice, having people receive the Eucharist in an ordinary way - we stand all the time, after all - rather than an unusual one (how often do we kneel, except before Christ?) can make them think that what they are receiving in Holy Communion is relatively unremarkable. This principle has often been summed up by the Latin phrase lex orandi lex credendi, which is normally translated as "The law of prayer is the law of belief." How we pray influences what we believe. If the words and postures by which we pray leave some question about the nature of the Mass, the offering of sacrifice, and the Real Presence of Christ, then our belief in these things is likely to grow less certain and more confused.

Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks about the value of kneeling in the liturgy are worth recalling here. Kneeling, he said, "may well be...alien to modern culture," which has "turned away from the faith, and no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is th eright, indeed instrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core." He also pointed out the numerous biblical examples that emphasize kneeling as the proper posture for adoration and prayer. How appropriate, then, to kneel at the moment of Holy Communion.

Communion on the Tongue

The following excerpt is taken from SACRED THEN AND SACRED NOW - THE RETURN OF THE OLD LATIN MASS by Thomas Woods, Jr., Roman Catholic Books,, Copytright 2008. My emphases and comments appear in bold type.)

Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue was the norm throughout the Latin Rite until 1969, when the Holy See issued an indult permitting the practice in the most difficult and disobedient Catholic countries. Later the indult was expanded. Italy did not have it until the 1980's - and Poland only two years ago.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of the twentieth-century's great moral theologians and Catholic writers, and deeply admired by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, warned that Communion in the hand could have the effect of undermining people's faith in the Real Presence. "To be allowed to touch the consecrated host with unannointed hands is in no way presented to the faithful as an awe-inspiring privilege," he wrote in a 1973 article called "Communion in the Hand Should Be Rejected." "It becomes the normal form of receiving Communion. And this fosters an irreverent attitude and thus corrodes faith in the real bodily presence of Christ." The late theologian Father John Hardon, S.J. , urged in 1997 that "whatever you can do to stop Communion in the hand will be blessed by God."

In the same way that a deeper understanding of the theology of the Eucharist and the extraordinary gift God has given us helped to foster the practice of Eucharistic adoration, a fuller appreciation of Christ's Real Presence also led over time to the rejection of Communion in the hand and the adoption of Communion on the tongue. As the Congregation for Divine Worship noted in 1969, "Later, with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant."

[It is a fashion of the age to resurrect some ancient practice and claim it to be the ideal or "pure". However, Catholics should want to know how and why we came to have what we have. To not do that is to deny the action of the Holy Spirit who has led us over the centuries into the "way of all Truth". In other words, to deny the product of genuine and venerable tradition is to deny the authority of the Church and the action of the Spirit. Rather than throw out what the centuries have given us, we must strive to understand the beauty of what the Church has so long labored to give us.]

It was no accident that sixteenth-century Protestants like Martin Bucer, insisted so strongly on the reception of Communion in the hand. Although Protestant opinion varied, the consensus held that Catholic teaching on the Real Presence amounted to gross idolatry. Encouraging Communion in the hand, they believed, undermined two Catholic teachings at once: the ministerial priesthood and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. First, the distribution of Communion in the hand implied that there was nothing special about the ordained priest, since laymen had just as much right to touch the Eucharist as he did. Second, receiving the Host in the hand emphasized that the Eucharist was ordinary bread - for if it is nothing more than ordinary bread, why shouldn't a layman be able to receive it directly in his hand?

That the practice of Communion in the hand was observed well over a millennium ago is virtually irrelevant. As Pope Pius XII explained in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei, the desire to introduce novel practices into Catholic worship when the existing practice is venerable and hallowed by tradition is at odds with a normal and healthy sensus Catholicus. May we apply this reproof to those Catholics in the 1960's who disobediently resurrected the discarded practice, centuries after Communion on the tongue had become the established norm?

In fact, Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise of San Luis, Argentina, who announced in 1996 that Communion in the hand was to be forbidden in his diocese, drew this very conclusion, citing this teaching of Pius XII in support of his policy. The bishop's decision was subsequently approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which informed him that "in deciding to maintain immutable the tradition of distributing Holy Communion in the mouth [you] have acted in conformity with the law and therefore have not broken with ecclesial communion."

When Paul VI grudgingly allowed Communion in the hand in 1969, his permission came in the context of a letter urging that the traditional practice of Communion on the tongue be retained. Allowance for Communion in the hand was made as a concession for parts of the world where disobedience on this point had already reached epidemic proportions. The Pontiff thus allowed the bishops to permit the practice if they thought it the best way to cope with the situation.

We read in Memoriale Domini, the Congregation for Divine Worship's 1969 Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion, that a "change in a matter of such moment, based on a most ancient and venerable tradition does not merely affect discipline. It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering Holy Communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine. "For these and other reasons, the Congregation explained, "the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering Holy Communion to the faithful. "The Congregation's warnings continued:

This method of distributing Holy Communion [on the tongue] must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful's reverence for the Eucharist.

Further the practice which must be considered traditional ensures, more effectively, that Holy Communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species, in which "in a unique way, Christ, God and man, is present whole and entire, substantially and continually." Lastly it ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended.

The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.

These were the urgings and warnings that preceded the Holy See's reluctant allowance for Communion in the hand in those countries where this forbidden practice had become widespread.

...the 1962 Missal contains an edifying and very beautiful instruction to the priest: from the moment of consecration until the final ablutions, he is to hold thumb and forefinger together, in order to prevent the profanation of any particle of the Sacred Species. If for centuries the Church taught her priests to show such fastidious devotion to Christ, then Father Hardon's desire to discourage Communion in the hand becomes a matter of simple common sense - for if priests were once concerned about Eucharistic fragments just between their thumbs and forefingers, so much greater is the problem presented by the layman who takes the entire Host into his outstretched hand.
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