The Eucharist Teaching #3

The Eucharist Teaching #3: Receiving is a Holy Procedure

As we talk about receiving the Eucharist, keep in mind that being reverent and being formal are not the same. We’re trying to raise the level of reverence, not formality.

Receiving the Eucharist at Mass actually starts with a procession. You’re not in a Communion line; you’re in a religious procession. People who are simply standing in line for something often pass the time striking up conversations with other people in line or with people near them. “Hey, good to see you! How are the kids? Still coming over today?” That happens all the time in the Communion procession. But what if that happened in one of the other processions at Mass, say, the procession with the gifts (the bread, the wine, and the offerings). If the people in the procession with the gifts were to stop in the main aisle whenever they saw someone they knew for chitchat and visiting, we would think it odd, wouldn’t we?

So if you don’t do that, what DO you do in a religious procession? You sing. No matter which Communion song we’re using, I bet most people know the refrain by heart, and maybe even some of the verses. The Communion song shows that the procession to receive the Eucharist is communitarian in character. Those aren’t my words; that line is right out of Church documents.

Okay. Receiving Communion in the hand. This is actually the oldest form of receiving the Eucharist, dating back in Church documents to the late 300’s. Those joining the Church then were told: “Using your left hand, make a throne for your right.” In other words, one hand goes on top of the other. Don’t put your hands side by side, and if you have both hands free, please don’t reach up and “take” the Eucharist. In the late 300’s the reason you made a throne for your right hand is because of what we say in the Nicene Creed. According to the Creed, where is the Lord Jesus Christ seated? At the right hand. And now it all makes sense. These days, it’s perfectly fine to place either hand on top of the other. Flat.

Receiving on the tongue. This is trickier than many people think. First, don’t try to “catch” the Host with your teeth and tongue as we’re giving it to you. That makes it very difficult. Remember how those who receive in the hand should not be reaching up to “take” Communion? The same thing applies here. Simply put your tongue out, farther than your teeth (like in the doctor’s office) then just stay still. Don’t move. Now we have a place to put the Eucharist. And second, if you receive on the tongue, you still say “Amen” before you receive, not after.

Finally, don’t add extra words. For those receiving the Eucharist, don’t say “thank you.” At no point in the Mass do you or I say “thank you” to each other, whether I’m invoking God’s blessings upon you, or that the peace of the Lord will be with you always, there’s no “Thank you.” At Mass, we operate on the level of faith, not manners. In fact, saying “Thank you” makes the power of our rituals weaker, not stronger. So save “thank you” for the kitchen table, and buffet lines, and people who pass you the butter. The Mass operates on the level of faith from start to finish. For those distributing the Eucharist, don’t say the person’s name. That only highlights the people you don’t know at a moment when there are supposed to be no strangers, only disciples. Just smile (this is a joyful encounter, with the Risen Lord) look them in right in the eyes, and then wait for their response. This is an exchange of faith, of the highest order.

The Eucharist Teaching #2

The Eucharist Teaching #2: We’re All in This Together

Have you ever been at Mass somewhere, and you were simply baffled by some of the things the priest was doing? And a thought went through your head like, “Why don’t priests just pray the Mass the way it’s laid out?” Now, of course, there are parts of the Mass where the priest has a great deal of freedom: which Eucharistic prayer to use, how to phrase the prayer after the intercessions, using the shorter or longer version of a reading. But in general, each person present at Mass enters into the liturgy of the whole Church, not a private liturgy. This is important. At Mass, each person present enters into the liturgy of the whole Church, not a private liturgy.

That’s how Catholic liturgy works. Present tense. That’s how it works now. But before Vatican II Catholics could do their own private thing at Mass. They could give the responses, or not. Before Vatican II, Father prayed the Mass and Catholics in the pews watched him do it. They didn’t have to give responses if they didn’t want to. It was a matter of personal preference.

That was then. These days, personal preference about how to pray the Mass means nothing. Zero. Consider an 80-year-old priest who was trained to pray the Mass in Latin, and who’s now doing the weekend Masses for a parish even though he’s retired. In the Latin Mass, the priest would go to the altar after Communion and recite a second Gospel, called the “Last Gospel.” If that 80-year-old priest really feels in his heart today that he should still do another gospel after Communion, should he be doing that? No. But if he says, “That’s the way I was taught to pray the Mass,” should he do a second gospel at Mass on the weekend? No. What he was taught back then is beside the point. Priests should pray the Mass as it is currently given us to pray it. Is there anyone here who disagrees with that? Is there anyone who thinks that priests should pray the Mass however it suits them?

