Communion But No Mass

Liam alerted me to a development in a diocese nearby to me.

(I)n the absence of a priest to offer Mass, the distribution of Holy Communion on weekdays in the parish church during a “Communion service” will no longer be permitted.

Archbishop Sample likely does not fall into the category of liturgical progressive. But it has been mostly from the mouths and writings of liturgical progressives that the “Communion Service” has been questioned, criticized, and otherwise limited. In my younger days, I would have been more a firebrand on this topic, hanging, as I did, with the post-conciliar generation of liturgy folks. “Poor theology,” I heard. The archbishop echoes this, though with some traditional language:

When we go to Mass, we are there to do much more than just receive Holy Communion. We participate actively and consciously in the offering of Christ, the Paschal Victim, through the hands of the priest, who ministers in the very person of Christ at the altar. From this sacramental offering, we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, thus culminating our participation in the paschal mystery being celebrated.

So far, so good. Then this:

This is the way the Church has always viewed this. The Church never envisioned breaking them apart by distributing Communion outside of Mass. This is only done for the sick and those otherwise unable to participate in the Sunday Eucharist. To do otherwise is very poor sacramental and Eucharistic theology.

I’m not so sure the Church has always seen it this way. It may be poor theology related in stories, but contacts have told me of Communion distributed before and after Mass, after Confession, and at other occasional times, before and (gasp!) even after Vatican II. Maybe Tridentine Missals weren’t so fussy about the practice or pre-conciliar priests not deeply read in the Latin.

I do know that the Catholic laity have long nurtured a connection to the Eucharist outside of Mass: adoration, processions, hymns derived from popular piety, plus the ancient tradition of bringing Communion to the sick. This may well be a difficult thing for some in western Oregon to endure. Receiving Communion is an opportunity for piety more than theology or even liturgy.

I wasn’t so sure about how the alternative is presented:

The faithful can also gather for other forms of prayer, and our Office of Divine Worship has prepared a prayer service for such occasions that include parts of the Liturgy of the Hours with readings from the Mass of the day. This is a way to experience another form of the Church’s liturgical prayer.

The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours allows for the fusion with the Mass. I suppose the liturgy described in number 94 or 95-97 would apply, minus the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The celebration of Mass involves the placement of the Gospel Canticle after Communion. To respect the order of Lauds or Vespers with regard to the elements of the Mass, my own thought would be to place the Canticle, Intercessions, Lord’s Prayer, and final prayers and blessing after the Gospel reading. Or the homily, if given or permitted.

I do think it’s important to recognize that this is not a “prayer service” except in the more general way that any worship, including the Mass, is a service of prayer. Liturgy of the Hours with the daily Lectionary falls into the category of liturgy, an official adaptation of the Church’s official liturgy.

How do you readers see this? Do you think it will deepen Eucharistic spirituality and formation? Create distress that might alienate?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Communion But No Mass

  1. Liam says:

    As a hypertechnical matter, if memory serves from my readings over in Tradlandia, the communion of the faithful is not integral to the Mass in the Tridentine Missal, but more a ritual insertion of the rite of communion for the faithful that is not dependent on it being within or without the Mass.

  2. John Donaghy says:

    This is a thorny question, even here in Honduras. When there is no priest available for Mass, it is the custom for extraordinary ministers of communion and deacons to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word with Communion. When there are large parishes with many distant villages, this does make some sense, especially on Sundays. When I preside, I always try to make the connection with the wider church and the Eucharist. I include mentioning that Communion is with hosts consecrated at a Mass in the parish.
    However, I am in the middle of a discussion with the extraordinary ministers who often lead Holy Hours (with Exposition) in their villages. Some people want to have communion with the Holy Hour. I have tried to insist that communion should only de distributed after a Liturgy of the Word (even an abbreviated one with only the Gospel), but some want only to do a penitential rite and then have communion. I tried to explain that just distributing Communion at a Holy Hour is somewhat similar to treating it like a consumer good.
    In our case, which is different from the case in many parishes, the availability of receiving Communion is very limited, even though we have a priest who tries to preside at Mass in every one of the 50 some communities once every two months. For me it makes some sense and I try to go to places on Sunday where there is no Communion minister.
    Some further notes on our extraordinary ministers of Communion.
    The formation process is between one and three years and the candidates have to be approved by their community before the process starts.
    A primary ministry of the extraordinary ministers is to visit the sick – not just visiting those who want to receive Communion. There is one minister – not very literate, probably in his late fifties or early sixties – who is extraordinary, He visits the sick in many villages of his zone in the parish, often walking hours on foot. He does this almost every Sunday and some other days. He is extraordinary in a very different sense. At times, I wish I were like him.

  3. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    At our seminary here in Nagoya, Japan, on some Feasts and Solemnities we combine Lauds and the Celebration of the Eucharist, and on Sunday Evenings we combine Vespers and Benediction. In the latter instance the Eucharist is exposed after the Greeting and Hymn. Both practices have been part of the communities liturgical life for more years than I can recall, and I’ve been here for over 40 years.
    Before making his decision Abp Sample, a generation younger than myself, I note, should have perhaps asked what needs of the faithful were being served by the previous practice. I doubt the replacement will respond to Eucharist needs of Eucharist Devotion of the parishioners.
    The second paragraph of the Abp that you quote also shows a poor grasp of history. I moved up to Junior High the year Vatican II started, and remember being excused from Religion class – the first hour of the day – to serve at the parish weekday Mass -the Church was nextdoor to the school. Another priest, apart from the celebrant, would turn up around the time of the Our Father and start distributing Holy Communion at the altar of Our Lady, to the left of the main altar. As the server, I was the only one to receive from the celebrant, and the other priest, most notably on First Fridays, continued to distribute Communion at the altar of Our Lady after we’d finished and returned to the sacristy. – The Mass at the main altar was over in around 25 mins at max, and I then ate my breakfast in the servers sacristy before returning to school for the second period.

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