May 23, 2022

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Distracted by the Rules at Mass

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Easter Sunday, a Catholic tweeted how wonderful the celebration of the Vigil was in her home parish. She added an announcement that only those in the state of grace should come up to receive communion distracted her from the otherwise wonderful liturgy.

Some agreed with her comment and others celebrated the priest’s announcement applauding him for protecting others from sacrilegious communion.

I, in a rare moment of tweeting into a conversation, (@allstonsaint) pointed out that at weddings and funerals, I teach the communion rite and then I explain that by receiving (communicating), one acknowledges that he or she believes this is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and embraces Christ’s teachings in the Gospel and in the Church. I am making clear that to communicate is an action filled with meaning. Therefore, those who do so proclaim the message publicly. I believe this is a more pastoral way of helping people understand what the Communion Rite is and permitting them to refrain. In my thirty years of priesthood, almost, I received only one complaint which was: I was not being welcoming. Otherwise, I received a lot of support for this teaching and even funeral directors request copies.

I did not make the same announcement for the Easter Vigil nor do I make it normally on Sundays for the same reason, the people for the most part already know. However, I did take the time during the pandemic to further educate parishioners on the act of receiving the Eucharist.

Don’t complain, teach

It seemed many of the same Catholics who complain about people receiving sacrilegious communion protested that ecclesial and civil authorities denied them the sacraments during the pandemic. They complained that the leaders broke civil and/or canon law by forcing them to go without the sacraments to which they have a right. I realized early on that the pandemic, actually, was a perfect time to educate parishioners on receiving the Eucharist instead of complaining about the demands of the governor of Massachusetts, the mayor of Boston and the Cardinal Archbishop.

Some parishioners were afraid of contracting the virus which led them to refrain from taking communion. I took that as a great opportunity to instruct the people on communicating. I taught that receiving the Eucharist is an option at a Catholic Mass and so if someone was afraid to receive due to the virus at this time that is fine but also if some felt they had some obstacle to receiving the Eucharist to please contact me at another time. I then explained that if someone has a reason for not receiving the Eucharist because of something in their life or they have a clash with our beliefs then not receiving the Eucharist also honors God. The person is saying to God: “I am not ready to approach the altar on Your terms,” that is a powerful statement as well.

I explained when we receive the Eucharist, we do so on God’s terms, not on our own. Therefore, when we approach the altar to receive, we approach God himself in the Eucharist and receive him fully. We never walk down the aisle pridefully celebrating our disagreement with Our Lord or His church.

Humbly approaching the altar on God’s terms

I know many Catholics demand pro-abortion politicians to be held to canon 915 and prohibited from receiving the Eucharist by their bishops but would it not be more important to each Catholic politician for the Catholic voters to say to them: “if you are approaching the altar of God on your own terms instead of accepting of humbly accepting His terms why would I respect that by voting for you?”

Pope Francis warns against rigidity. He is not rejecting the rules, he is against defining Catholicism by the rules. So he is not casting out the concept of not receiving outside a state of grace, but of making receiving the Eucharist to be governed by rules instead of humility and the pursuit of loving God and neighbor.

I believe the tweeter mentioned above celebrated the mystery of grace that is the Easter Vigil and then was jolted by an announcement that stated regulations but not gracefully.

Faith should not be comprised of dry bones of rigidity

Catholicism becomes rigid when we reduce it to following rules just as a skeleton is rigid because it is rock-hard bones. Some of the faithful may be happy to see a priest stand up for the rules without understanding there is a way to do it that promotes holiness without fostering rigidity.

One could simply explain that by not receiving the Eucharist because you cannot reconcile your current actions or positions with Church teaching, you are speaking eloquently of your love for God and your struggle with his teachings. This honors God powerfully. Further, you are communicating to others who feel the same way that they are not alone.

Instead, we hear of legalistic announcements even on the Easter Vigil that only those who are in the state of Grace can receive the Eucharist, some may just simply not understand what that really means.

I agree with the tweeter, the statement did not belong at the Easter Vigil. If one wanted to educate Catholics and others attending on whether or not they should receive, then doing so through a pastoral teaching goes much further than simply citing rules. The latter is grating and does nothing but teach people at this sacred time that they are not good enough instead of explaining that their refraining itself is a prayer. That prayer is powerful in its humility in asking for the grace to be able to approach the altar to receive the Eucharist in the future.

Please check out Fr. Robert Carr’s new book, Encounter Christ in Your Humanity

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