Okay. But fair is fair. If there’s a Catholic in the pews at Mass who really feels in their heart that they should genuflect before receiving Communion instead of bowing, should they be doing that? No. But if they say, “The nuns taught me to kneel when receiving Communion,” should they kneel to receive Communion? No. Remember the 80-year-old-priest. We pray the Mass as it is currently given us to pray it. The posture for receiving Communion in the United States today is standing. So, is there anyone here who thinks that priests have to pray the Mass the way they’re supposed to, but that the people in the pews don’t?” Good. Because fair is fair; we’re in this together.

The main thing to remember when receiving Communion is that you have a response to give: a bow, and saying “Amen.” ‘We know that, Father.’ I don’t think we do, because a response comes after. Every time you say “Amen” at Mass, it’s designed to come after something else. For example: “We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” After. But what happens all the time in the Communion line is the response being given at the same time. Don’t bow, and don’t say ‘Amen’ until after you hear “The Body of Christ,” or “The Blood of Christ.” Saying “Amen” signals agreement to something that’s said. Which means that it has to wait until the thing that’s said, is said. Actually, people are also bowing when they’re still second or third in line. So, first the minister of Communion speaks, and then you respond.

Next week we’ll look closely at receiving Communion in the hand and on the tongue.

The Eucharist Teachings #1

The Eucharist Teaching #1: Extraordinary Ministers

The reason laypeople started helping distribute Communion at Mass is because in the 1970’s the Catholic Church in the U.S. asked the Vatican for an official exception to who is permitted to help distribute the Eucharist. For a long time we’ve called these laypeople “Eucharistic Ministers,” but that’s not entirely accurate. The ordinary ministers of the Eucharist are bishops, priests, and deacons. So if bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, laypeople who help distribute are “Extra-ordinary Ministers.” That’s the term parishes will start using: “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.” And all parishes in the Diocese are putting together lists of everybody in their parish who helps distributes the Eucharist on a regular basis: at weekend Mass, at daily Mass, at the hospital, in nursing homes, to the homebound, etc.

One of the biggest changes involves how pyxes are used. This is a pyx. One pyx, two pyxes. It’s used to take Communion to someone. Up to now, Catholics at Mass have been bringing pyxes up with them in the Communion line, and opened it up, and by various ways, let us know how many consecrated Hosts they needed. That procedure has not been working well. Regardless of the parish I’m at, what I typically experience in Communion lines is an open pyx and baseball signals (a person holding up fingers to me the way a catcher does to a pitcher on the mound. Or the person will talk louder than the Communion song to be sure I hear them: “Father, I need four!” They close the pyx, but now they scramble for somewhere to put it so that they can receive Communion themselves. Guess where that pyx now containing the Body of the Lord usually gets put? In the front pants pocket. And they’ll often hurry to put the pyx somewhere because they feel that they’re holding up the line, which makes them receive the Eucharist in a hurried-up way. Or someone who doesn’t have a pyx is in the Communion line intending to use a handkerchief instead. The practice of pyxes in the Communion line is changing, and this is being done in all parishes in the Diocese at the direction of the Bishop.

What will also be changing is the practice of people approaching the tabernacle before or after Mass and filling up a pyx or other container with the Blessed Sacrament on their own. But the tabernacle is not a pantry and it’s not supposed to be help-yourself.

On February 23rd I’ll be meeting with all members of this parish who attended a formation session to go over all the new procedures, and to distribute pyxes (we’ll have various sizes) and little leather pouches called a burse. It goes around your neck and the pyx goes inside it. So no more front pants pocket. The parish will take care of the costs. At Mass, after everyone has received Communion, all remaining consecrated Hosts will be brought back to the altar. And I’ll call forward any Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who will be taking the Bread of Life to someone. They’ll come up here while the soft music is still playing, and one by one they’ll each tell me how many consecrated Hosts they need. I give them the Eucharist in their pyxes, they put the pyx in the burse hanging around their neck, and return to their places for the conclusion of the liturgy. But from that Mass, they go and take Communion to whomever they’re taking it to; they don’t keep the Body of the Lord at home for a few days and give it later in the week. But none of these changes takes place until after February 23rd.

Next week we’ll start looking at the procedure of how to receive the Eucharist during Mass.