QUAERITUR: lay Communion minister wouldn’t bless me

From a reader:

Today I attended a mass at my university and had a difficult experience with one of the Eucharistic ministers. I approached with my hands folded in order to receive a blessing (no communion for me this time), and she refused to offer it. She simply went on saying "The Body of Christ", expecting me to receive. I was not in the appropriate state of grace to do so, so I was forced to simply walk away. Do you think that there is some local custom that I’m unaware of with regards to blessings, or is this the case of an improperly trained minister?

There are a few issues here which must be unsnarled.

First, lay people who are helping to distribute Communion have no business giving blessings.  Therefore, I am glad that the person didn’t attempt to bless you in the manner of a priest.  Yours is a good example why lay ministers of Communion should never make the gesture of blessing in the manner of a priest.  Such a practice confuses people, just as you were confused in the moment you described.

Second, it is a matter of debate whether blessings should be given at the Communion rail at all.  I am of the opinion that they should not be.  Holy Mass has its moment for a blessing: at the end.  The time of Holy Communion is the time for Holy Communion, not for blessings even if they are from the deacon or priest. 

Third, it strikes me that this whole blessing thing at Communion time evolved from a overly sentimental notion that no one should be excluded from being able to go forward. 

Fourth, a great deal of psychological pressure is placed on people who for one reason or another have no reason to go forward at Communion time.  The practice of row by row Communion increases the psychological pressure.  In my opinion it should be slowly by surely eliminated.

Fifth, I think the shortened Eucharist fast also played its part in putting undue psychological pressure on people to go forward at Communion time.  In the past, if a person was in the state of sin, it was possible for people assume that she had eaten something rather than that she had committed some black and unspeakable delict.

Sixth, if you know you are not in the state of grace, then I recommend that you make a spiritual communion while remaining in your pew.  You may not have ever heard of "making a spiritual communion".  I am sure that the readers will chime in about this in the combox, below.

Seventh, we must help people shake the idea that they are obliged to got forward, on the one hand, or that, on the other, they have the right to receive even if they know they are not in the state of grace. 

Let Communion time be for Communions, whether actual or spiritual.

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109 Responses to QUAERITUR: lay Communion minister wouldn’t bless me

  1. xathar says:

    The CDW has made it pretty clear that blessings should not be given during the reception of Holy Communion: http://www.adoremus.org/0209CDW_Blessing.html

  2. catholicmidwest says:

    News flash: Lay minister can’t bless anybody in the Communion line.
    [Even if he wants to. Even if he thinks he can. Doesn't matter.]

  3. catholicmidwest says:

    PS Lay ministers can’t bless throats either. Ever. Not even with nuclear candles even and the blessing of 500 progressive parish councils. Not possible.

  4. Philangelus says:

    My in-arm children get blessed by the priest just about every time I bring them up with me for Communion. It seems like a natural extension to just bless the adults too. In fact, when I used to be a lay extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, I was instructed to bless someone if they came to me with arms crossed over the chest. (It never happened.)

    I’ve told friends about this gesture because some wanted to participate in the Eucharist but aren’t Catholic, and this seemed a nice middle ground. I would add that some of my non-Catholic friends have received their First Holy Communion (with no intention to convert) simply because everyone in front of them got up to receive and they thought that’s what you had to do and they didn’t want to cause any problems. :-( I didn’t realize there was any debate about going in the Communion line intending to be blessed.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    Except that lay “ministers” don’t have the power to bless people in the Holy Communion line, Philangelus.

    This appears to have been a punt to handle the situation where a person not prepared to receive shows up in the line, since priests usually don’t TELL the congregation how to actually behave in that case.

    Adults and older children who are not to receive should not be in the Holy Communion line, period. They should have been informed of the situation, either by a sign on the wall or verbally. Priests who do not do this are derelict in their duties, I don’t care how many of them there are like this.

    Toddlers and babes in arms are only there to accompany mom or dad, and this ought to be understood. A pat on the head in the conventional sense is the most that should happen, [With a hand that has been handling Hosts? And then continue with distributing Communion?] if ANYTHING in fact does. Their presence at the altar is a child-care detail. Period. Their time will come when they come of age to receive.

  6. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Philangelus: You said: *I didn’t realize there was any debate about going in the Communion line intending to be blessed.*

    You are right. There really isn’t a debate because everyone assumes it is part of the Church’s liturgy and that it is a beautiful custom. Of course, blessing children is a beautiful custom, but it was traditionally done after Mass, as the priest greeted people.

    Bringing the custom into church, during Mass, means the priest or lay extraordinary minister of Holy Communion has to ignore the Host for a moment. Some raise the Host and then see the folded arms and put the Host down as if He can be ignored for something else to happen.

    As priests start to return to greater love for the Blessed Sacrament, they don’t want to do anything at Communion time which will distract (even for a second) from the joy of feeding Him to the faithful. Unfortunately, since the laity now see their preferences in terms of their “rights” the priest or lay ministers cannot stop the blessings or else they are “violating rights.”

    catholicmidwest: I agree totally with your comment of 11:15am.

  7. mibethda says:

    A ‘pat on the head’ by a priest or EMHE – who has been, and is, handling the Body of the Lord with his thumb and index finger – is just as inappropriate as is the giving of a blessing.

  8. Gail F says:

    There is a huge psychological pressure to go up for communion, IMHO. It took me a long time to be able to sit in the pew when EVERYONE else went up. I was sure that everyone else would look at me and wonder what terrible thing I had done, when all it was was that I had finally realized that certain things (occasionally missing mass is a problem for me) are supposed to be confessed. I know very well that hardly anyone confesses anything at my parish unless they go somewhere else to do it, so I figured that most people thought short of murder and adultery, there was no reason not to go up. Now it’s no problem for me, but for a long time I was in a lot of inner distress. It’s not right to put that pressure on people.

    If you’re not going up for communion, you shouldn’t go up at all. It’s nice for a priest to bless a little child who can’t or won’t sit in the pews while the parents are going up, but it’s not necessary. Adults and teens who are not Catholic should not go up for communion. It’s not true that they’re not “participating,” being at the mass IS participating.

    And that reminds me, what is with some parishes and their bizarre usher practices? Some church architecture is strange and there is no way to figure out who goes where. But in most churches, especially when there are just two rows of pews, it’s pretty obvious when you are supposed to get up for communion. Why do so many places have ushers let people out, as if they are keeping people behind a gate?

  9. shadowlands says:

    “making a spiritual communion”. I am sure that the readers will chime in about this in the combox, below.”

    That would be helpful, please. What exactly is meant by this term? Thank you.

  10. Mike says:

    Here’s a Spiritual Communion I try to use a lot:

    “I wish, My Lord, to receive you, with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and the fervor of the saints.”

    It’s from St. Josemaria Escriva. I believe he was taught it as a child.

    I love it.

  11. Central Valley says:

    My family usually attends the EF Mass so we don’t experience this nonsense on a regular basis. From time to time, schedules require us to attend OF Masses in our diocese. This abuse is constant. When you take away the sacrifice and create a buffet line for the faithful what can you expect.

    Xathar mentioned a document from the CDW. When is the last time the average Catholic heard anything about a document from the CDW at Mass. We should but we don’t.

    This issue is a prime example of cowardly priests and bishops not doing their job. Rome has spoken but they refuse to accept and enforce.

    The parish we usually attend has a Pastor, Associate, at least two priests in residence and at least three Deacons. Why would a parish with so many ordinary ministers of the Eucharist need ten women to ascend the altar distribute communion? The pastor wants to be inclusive. When this issue is addressed to the diocese of Fresno there is no response.

  12. mibethda says:

    Briefly, it means uniting oneself mentally and spiritually with Christ rather than through the physical reception of His Body and Blood.

  13. catholicmidwest says:

    It’s the way that churches are set up in the US, Gail. It’s no accident that post-V2 parishes are arranged the way they are. Add to that the get-in-line mentality that’s been inculcated in Americans by our schooling methods, and there you have it. Part of it is cultural. Part of it is theological ignorance.

    And you’re right about usher practices. My geographical parish has this shaking hands thing going on when you get in the line. It’s entirely obnoxious, but people expect it a part of the process here. It’s a totally inappropriate intrusion on the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I won’t do it and luckily, since I’m an older female I can get away with it without being completely rude. Guys not so much.

