Gavin’s comments on Communion Ministers only underscore what I think the key problem in the ministry seems to be: insufficient mindfulness on the part of the clergy. Gavin’s solution is to take the administration of the ministry out of the local pastor’s hands and legislate from Rome or the national conference. My solution would be to tell the occasional priest to shape up: put some serious thought into the needs of Sunday and daily Masses, and plan accordingly. Failing that, put the lay people in charge. I know I’ve always put more thought than the clergy into the Communion practices at my parishes: that’s why the boss pays me.
In one of Gavin’s example, one person isn’t really enough to distribute both forms to twenty people. If a deacon isn’t present, one cup minister is needed here. I might also foresee an architecture problem: twenty people scattered across a church. A presider makes a judgment call: I can take a minute to explain a new procession pattern to the twenty of you because you sat in your “assigned” seats instead of the front two rows. Or I can ask one of you to distribute the Eucharist so everybody can approach the sacrament unemcumbered by new directions. It would take some foresight before Mass to ask people to gather in a transcept or otherwise clump close together.
In the other example, four people distribute Communion to five others. One of two things is happening here: three scheduled lay Communion ministers have shown up despite the numbers and are simply serving as assigned. Unfortunately, the pastor did not bother to meet with them before Mass to explain the situation–that would be the polite and reverent thing to do. The other possibility is that Communion ministry has been put on the dummy switch in this parish. Sometimes people don’t show up, so the laity have been trained or told to count to four and fill the slots as needed, without regard for particular circumstances. And given the way some pastors insist on special treatment during liturgy (and on occasion throw a tantrum when they don’t get it) it seems easier to go with the pattern and let Father audible his adjustments on the fly if he wants them.
Either way: the fault of the priest. But funny how that doesn’t get covered in Vatican documents written by cardinals who never seem to have the problem of celebrating Mass as the lone cleric in a room of hundreds. Our legislation is being penned by the inexperienced.
Priests generally distribute Communion quickly. Maybe on the verge of irreverently every now and then. Gavin asks about a guideline for numbers of people per Communion minister. I would say it depends on the expectations of the parish tempered by the demands of the rite. Adding Communion under both forms does not add more than a minute to the preparation and cleansing of vessels, and is irrelevant to the discussion. My benchmark would be ten to twelve people per minute per minister of the Body of Christ. Eight or nine would be ideal, for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment.
If you have one or two cup ministers per Body of Christ minister, then you can do the math for both the expected time and number of lay Communion ministers. My parish’s largest Sunday Mass has up to 600 people. We have five ministers of the Body. For 120 ministers to distribute at about twelve a minute, that’s ten minutes for Communion, which is close to what we do. I routinely program two congregational pieces for the procession here, and rare is the day both are not completed in full at the 10:30 Mass.
There is one unfortunate practice I see since Redemptionis Sacramentum designated the gesture of reverence before receiving. Many communicants tend to bow as the person in front of them receives the Sacrament. This is wrong, I think. It does let the minister continue at up to fifteen people per minute. But it instills a certain assembly-line attitude in the Communion line. Get it done, and get it done expediently. The whole act of receiving Communion needs to slow down to achieve a better reverence.
And if increased reverence is the hope, then curia, pastors, liturgists, and others need to look beyond individual acts of reverence. If receiving Communion is all about standing in an orderly line, bowing, receiving, and returning for a knelt prayer, we may have missed the overall effort, especially when communicants are bowing at the person ahead of them in line.
I doubt seminarians and young priests are trained in the distribution of Communion. From what I’ve seen lay ministers are better prepared and more reverent. Most clergy get up to speed quickly, but in the rush to learn how to preach and preside, one basic but important skill sometimes gets lost. And if it weren’t lost, how do you explain the common practice of clergy showing up to vest and concelebrate important occasions unannounced? Ever watch them get acclimated to distributing Communion in unfamiliar places and with unfamiliar forms?
Choreographing good processions is an art. I don’t think you can legislate it. Too many factors come into play: the expectation of the assembly that their Mass will not last longer than a certain accustomed time, the geography of the nave, the longtime expectations of pastors and ministers, not to mention the new effort to legislate reverence. The curia and other reform2 commentators do not realize that lay people are not the enemy. If Cardinal O’Malley is any indication, I suspect the American bishops are clued in. Redemptionis Sacramentum is getting implemented not because its ideas are superior or more reverent, but because muckety mucks in high places said so.