    PS If a person doesn’t get up for Holy Communion, it’s no one’s business but his own. Some (many!) Catholics need to get a life.

  14. adagio48 says:

    An Act of Spiritual Communion; My Jesus, I believe that You are truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to possess You within my soul. Since I am unable to receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as being already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.

  15. xgenerationcatholic says:

    I’m wondering exactly what one would replace “row by row” Communion with… I don’t get what was meant by “it should slowly but surely be eliminated.” How else do you go up? What do you replace it with?

    There is indeed enormous psychological pressure to go up, I’m glad to see it acknowledged. When I was going through my “reversion”, I started going to Mass again but didn’t “screw up courage” for confession until a few months later. I was too afraid of looking “weird.” Guess what… I had to confess making sacrilegious communions. Not that I had any excuse for doing what I knew I shouldn’t have done, but… I have an idea that numerous sacrilegious communions are made every single Sunday in the vast majority of parishes.

    I did hear it suggested once that if you are going up and not receiving, just put your finger to your lips to show the person you aren’t receiving, and move on, the rationale being you won’t interrupt the flow of traffic in or out of the pew. I don’t know if that’s a good solution or not.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Lay people cannot bless anyone, except parents can bless their own children. Only a priest can bless.

    All the abuses come from this “clericalization” of the laity include blessing RCIA candidates as well, which is also nonsense. When the entire congregation blesses the RCIA people, they look like they are doing a nazi salute.

    I admire those who stay in the pew and do not go into the Communion line for whatever reason. And, it is not ours to say or think “why”. Good Midwest saying-”MYOB”.

    Also, I am against the raising of hands at the end of the Our Father, after everyone has been holding hands during the prayer. Looks and feels like the laity are trying to do a blessing there as well. Does not make any sense liturgically. People think I am rude not to hold hands, but I just fold them in prayer.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    Agree on the Nazi salute, Supertradmom. Always cracks me up. Hope the NYT never shows up with a camera. We could be in deep doodoo as a consequence.

  18. Central Valley says:

    Supertradmum, here is a good one for you regarding blessings. At the parish I mentioned above, At OF funeral masses, the priest invites everyone at the end of the mass to extend thier hand towards the remains of the deceased and all extend a blessing to the deceased. This was addressed to the pastor and the bishop and the response was you can never get enough blessings.

  19. catholicmidwest says:

    Can’t stand all the arm-waving & anonymous hand-holding at the Our Father either. Normal sane people who wouldn’t think of doing “itsy bitsy spider” in public are out there doing the liturgical wave with a straight face. Can never believe it.

  20. paxchristi says:

    A family member is an EMHC and her parish has a tradition of extending lay “blessings”. She has always felt awkward about this and asked me what to do. I suggested that since she is in that position she offer the lay “blessing” found in the Liturgy of the Hours: “May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.”

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    Cop out. [Please begin to address your .. observations... to some one. It is impossible to tell to whom you are addressing your comments. This is a note for all who post comments, as well.]

  22. Kurt Barragan says:

    I am an instituted acolyte and, from time to time, I am required to assist as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. It can be very awkward when people present themselves to me for blessings which I am unable to give.

    When this does happen, I do not make any physical gesture or use any words that suggest a blessing but quietly encourage the person to make a spiritual communion. While not ideal, this is the best solution I have been able to find.

    “PS Lay ministers can’t bless throats either. Ever. Not even with nuclear candles even and the blessing of 500 progressive parish councils. Not possible.”

    Under some circumstances, the law of the church does permit lay people to administer certain sacramentals. Canon 1168 provides that “The minister of sacramentals is a cleric who has been provided with the requisite power. According to the norm of the liturgical books and to the judgment of the local ordinary lay persons who possess the appropriate qualities can also administer some sacramentals.”

    The Blessing of Throats on the feast of St Blaise is one of the sacramentals that the liturgical books permit lay people to administer. The Book of Blessings (which, while it has its critics, is an approved liturgical book) provides that “The blessing of throats may be given by a priest, deacon, or a lay minister who follows the rites and prayers designated for a lay minister” (n 1626). There is, of course, no reason for a lay people to do this when sufficient priests or deacons are present.

  23. xgenerationcatholic says:

    The “everybody raise their arms and bless so and so” routine is part of what makes me very, very discriminating as to what parish I’ll go to for Mass. One silly priest was doing a Baptism, and we had to raise arms and bless the mother, the father AND the elder sibling. My arm can’t handle that nonsense. It gets tired very quickly.

  24. An Act of Spiritual Communion; My Jesus, I believe that You are truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to possess You within my soul. Since I am unable to receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as being already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.

    That’s a good act of spiritual Communion. I believe this act came from St. Alphonsus Liguori. You are asking Jesus to satisfy spiritually your desire to receive Him in Holy Communion. A spiritual Communion is not the same as a sacramental one, but it is a very praiseworthy, beneficial and meritorious act of devotion. Plus, there is no limit to the number of spiritual Communions you can make. You can make them as often as you want, as many times as you want.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    The sister in charge of weekly Adoration and Vespers would do that blessing from the Liturgy of the Hours, as does any lay person taking the prayer time, as the priest never comes. Even that seems odd, under the circumstances, as the understanding is that the blessing is usually part of communal prayer in a monastery, a convent, or privately said and that the opening and closing blessings are done by a priest or by the community. Even though the Lord is being invoked for the blessing, this blessing seems out of context. Compline is the more private and personal prayer time of the Church, rather than Vespers and the more “private” blessing makes sense there.. The line at the end of Vespers seems an invocation for those who have just prayed, and not some “universal blessing”. One cannot take parts of the Hours and use those parts at will.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    Kurt Barragan,

    If I want my throat blessed by a layperson, I’ll just do it myself thanks.

    I don’t think the church takes this blessing seriously anymore. That’s my take on your quote.

  27. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Is a person “not in a state of grace” (excepting a catechumen) even blessable? If you do not have the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within you (state of mortal sin = ‘not in a state of grace’) then how can a blessing do anything at all? To put it very bluntly: How can the Church bless what has cursed itself?

    Excepting catachumens, and, yes, probably those who are intent on making a sacramental confession at the nearest possible opportunity, isn’t it simply false for a priest to bless anyone willfully outside the Church, or willfully unable to receive Holy Communion? They have said by their actions that they do not want the salvation only the Church offers–what good will a blessing do without that?

  28. Supertradmum says:

    I am creeped out by the coffin blessing at the funeral.

  29. I’d like to reiterate the fact that the lay extraordinary minister of Holy Communion actually did, sort of, the right thing. Hey, it’s a small thing, but still a minute shuffle in the right direction. At this rate, who knows?, maybe in 20 years the altar rail will be back and there won’t be any lay extraordinary ministers, just extraordinary lay people!

  30. Fr Martin Fox says:

    RE: “blessing” during distribution of holy communion…

    We have it here, I’d like to wind it down, but I’ve chosen to focus on other things I think are more weighty. So what I’ve asked the extraordinary ministers of holy communion to do is simply smile at whoever is seeking such a “blessing,” and say, “May you receive Jesus in your heart.” I think some were taught, before me, to say, “may you be blessed with good health,” which doesn’t bother me too much. And what I’ve told people is that it’s not a blessing, it’s a greeting, and it’s a concession, etc.

    RE: St. Blase Blessing…

    What’s a bit of a challenge is repeating the blessing, individually, for several hundred throats. It’s actually not necessary for the blessing to be administered that way; the cleric (deacon or priest), can impart the blessing to everyone, all at once. But folks really like the candle part. But insofar as anyone can receive the blessing, it’s hard to do with several hundred people. One way, I suppose, would be for the cleric to impart the blessing once, to all, followed by everyone coming forward for the candle part in silence, but that’s kind of odd too. I find myself getting hoarse doing it the individual way, and also I end up stating the blessing very quickly.

  31. shadowlands says:

    Thanks for the answers and prayers given, I particularly like the one mentioning Our Lady. I have heard of spiritual communion before, and even desired it, at home, but was unsure of the accurate meaning.

  32. Joseph says:

    Ought one not be in the state of grace for a spiritual communion as well as a sacramental? How can I ask the Lord to come to me even in a spiritual way, if I am not free of a severe sin? I would think an act of contrition is more appropiate.
    I would like to be corrected, if I am wrong here.

  33. jeffmcl says:

    Fr. Z,

    Spot on with the comment about the shortened fast. I converted three years ago, and in RCIA we were told nothing about either (a) the fast or (b) the need to be in a state of grace when receiving communion. In fact, the priest who taught the lesson on communion opened by saying “I’m Italian, and we have big family meals. Think of communion like one of those.” Anyhow, when I asked the RCIA leader (lay woman) about fasting, she said it’s one hour before communion, and that communion comes at the *end* of Mass. OK, so don’t eat in church. Gosh, what a rigorous discipline!
    Even though I wasn’t told about abstaining from communion if not in a state of grace, I am careful about it and sit it out if I have any doubt. It is really uncomfortable for me, but I think in sitting it out while not in a state of grace, I am bearing witness to the truth of the Real Presence just as much as someone who receives it properly and reverently. Nevertheless, I’ve often thought that if someone asks me why I am sitting it out, I could respond by saying that I had eaten something to save myself embarassment. Then I catch myself, because I know the response would be, “why on earth would that matter??”

  34. Kurt Barragan says:

    catholicmidwest

    That’s fine, you’re free to choose not to receive the sacramental when administered by a lay person.

    I simply wanted to point out that lay people may legitimately administer this blessing because the Church has officially permitted them to do so. Since this sacramental is instituted by the Church, it is for the Church (and not for you or me) to determine how and by whom it is to be administered.

  35. frdgss says:

    xgenerationcatholic,
    why does anything have to replace “row by row”? The answer, surely, is to let the faithful approach the priest/EMHC in thier own way. Isn’t this practice of being “ushered-up” just another contrived import of Protestantism?
    In England at any rate, a common practice in the Church of England is for the ChurchWardens, staff-in-hand, to usher the people up to Communion. All very bossy, even if well-meaning.
    It’s all part of the same mindset that says unless you communicate or have been individually blessed, you’ve not “participated” in the procedings. Again, it’s Protestantism.
    The Mass cannot be reduced to receiving Holy Communion (although that’s what the Protestant heretics of the 16th Century tried to do). The proper place for any blessing is as part of the Concluding Rite.

  36. shadowlands says:

    “They have said by their actions that they do not want the salvation only the Church offers—what good will a blessing do without that?”

    While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The women caught in adultery, were her actions a seeming manifestation of someone seeking salvation? Yet Christ forgave her. A blessing sought might open flood gates of mercy, as God can see the moment of clarity approaching in the sinner’s heart, far more clearly than we can. He gives these moments, so ofcourse He knows.

  37. Peggy R says:

    Supertradmom re: blessing RCIA people etc. Our parish finds a reason to bless some segment of the population on a regular basis. I fold my hands in prayer and try to keep my kids from doing the Nazi salute as well.

  38. Girgadis says:

    Once again, someone going forward at Holy Communion to receive a blessing points to our inability to practice humility. We are so concerned with what others think and so unwilling to be thought of in an unflattering light that we squander an opportunity to offer a sacrifice of humility to Jesus. I’m not why there is psychological pressure with pew by pew procession to the altar, unless some busy-body usher is dragging people out of the pew by the arm or debating with them about why they don’t want to go forward. (Fortunately, I’ve never seen that happen in a Catholic church, but I’ve seen it happen in Episcopal churches on plenty of occasions). There are perfectly good reasons why a person who is in a state of grace may not choose to go forward at Holy Communion. Perhaps they have already received that day and prefer to simply make a spiritual Communion. They might be scheduled for surgery or other medical procedure which requires that they have nothing by mouth. We all have higher things to contemplate other than why someone is not going forward and it’s not something we should take notice of, IMHO. The EMHC in question did the right thing by refusing to pretend she was giving a blessing.

  39. Carolina Geo says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for your pertinent and appropriate comments.

    The chaplain at the Catholic school where I teach regularly instructs the students – Catholic and non-Catholic – to come forward for a blessing during Mass if they are not going to receive Communion. This sort of bad catechesis really needs to stop.

    I think the notion of coming forward to get a blessing has much to do with the attitude of a lot of Catholics who feel that they need to get something out of Mass. It is their supposed right to get an individual blessing; thus they go up and demand one. We are often instructed how to respond to people who say “I don’t ever get anything out of Mass.” My response is this: why do you feel that you should get something out of Mass in the first place? We go to Mass for the glory of God, not for the glory of ourselves. It’s like going to a birthday party being held in the honor of a friend, and then expecting our friend to give us a present! How arrogant that is! It’s we who should be taking our present (i.e. our prayers and devotions) to God during Mass.

    It also stems from the erroneous notion that in order to participate at Mass, you need to physically DO something. So the belief that permeates many churches is that if you do not go forward during Communion, you are not participating at Mass. Again, this was brought about by bad catechesis.

    My 2 cents.

  40. RichardT says:

    This all comes from the Protestant invention of pews. Get rid of the pews and we get rid of the pew-by-pew concept.

    It would also give a bit of discipline to sermons – if the priest can’t say anything sufficiently important to make people stand up for it, then cut it short and stop drivelling.

    A Catholic at Mass you shouln’t be off his knees for long enough to need a pew.

  41. RichardT says:

    Oh, and if anyone asks why I didn’t receive Communion, I point out that weekly reception is a modern concept. Medieval practice was that the particularly devout could receive monthly, but that was as far as the laity should go.

  42. TC says:

    Thank you, Father!
    I have been in the position of not being able to receive and remaining the only person (or sometimes one of three) in the whole congregation who did not approach the altar which leaves me feeling there is a huge neon sign floating above me.

    Likewise, I’ve seen only ONE missal that has the Spiritual Act of Communion printed in it.

  43. Gwen says:

    Throughout my entire time in RCIA (attending daily and Sunday Mass), I remained in the pews. Many people, including the priest who taught RCIA, encouraged me to come forward for a “blessing.” Twice, I had people grab me by the arm and try to pull me forward into the line. Yet I knew that I had no business in the communion line. Staying in the pews was a great lesson in humility, plus a great opportunity to pray on why I did want and need to receive Him.

  44. Joan M says:

    Fr. Z commented: [With a hand that has been handing Hosts? And then continue with distributing Communion?]

    Exactly! I have seen both Priest and EMHC’s blessing children this way and wondered if it never occurred to them that they may be transferring particles of the Host to the child’s forehead and then, subsequently, transferring bacteria to the hands or mouths of the communicants…

    To RichardT, if anyone asked me why I didn’t receive Communion, they would get my most serious face, together with raised eyebrows, and a cold “Excuse me. Why would you need to ask that?”
    Bet they don’t do that again!!

    In Pre-VII days, people went up to Communion when they wanted to (at Communion time), so you would have some excusing themselves to get in line while other waited till later and then had to excuse themselves to get back into the pew. Organizing orderly lines came into being to prevent the “chaos” – it really wasn’t chaos, but some who desired orderliness forced the matter….

    Joining the line, row by row, really does highlight those who remain in the pew. There will always be busybodies who will speculate on the reason why. At least, in my parish, we do not have ushers herding the lines!!

  45. Mike says:

    RichardT: I hope you are kidding.

    Also: I agree with inappropriateness of extraordinary lay ministers of the Eucharist giving out blessings.

    However, I have read about dozen biographies of Shakespeare and many of them point out that in Shakespeare’s time it was rather common for a father to give a blessing to his son, in their home.

    No issues of clericalization there, I might add.

  46. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Anonymous Seminarian:

    As far as I know, absolutely anyone can receive a blessing if he or she wishes to. How fruitful it may be, depending on someone’s state of grace, I cannot say.

  47. diazt says:

    Among the more “traditional” eastern Orthodox (the line is there, though admittedly much less apparent) you simply don’t use pews in the Church. If they have pews (or even chairs) it’s considered a western development that “infected” their own services.

    While I heartily disagree with their mentality in the matter, I think there is something to this. A common description of their services are “reverent informality,” which I believe is an idea that we could use in our own churches. The more orderly we make things, the more we have to deal with situations like this communion situation. Now chaos brings about the same issue, but I believe that the desire for reverence and peace in the face of the Mass should be the only aspect necessary to bring about good order.

    Of course, than we have complaints about “when do we sit down,” but unless you’re old or infirmed (and thus sitting at the edge or back of the Church where some benches should be set up for the purpose), most of those complaints stem from laziness or lack of proper exercise.

    I’m not sure if Fr. Z meant this by his comment on row-by-row communion being eliminated, but I for one think the Roman Mass could do to learn a few disciplinary habits from the East.

  48. RichardT says:

    Mike,

    Kidding? Certainly not (at least, not entirely; I know it isn’t going to happen, but would like it to).

    diazt mentions the Orthodox practice, which seems to be similar (in the matter of pews, at least) to Catholic practice before we allowed the Reformation to influence us.

  49. asperges says:

    Most of the time there should not be any EMHC at normal Masses. The priest and deacon alone should take care of distribution of Holy Communion. Immensae Caritatis, in 1973 stated that EMHC should only be used only “because of a great crowd of people or some disability of the celebrant.” Immediately therefore every Mass was deemed to be “a great crowd.” Even poorly attended weekday Masses see the laity trot out – once in Portugal, a woman carrying the Blessed Sacrament on a tea-tray!

    Subsequent documents tried to correct the rot, but as usual with the NO, rite of paradox, it was too late. No-one takes the slightest notice of corrections (look at GIRM – never read by most or just largely ignored). A “good idea” has become an institution in its own right (no pun intended). Distribution of the Precious Blood further institutionalised the apparent need and the concept of “the right to receive” and other errors followed naturally as outlined above.

    It is quite proper for various reasons (not always a sinful state) not to receive at Mass. A spiritual Communion is the offering up of the heart and mind to Our Blessed Lord despite not being able to receive at that Mass. Unfortunately there is a curiosity in some churches when people stay put in the pews. Others of course just get up with the general movement of people and make for the door unnoticed. I have seen this many times.

  50. Riverman says:

    I found this post and comments fascinating. I am an ex-Evangelical/protestant, just starting RCIA after studying Catholicism on my own for the last few years. A few times in the last few months I have attended Mass, and at first stayed in my seat (or scooched to the aisle if the pews were too close together to let people by). Someone told me I should be going forward but to do the crossed-arms thing so I could go forward to get a blessing. I did that a few times, always careful to get in the line that was going to the Priest (or in one case, the Bishop) because I thought (perhaps a silly thought) that a Priest’s blessing would be “more effective” (or something) than a lay person’s.

    I also had the thought that if one is worried about people seeing you stay in your seat, going forward with arms crossed is not going to be any different (although probably less people will notice you not taking the Eucharist). I’m not really worried about what other people think, but I went forward for two main reasons: 1. respect for what was going on with the Eucharist and I wanted to be “part” of that even if only in a limited way, and 2. to simply experience part of what it’s like to go forward (as a former long-time Baptist, this is all so new, exciting, interesting and wonderful!).

    After reading Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s post and the comments, I think I will refrain from going forward any more, until I can go forward to fully receive the Eucharist fully and properly. I will also be talking to my RCIA leaders about this and sharing this page with them.

    Thanks, all! :)

  51. Catherine says:

    I will not go up to receive Holy Communion if I don’t believe I have made adequate preparation. In my mind, this means at least 1 or 2 prayers before Mass begins which speak to receiving Holy Communion worthily, in the right dispositions, etc. In our church (where no one ever goes to confession, but where everyone goes up to receive Holy Communion) I have received some smirks and derisive stares as I sit in the pew, but I really could not care less. If one believes that one is really and truly receiving Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, body, blood, soul and divinity, then it is incumbent on the communicant to make 100% certain that he/she is receiving worthily.
    As far as judging that others are in the state of mortal sin simply because they are not in the communion line, this seems to me to be entirely unwarranted. I don’t think anyone has the right to make that judgment about another person. I also think people should not be in that line unless they are going to receive Holy Communion, and I also don’t think the EMHC’s, priests, or anyone else, should be attempting to bless someone in that line if they are not receiving.

  52. JMGDD says:

    To “let the faithful approach the priest/EMHC in thier own way” sounds simple enough, but would be rather impractical, imo. Without a definite pattern or time frame, the priest is left to guess how many communicants remain. The cynic in me envisions an early stampede toward the altar, so that the communicants can then slip out early and be home in time for football.

    I have remained in the pew many times, and never felt I was being “watched.” In my experience, folks are too busy shuffling forward, and many do not even realize that remaining in the pew has anything to do with unconfessed sins.

  53. Genna says:

    Anon Seminarian:
    That’s a very harsh judgement on who should or should not receive a blessing. Surely a blessing imparts the grace of God upon the recipient and by a spiritual alchemy may well turn spiritual dross into spiritual gold. It may be the sinner who benefits more from a priest’s blessing than the constantly faithful – remember the the parable of the Prodigal Son.
    Having said that, I belong to “no blessings at Holy Communion” camp. It is my sadness that I haven’t received Holy Communion at my parish Sunday Mass in a long while, although I do on a weekday Mass where there are fewer people and I can get pretty much to the head of the line. But it’s not the same.
    The reason? The pp lays his whole hand on the heads of non-communicants and then continues distribution. So I make a spiritual Communion instead. I can’t get to other parishes as they are too far away.
    But members of the hierarchy are not setting a good example. I saw on TV the English Archbishop of Westminster grab someone’s arm in greeting while distributing Holy Communion at his inaugural Mass.

  54. Whether or not the custom of blessing those who do not receive communion is dictated by the local Ordinary and the manner in which that blessing is to be done is also dictated by the local Ordinary; which is why we have variances in custom between dioceses.

    That said, I simply follow the custom of the local Bishops. I do not have the skills nor the training to change this situation nor does it fall under my authority to do so; instead I simply obey the Bishop.

  55. jmgarciajr says:

    My memory only storing row-by-row Communion I am curious as to how trampling over fellow pewmates was avoided in days of yore. (At my parish it is well nigh-impossible to move past people with whom one shares a pew without those people having to get up.) Anyone?

  56. gjp says:

    In regards to the comment about ushers, I am an usher myself, and to be honest, I don’t know why ushers do it. We do it. It seems like it has always been done that way, of course, I was born and baptised in 1980, so they probably haven’t always done it that way.

    I did have the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Form Mass down in Detroit back in March, and the ushers there did not walk down the pews to let people out. Instead they stood in the front to help people find spots at the communion rail, and assisted the elderly faitful in kneeling down and getting up. That, to me, is a more worthwhile duty for ushers.

    As an usher, it is also my job to help the priest find the people who are unable to walk up for communion. They are harder to spot because they are sitting down amongst the kneeling. This is definitely a more worthwhile task than the job of letting people out of the pews. As someone said earlier, it isn’t difficult for people to figure that part out if the church pews are laid out simply.

  57. Andrew says:

    I went to a hospital and a nurse refused to perform an open heart surgery! I went to a law office and the receptionist refused to defend me in court. I went to a Church and a bystander refused to bless me. Can anyone honestly not see the fallacy in all three of these statements?

  58. I’ve seen priests bless children WITH the host (sort of like a mini-benediction).

    Also, at our parish, when the priest gives the kids a blessing, he doesn’t actually touch them… so no germ issue. (I’d stop the kids from coming up, but they can’t be trusted in the pew!)

  59. clarification.. I mean I’d stop MY kids from coming up with us… :)

  60. Mike says:

    RicardT–well, I guess you’re just opening the windows here, seeing the long view of Church practice, so we don’t take our “practice” for what has “always been”. But throw my vote with St. Pius X, in regard to frequent Communion. Read the life of any saint–or blessed, such as Pier Giorgio Frassati–daily Communion, frequent–rather, extremely frequent, Confession. It’s all there, in the Mass, lived daily, available for all the baptized living in Grace, and cultivating proper dispositions.

    In regard to ushers: Argh!! Our parish now has them shaking hands as the make their way to the front pew to work backwards, row by row.

    Please God, keep Our Holy Father well, may he live many more years…and may his sucessor be holy too, and shut down all this silly nonsense that hides your splendor.

  61. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Didn’t a certain former archbishop of Munich urge the faithful – those who could otherwise receive Our Lord – to abstain from doing so, lest “frequent communion” become merely a matter of routine? Didn’t this Archbishop receive a promotion? Doesn’t he, even now, encourage KNEELING to receive Our Lord?

    Presto! All problems solved. No extraordinary minister needed; no stanching the flow of the line; no stigma attached to the stranger who doesn’t get up from the pew.

  62. Richard T, I don’t think you’re considering that people have different states of health. Not everybody would be able to kneeel on the floor for prolonged periods of time, get up off the floor, or even stand for an extended period of time. So pews really aren’t such a bad thing.

  63. frere wilfrid says:

    I agree with every point made by the good Father Z. And I actually work in a parish every Sunday! (4 Masses if you count Sat evening).

  64. doanli says:

    Catholicofthule said:

    “Richard T, I don’t think you’re considering that people have different states of health. Not everybody would be able to kneeel on the floor for prolonged periods of time, get up off the floor, or even stand for an extended period of time. So pews really aren’t such a bad thing.”

    Thank you for pointing this out.

    I have orthostasis and fainted at my own wedding!

  65. jfk03 says:

    Dear Father Z,

    I fully agree. Communion time is for communion, and blessings are for priests. There are several good reasons for not receiving, including failure to observe the Eucharistic fast, not being in a state of grace, or just not feeling sufficiently prepared. One should never be placed in a situation where one is expected to receive out of fear of what others might think.

    I attend a Byzantine (Ukranian Greek Catholic) parish. We do not have pews; there is no possibility of approaching the Holy Mysteries row by row. Most people (except for the aged and infirm) stand through the entire Divine Liturgy. We do not have extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist; all receive directly from the priest. It would be impossible for the priest to impart a blessing to a person not receiving because he is standing in front of the Royal Doors holding a large chalice containing the Body and Blood of the Lord, which he administers with a spoon. Moreover, imparting blessings at the same time that people are receiving the Holy Mysteries conflicts with the focus on partaking of the Lord’s banquet.

    The East has not dispensed with the Eucharistic fast. We abstain from food and drink from midnight until the time we receive Holy Communion. That is why “vigil” masses are unknown in the East, with the exception of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts served on Wednesday and Friday evenings during Great Lent. Communicants are expected to fast from midnight if they intend to receive the Presanctified Gifts, though exceptions are sometimes made for medical and other good reasons. (Going without food makes for a very long and tiring day if one has to work.)

    It is the custom in the East to fold one’s hands over one’s breast while receiving Communion. In many Roman churches this posture is taken as a sign that one is asking for a blessing in lieu of communion. The western tradition is of very recent origin, dating back only a decade or two. I have seen priests (whom I otherwise like and respect) actually encourage the practice. Nevertheless, there is no basis for the practice in the rubrics and it should be eliminated through catechesis.

    The decision to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord is an intensely personal decision as one first must evaluate one’s own state of grace. It is the honorable thing to abstain from communion if one has any doubts until one has been reconciled with the Lord through the sacrament of penance. A slight embarassment is the small price one must pay to avoid partaking unworthily. Most of us are sinners not saints. Why heap sin upon sin by receiving unworthily? It is a risky proposition.

  66. Going up for a blessing at communion time. I don’t know whether it is right or wrong. I guess since CDW says no then it should be no. But beyond that, if one wants a blessing or have their children blessed it most definately be done by sanctified hands (Priest or Deacon), by that same token, The bLessed sacrament should also only be administered to the faithful by consecrated hands. In short, there should not be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (laity) only Ordinary Ministers of Communion (Priests and deacons).

    I have a question of a different sort.
    OUr new Pastor has requested that the Choir and the congregation sing the Alleluia again AFTER the reading of the Gospel. His reason: The word of God deserves to be praised. I should mention that he is touted in my archdiocese as being a Liturgy Expert

    I spoke to him, mentioning that that is not optioned anywhere in the GIRM. He answered that it is something that is done at different parishes. It’s another option. I asked if since it isn’t in the GIRM are my husband and I required to obey him in this matter. He said NO. So we sit down after the Gospel.

    My question: Is he allowed to make this addition or not?

  67. yatzer says:

    I’m not sure how many sacreligious communions I made before my complete reversion to the Church. I wish I had not, but being rather wobbly about the whole thing in the first place, and the immense pressure to go along up to Communion, made it difficult to remain in the pew. Now that I know people in my parish, it would be even more difficult since I sit in basicly the same place and usually receive every Sunday. I would probably go to a different parish and not receive there to prevent crumbling before the pressure.

  68. JonM says:

    At Masses using the traditional Latin rite, I have not seen the row by row dismissal by ushers; this is a hallmark of the Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form) Mass I usually attend. It is yet another pointless invention that only messes things up.

    Father Z is right: The faithful are pressured to receive and catch incredible looks if they don’t. Today the looks came and were mild (relatively), but in other instances, I have actually been stared at as if I were a murderous rapist.

    And, just as RichardT stated, weekly Communion is rather new. Pope Piux X’s invitation for frequent Communion as a shield against a collapsing world has been in many respects turned on its head. Different topic entirely though.

    This is what I call the Calvinist Catholic Syndrome. Many Catholics (of a certain age group particularly) look down on those who seem to be less affluent, don’t receive every Sunday, and who only admit what Jesus told us is the truth: that we are all terrible sinners.

    Many believe that their commercial success and self-appreciation coupled with ‘not having killed anyone’ merits them a solid rank. Like Calvinists, they tend not to extend forgiveness to people, especially those guilty of horrible sins. They don’t want to ‘dirty’ themselves with the sinners.

    Anyway, I think that removing bossy ushers and allowing the faithful to approach at their discretion will cut down on people feeling pressured to come up.

    I also agree that a special blessing has no business at the time of receiving Communion. I have written at length about my bitter frustration with Extraordinary lay helpers being scheduled normally and in squad sizes. This practice is intensely offensive and probably freaks out Eastern Catholics.

    To anyone who knows he or she isn’t in a state of grace on a given Sunday… don’t feel scorn as a result of other people darting mean looks. Feeling conviction of separation from God could be a natural feeling, but again, as RichardT points out people did not receive Communion frequently.

    Whatever the case, don’t worry about the peer pressure. I would not be shocked if those staring are only projecting their own weaknesses (at the very least, lack of charity or tendancy to gossip.) As CatholicMidwest puts it, some people just need to get a life!

  69. pforrester says:

    At Daily Mass Friday I went forward to help as an EMHE rather than watch a chalice of the Most Precious Blood be poured into another chalice or left on the altar. I genuflected to Jesus on the altar before ascending.

    I was given the hosts give to communicants. When a woman came up with arms crossed I put my hand on her shoulder and said God Bless you! I knew from Fr. Z not to try to bless as if I were a priest and I knew anyone can say “God Bless you”.

    Today, Sunday, I was told by an emissary of Father not to genuflect before going up to the altar, b/c that was just my personal piety. I said, “But I should bow then.” She said, “Yes you may reverence the altar.” (Not Jesus the altar) And that when a person comes up for a blessing I must put my hand on their head, but say nothing. I agreed. But….shall I just not help out?

    I used to be an EMHC but stopped when I found out the indult to purify had expired and that our church continued anyway and they poured the water to purify the chalices into the sacrarium rather than consume it.

  70. ndmom says:

    At many Opus Dei oratories, the custom is NOT to receive communion row by row, so as not to pressure those who are not in a state of grace. For those of us accustomed to the dutiful row by row approach, it’s an extremely difficult custom to get used to. (And kind of funny to watch, too, as people automatically stand up when it’s their “turn” and then hastily kneel down again). It probably works better at centers where most attendees are members of the Work and used to the drill than it does at retreats that attract a wider variety of Catholic. When The Heights School opened its new chapel a few years ago, the whole communion ritual was extremely chaotic as the boys tried very hard to be random without being disorderly. I think they’ve got it down now.

  71. Peggy R says:

    All persons old enough to remain in the pew w/o parental supervision should do so unless they are eligible to receive communion, ie, have received 1st Comm., have confessed sins, kept fast, etc.

    In grade school masses, children who did not receive 1st Comm yet remained seated as did any others who were ineligible, for whatever reasons.

  72. Fr. Basil says:

    \\The practice of row by row Communion increases the psychological pressure. In my opinion it should be slowly by surely eliminated.\\

    I wish OUR parish would adopt the “row by row” practice. We were especially crowded on Our Lady’s feast last Sunday, and the Communion line was the most disorderly thing I’ve ever seen (I was sitting in the back row as is my wont).

    The local EF parish has the ushers indicating a “row by row” progression to Communion, and it never struck me as especially Protestant.

    Weren’t the old order of Porters supposed to keep order during the services? I should think that one of their usual duties was to see to orderliness in going up to receive Communion on days when large numbers of Communicants were expected.

  73. Jayna says:

    prforrester: “Today, Sunday, I was told by an emissary of Father not to genuflect before going up to the altar, b/c that was just my personal piety. I said, “But I should bow then.” She said, “Yes you may reverence the altar.””

    If it’s during Mass, you bow. Outside of Mass (and provided the church has a tabernacle behind/near the altar – weird as it sounds, there are those that don’t), you genuflect. It’s odd, but those are the rubrics, if I am not mistaken.

    A few others pointed out the “Nazi salute” thing. It’s creepy, isn’t it? A couple hundred people with one hand extended (though I’ve seen the more industrious use both hands, I suppose they think it works better that way). All very weird. A priest I know used to do it a lot, but he’s stopped recently, which I am very glad of.

  74. doanli says:

    Fr Basil,

    “Row by row” has never struck me as Protestant either.

    I’ve never felt pressured by ANY ushers in my Catholic lifetime that I had to “join in” and go up to the altar.

    I’ve not been able to go to Holy Communion and it’s okay if others look down on me because of that. I don’t care what they think, but it is an opportunity for Humility which is a virtue many have forgotten.

    The only reason I found out about this controversy about people going up to get blessing during Communion (which is common practice in my hometown churches), was a female caller to a Catholic radio show who questioned it. People. just. don’t. know! They don’t go up there because they have a “right” to do it. Many, like me back then, saw it being done and were blissfully unaware.

    I’ll tell you something else just because I cannot resist it. That woman who called the radio show? Her mind should have been on Christ, not what her neighbors were doing. (Just my 2 cents).

  75. annieoakley says:

    I was taught that a person must have a “proper interior disposition” as well as “sanctifying grace” in order to receive the Eucharist. This meant that sometimes a person would refrain from Holy Communion even if he only had venial sins or even no sins on his soul. To give an example, perhaps I come to Mass upset and angry about something. It doesn’t mean I’m in sin but it does mean that my mind and heart are focused on my personal problem rather than on Our Lord. In that case I should refrain from Communion. At least that’s how it was taught pre-Vatican II. I don’t know what they teach now.

    [Let's not be too narrow. You should never approach Communion if you are sure that you are in the state of mortal sin. Doubts about your state are another thing. If you are sure you are not in the state of grace, and you go any way...]

  76. Geoffrey says:

    Long ago, when I was an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, I simply said “may God bless you” whenever the need arose, which is basically what I say when someone sneezes!

  77. Geoffrey says:

    “However, I have read about dozen biographies of Shakespeare and many of them point out that in Shakespeare’s time it was rather common for a father to give a blessing to his son, in their home.”

    The parental blessing is a very different issue, one I would love for the Church to formally address. There is a brief rite for parents to use in The Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings. Basically parents can bless their children, and that’s about it. Although in my family, children used to ask for a blessing from their parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles.

  78. Mike says:

    Well, it’s non-liturgical, but it does concern a layman giving a blessing…so I wouldn’t say it’s completely different.

    Of course, 400 years ago, Fathers of families had more authority…they weren’t infected with Alan Alda-syndrome yet.

  79. g. thomas ryan says:

    catholicmidwest, you were quite definitive this morning: “PS Lay ministers can’t bless throats either. Ever. Not even with nuclear candles even and the blessing of 500 progressive parish councils. Not possible.”

    I do not care much about progressive or regressive parish councils, but I do care for the Roman Rite and the holy Catholic Church. “The Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings” used in the USA dioceses was confirmed by the Apostolic See in 1989. As I believe some comments later this day pointed out, #1626 allows for “a lay minister” to give this blessing during liturgies (Mass or celebrations of the Word) and in the homes of the sick or elderly.

    This same portion of the Roman Ritual provides many other blessings that laity can lead or impart – blessing a family (chapter 1.I), a married couple outside Mass (1.III.C), children baptized or not baptized (separate rites at 1.IV..catechists and persons in charge of children’s education specially mentioned), sons and daughters (1.V, by parents), engaged couple (1.VI, parents specially listed), parents before childbirth (1.VII), a mother before and after childbirth (1.VIII), parents after a miscarriage (1.IX…beautifully sensitive prayer texts!), parents and an adopted child (1.X), a person on the occasion of a birthday (1.XI), elderly confined to homes (1.XII), the sick (2.I), a person suffering from addiction or from substance abuse (2.II…important texts expressing the mind of the Church about such tragedy), for victims of crime or oppression (2.III), a catechetical or prayer meeting (4.II), catechumens (4.III…qualified catechist appointed by bishop specified), students and teachers (5), those gathered at a meeting (6.I), blessing of ecumenical groups (6.II…minister of another church or lay person specially mentioned), interfaith gatherings (6.III), travelers (9), a new home (11), means of transportation (21), boats (22), techical installations (23), tools (24), animals (25), fields and flocks (26), seeds (27), on the occasion of harvest (28), an athletic event (29), blessing before and after meals (30…lest we forget), Advent wreath at home (47), manger or nativity scene, especially at home (48), a Christmas tree (49), homes during Christmas and Easter (50), St. Joseph’s table (53), food for Easter (54), while visiting a cemetery (a commemoration, not a blessing, 57), food for Thanksgiving Day (58), a blessing in thanksgiving (70), and “a blessing to be used in various circumstances” (71).

    All of this points to the Church’s stewardship of sacramentals, and the distinction made between consecrations & dedications on the one hand and other blessings. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1669 clarifies:

    “Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless (several scriptures footnoted). Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry.”

    This paragraph of the Catechism points to canon #1168:
    “The minister of sacramentals is a cleric who has been provided with the requisite power. According to the norm of the liturgical books and to the judgment of the local ordinary lay persons who possess the appropriate qualities can also administer some sacramentals.”

    As to the comments by catholic midwest (11:46am) and others that row-by-row appeared after Vatican II, maybe I was a child in a bad part of the Lord’s vineyard, but they were doing this in my parish in the 1940′s. Meanwhile, the tight pews of the 1800′s and early 1900′s mean that for one in the middle to go forward and communicate, pretty much all must leave the pew. If anything, recent churches have improved the viability of (the justly-advocated) “random” coming forward, by generally providing more leg and passage space in the seating.

  80. catholicmidwest says:

    [With a hand that has been handling Hosts? And then continue with distributing Communion?]

    Nope, you’re right Fr Z, as usual. They shouldn’t do anything else when distributing Holy Communion. It’s a Holy Communion line in the middle of Mass.

    On another matter:
    I think that with priests not wanting to do hundreds of St Blaise blessings, and laypeople not being able to do them, I’m just going to begin skipping that part. It’s a sacramental and there are others, anyway. That one clearly isn’t very important anymore. I can tell.

  81. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Fr. Martin Fox,

    As a student—obviously—I would appreciate any source that you can refer me to in the pursuit of clarity.

    Shadowlands,

    I believe the woman caught in adultery does nothing but prove my point, as do all the other penitents that our Lord forgives: they do not ask for a blessing so much as they ask for forgiveness. I am not saying that the sinner should not approach the priest for Confession. But we’re talking about the Communion line, first of all, and then, even outside of that, a sinner who wants a priest’s blessing but refuses to go to Confession clearly is not at all of the mold of the repentant sinners we meet in the Gospels.

    Genna,

    The prodigal son is another perfect instance of a repentant sinner who asks for forgiveness and not a “blessing” (other than the blessing of forgiveness).

    The Old Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say:

    “Coming, then, to its strictly liturgical and restricted sense, blessing may be described as a rite, consisting of a ceremony and prayers performed in the name and with the authority of the Church by a duly qualified minister, by which persons or things are sanctified as dedicated to Divine service, or by which certain marks of Divine favour are invoked upon them.”

    It would seem that a person in a state of mortal sin cannot be sanctified by a blessing other than that received in Confession. For if they could be in any way “sanctified” or have the mark “of Divine favour” given by the power of the Church herself, what purpose would Confession serve?

    I’m very much open to correction on this point—if anyone has a theological reason or an authoritative source that demonstrates the contrary, please put it out there.

  82. catholicmidwest says:

    Fr Basil,
    Have you ever attended mass in St. Peter’s at a regular daily mass? That’s not row by row. Row by row does increase the pressure, and I don’t like it.
    I frequently attend a parish here in Michigan where people get up and join a line, not necessarily the line next to their pews and I like it. The lines are set up to favor that arrangement and I think that’s wise and prevents a lot of stupid problems that nosy people tend to have. It’s more prayerful too as it enables you to pray about your actions and make a commitment to receive and then get yourself up there.

  83. Clemens Romanus says:

    Whatever happened to the ancient announcement of the deacon: “Si quis non communicat, det locum”? I think that might make it clearer that only those intending to communicate should go forth, especially if used prior to Holy Communion rather than as a dismissal of catechumens. Though I’m not a fan of explanation and commentary during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it does seem that GIRM, nos. 31, 105, 171 foresee such comments about Communion (which too could always be included in a homily, of course).

  84. Bob says:

    Fr. Z, we don’t have an official row by row approach to communion at our EF church but the congregation pretty much follows that protocol on its own. Short of a mass scramble to the altar rail I don’t know how else it would be done.

  85. byzcath2008 says:

    Funny story about going to communion with my arms crossed in front of my chest. As a Byzantine Catholic, that is the usual way we approach communion. I went to a daily mass at my local Institute Christ King Sovereign Priest oratory & went to the communion rail to receive. I had my arms crossed in front of my chest and the priest proceeded to give me a nice blessing instead of the host. Being somewhat confused, I looked this up when I got to work and found out that crossed arms in the Latin Rite indicate someone not receiving the host, but rater a blessing.

    I

  86. catholicmidwest says:

    g thomas ryan,
    Ok, I think the topic of blessings just jumped the shark with your encyclopedic list–which may mean that pretty much anyone can bless pretty much anything without further adieu, as long as they have the waking time and energy to do so. I may never be able to hear the word blessing with a straight face ever again.

  87. To all.
    There are two issues I would like to address. The first is a genuflection, and the other is blessings by EMHC.

    What follows is from “Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette” my not-yet published manuscript.

    Genuflections:
    The Ceremonial of Bishops, which is normative for the Church, states, “After saying inaudibly the prayer before communion, the bishop genuflects and takes the paten. One by one the concelebrants approach the bishop, genuflect, and reverently receive from him the body of Christ”
    Now, if it is proper for priests to come up and genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament prior to receiving communion from the bishop, who also genuflects, it should also be proper for the laity to come up and genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament prior to receiving communion from the priest or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. The statement by the Church regarding the laity’s reception of Holy Communion should be interpreted consistently with the Ceremonial. The officially ‘recommended’ act of reverence prior to receiving communion, when receiving in a standing position, is clearly a ‘genuflection’.

    Blessings:
    The 1983 Code of Canon Law precludes Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion from “blessing” non-communicants:
    Can. 1169 §1 Consecrations and dedications can be validly carried out by those who are invested with the episcopal character, and by priests who are permitted to do so by law or by legitimate grant.
    §2 Any priest can impart blessings, except for those reserved to the Roman Pontiff or to Bishops.
    §3 A deacon can impart only those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law.

    “A blessing is a good conferred by a higher personage on a lower personage. All true blessings ultimately come from God, though they come through those whom He has placed over others. In the family parents bless their children, as God has given them natural authority over their children. In the Church spiritual blessings are conferred in God’s Name by those to whom He has given spiritual authority over His People. As is evident by the above, blessings are given by priests (who have the power of the keys), though some are reserved to bishops (high priests). Deacons may also bless, but only where the ritual books, and thus the Church, provide the authority by law. Since the laity do not possess spiritual authority in the Church they cannot confer blessings. The laity can impose some sacramentals (ashes, St. Blaise blessing), but using objects previously blessed by the ordained.
    “So, the blessing of anyone by an EMHC at Communion time is a vain gesture, which does nothing for the recipient. Furthermore, by a gesture which suggests priestly authority in a sacramental setting, it confuses the role of the laity and the ordained minister, something prohibited by the Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests”.
    Priests and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion sometime place the Sign of the Cross on the foreheads of communicants, or pat children on the top of their heads. This practice can easily cause the transfer of bodily fluids, makeup, oil, etc. to be transferred to and contaminate the Sacred Hosts.

    The Blessing of People Who Cannot Receive Holy Communion

    While this is quite common in the U. S. today, the blessing of non-communicants is not authorized by the rubrics. The blessing of those unable to receive Holy Communion is an unauthorized addition to the Mass. It was not practiced in the Tridentine liturgy and should not be practiced in the Norvus Ordo of the Mass. The practice seems to have been tacitly accepted by many bishops who are aware of this nascent custom and have even participated in giving such blessings.
    The GIRM §24 states: “Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred liturgy, and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, remove or to change anything in the celebration of the Mass.”

    Redemptionis Sacramentum (On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist) 31, also speaks on this matter:

    “In keeping with the solemn promises that they have made in the Rite of Sacred Ordination and renewed each year in the Mass of the Chrism, let Priests celebrate ‘devoutly and faithfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people, according to the tradition of the Church, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.’ They ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions.”

    Recently, a document has appeared in several Internet sources which indicate that the Holy See is tending toward a negative view of the practice. The document is a letter (Protocol No. 930/08/L) dated Nov. 22, 2008, sent in response to a private query and signed by Father Anthony Ward, SM, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.
    As a private reply the letter is not yet a norm with legal force and, as it makes clear, is not a definitive reply. However, it provides some valuable pointers on the legitimacy of this practice and the mind of the Holy See regarding it.

    The letter said that “this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation,” so “for the present, this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations”:
    “1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.
    “2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).
    “3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

    Archbishop Charles Chaput also addressed this issue in the Denver Catholic Register, Feb. 12, 2003:

    “As members of the community move forward to receive Holy Communion during Mass, parents will often bring their small children along. Over the years, it has become a custom in many parishes for these children to receive a blessing. I don’t really know where this practice began, but it’s worth some reflection.
    “Usually the children in line will look up expectantly at the person distributing Holy Communion. The minister then responds by doing one of several things: He or she may pat the child’s head, or touch the head in a sign of blessing, or mark the child’s forehead with a sign of the cross. As warm and well intentioned as the gesture may be, in the context of the liturgy, the Communion procession really isn’t the time for a blessing of children or adults who are unable to receive Communion.
    “Both children and adults can make a spiritual communion. They may come forward with their arms crossed and bow before the Eucharist. Then the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister could say to them kindly, “Receive the Lord Jesus in your heart.” This is not a blessing, but an invitation to worship, so no gestures are made.”

    Baptized babies and young children who have not yet reached the age of reason, are living Saints. Blessing a Saint is totally unwarranted.
    The entire congregation is blessed during the Concluding Rite; therefore there is no reason to bless non-communicants.
    The responsibility resides with the diocesan bishop: “It is the right of the Christian people themselves that their diocesan Bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses in ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the word, the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the Saints” (GIRM §24).

    [That was really long. A precis is better, ... with an explanation of the good bits.]

  88. catholicmidwest says:

    Ah, Victor’s post contains some of the information that makes some “blessings” a little less random & humorous and quite a bit more reverent. All of them aren’t meant to be niceties distributed upon my personal belongings, people who wander into my field of vision and household animals, apparently. (Hey, I’m a convert. YOU all are the cradle Catholics and ought to know this stuff better than me.)

    Thank you, Victor.

  89. gjp says:

    Mike: in my experience as an usher, I find the practice of the usher shaking someone’s hand as they pass by their row to let them out to be very irritating. In my parish, this usually only happens between ushers (between an usher “on duty” and an “off duty” usher exiting the pew). Our usher’s club is quite big, and we have 5 groups on a monthly rotation. It is very much the old fella’s club, I am one of the few members 30 and under. It is a good group, they are good men (one of them taught me how to be an altar boy back when I was 7, for example), they do their jobs well, and they are all volunteers, but at times it seems more like a men’s club.

    I have read directives from the USCCB passed along by our diocese…hand shaking is for the sign of peace, and communion time is not hand shaking time. I try to avoid it whenever I can. Sometimes, it is unavoidable, and instead of looking like a jerk, I just go along with it, and offer up my irritatedness, Ste. Thérèse style.

    I think Father doesn’t say anything about it, because he may not even be aware it is going on, and it doesn’t go on to the extent others would notice because it only happens between ushers.

  90. Let me add, if bishops and priests would fulfill their responsibilities to properly instruct the faithful, especially in this most important subject – Holy Mass, this discussion would not have been necessary.
    Priest who knowingly and deliberately falsify Holy Mass commit mortal sin, simply because in doing so, they violate their oath of fidelity to do and teach what the Church mandates. I would like to suggest that you go to, http://www.victorclaveau.com/htm_html/my%20articles/mass%20and%20liturgical%20improprieties.htm to read an article on this subject.
    Please pray for are priests and bishops at least daily.

  91. RichardT says:

    Catholicofthule – churches used to have a bench at the side for the infirm.

    The phrase “the weakest go to the wall”, now most commonly used of businesses going bankrupt, is said to originate from this custom. Unfortunately it has been corrupted so that it now means that the weakest are killed off or left to die, but the original meaning would be that they would find the support of the bench there.

  92. RichardT says:

    As for blessings, what about the Blessing of Beer that Fr Finigan carried out?
    http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/2008/07/blessing-of-beer.html

    I do hope that something so important is still reserved to the clergy.

  93. OPmom says:

    I see that the question about what to replace row by row communion reception with has come up in this post. The row by row practice is not universal in the Church. If you travel about the world you will find the practice of row by row communicants going forward as practiced in most American parishes not common. In other countries at the time for Communion people just stand up and move forward to receive Communion. It’s not confusing. It works. The first time I experienced this was in the Cathedral in Montreal. The Mass was in French (of course) and at Communion if you wished to receive you just went forward. No row by row pressure. This practice would be a major change for American parishes, though, imho.

  94. uptoncp says:

    RichardT – there are very many mediaeval pews around with Catholic imagery damaged at the reformation which put a sizeable hole in your argument.

  95. AngelineOH says:

    As a convert of 20 years, many is the time I have remained in the pew at Communion time. It may be physical, spiritual or psychological, but if I feel the least hesitance to receive I do not. Tonight I didn’t watch the clock so missed the hour Communion fast. The opinions of others really don’t matter to me. The discipline of the Church was a great draw to me so I respect all of Her teachings and make a conscious effort to know and observe them.

    Thankfully, the only time I’ve heard of the crossed-arm blessing in my area was when my son went to his friend’s Episcopal church.

  96. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Fr Basil,
    Have you ever attended mass in St. Peter’s at a regular daily mass? \\

    Which St. Peter’s? The Church is full of them!

  97. Phil_NL says:

    The influence of regional habits is interesting, as OPmom mentions.

    While it might take some getting used to, it is possible not to have row by row communion. However, given the specific details (relatively small aisles, for example) a copious amount of attention and civility might be needed lest some of the faithful would bump into eachother or be trampled underfoot – communicants tend to have their attention elsewhere, for good reason. I’ve seen it work in a parish with mainly elderly and a spacious church, but I’d be less confident in a rather more packed parish with lots of children around.

    But to be frank, I think it’s much more important to get rid of this social pressure. It seem to come from (at least) two sources: people watching others instead of doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and – if I read the above correctly – ushers. Now here comes another regional difference: in Europe I’ve heard Mass at somewhere between 50 and 100 different parishes, and I never, ever saw a single usher.
    Yet in the US they appear to be quite common. Why?

    Why institutionalise a function that by its very nature draws attention away from Mass and to the congragation? Europe does very well without them, and it eliminates at least one source of social pressure, as well as any ‘protocol’ that you are supposed to follow, including presenting yourself for communion.

  98. lux_perpetua says:

    @riverman:

    love your comments. refraining from Communion [even if its just the Communion line] can be one of the greatest spiritual exercises, especially if you spend the time meditating about what it is you are refraining from. When i spent time going to Orthodox Liturgies, the hardest part for me, by far, was always when the priest intoned “the Holy Things are for the Holy” and I was left standing as the rest of the congregation received. feeling Jesus so present, and yet not being able to receive, even when I was in a state of Grace… heartbreak does not even begin to describe it.

    i have had some horribly humiliating experiences RE remaining in the pew. being blind people almost always offer me assistance. When I choose to remain in the pew, it generally baffles the offerer and tends to lead to a rather excruciating conversation. one time a woman even said to me “but, sweetie, you do know that the Eucharist forgives all venial sins so… i mean.. unless you’ve committed a mortal sin…” boy, was that ever an exercise in humility!

  99. ivan_the_mad says:

    I had a somewhat different experience I would submit for your consideration. My parish is a good one, conservative, and even offering an EF on Tuesdays. Before I was enlightened, I would go up for a blessing when I was not receiving. The priest would not bless me as expected, he would simply hold the host up, then lower his hand. I asked him about this, he explained that he did not think that it was proper for him to give a blessing during Communion, because (not the exact words, but you’ll get what I mean) any blessing he could give paled in comparison to the real presence of Christ. He said that I was welcome to come up and be in the presence, even if I could not receive at that time. He said I should also make a spiritual communion, and that if I needed to make a confession, I could grab him anytime before or after Mass.

    Needless to say, he is a very good shepherd.

  100. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I used to go up to receive Communion every time, even when aware of having committed a grave sin. The only time I didn’t receive was when I was aware of violating the Eucharistic Fast.

    Then I led a Bible Study of 1st Corinthians and saw in black & white that what I was doing was wrong – very wrong.

    It is not easy to say seated during a “cattle call”, but I do it now. I find the best method is to file out, step aside to allow the rest of the aisle out, then sit back down. When the communicants return, I step back out to allow them to return to their places. It works.

    Spiritual Communion is HIGHLY underrated in today’s times.

  101. RichardT says:

    uptoncp, I cant find my copy of Prof. Duffy’s “Stripping of the Altars” to give you a quote, but the result of his extensive research was that although some churches before the Reformation had rows of pews in the way we would recognise today, these were rare and were part of a creeping pre-Reformation Protestantisation.

    In the run-up to the Reformation they became somewhat more common, as some priests with protestant leanings started stressing the Bible readings and sermon rather than the Real Presence, but he found that most churches still just had benches at the side for the infirm.

  102. patrick_f says:

    Maybe I have missed it somewhere but it would seem the greater infraction here is the EMHC trying to give communion to someone who was clearly not there to recieve communion

    Without arousing the “We dont need EMHC’s” arguement, if one is given the Holy privilege of assisting the priest with Holy Communion, it is there responsibility to safeguard the Species they are intrusted with,

    The fact this EMHC proceeded to try to give communion to someone who wasnt recieving, is very disturbing to be. We should be careful not to streamline reception of the Sacred Body of Christ. It is a privilege, not a right, nor is it our Right to give, but rather, equally a privilege, in my opinion – Obviously for a Priest, the circumstance is different, I am speaking from the perspective of the EMHC.

    When I am an EMHC (and yes I am) – I try to proceed with the up most care, I am after all handling My Lord. Everything I do has a deliberatness to it, so that I can make sure that I perform the service worthily

    I think it comes back down to poor/lack of formation for EMHC’s. Many churches simply “sign you up”, with little regard to whatever diocesan requirements there are. Priests delegate it to the other EMHC’s . There is no checks and balances.

  103. Will D. says:

    Yatzer wrote:

    I’m not sure how many sacrilegious communions I made before my complete reversion to the Church. I wish I had not, but being rather wobbly about the whole thing in the first place, and the immense pressure to go along up to Communion, made it difficult to remain in the pew. Now that I know people in my parish, it would be even more difficult since I sit in basically the same place and usually receive every Sunday. I would probably go to a different parish and not receive there to prevent crumbling before the pressure.

    I sympathize entirely, having been in your shoes. I made many and many a sacrilegious communion when I started coming back to the church. It wasn’t until after a year or so of regular attendance that I stopped, thanks to a fire and brimstone sermon that Father preached on sin and death. It was one of those situations when you feel the readings and the homily might well be addressed personally to you. I haven’t presented myself for communion since then, because I’m still screwing up my courage to make a good confession.
    My advice is to simply keep to your knees when the others rise to go for communion. Other than a well-meaning usher trying to point me to a shorter line (which hasn’t been repeated lately), I’ve never felt any pressure from my fellow parishioners. Keeping kneeling and praying has helped me respect the Eucharist and kept me out of temptation. Obviously, I can’t speak for your parish, but I doubt you’d need to take the drastic step of leaving the parish.
    The other advice is the advice that I’m having trouble heeding. Make a good examination of conscience and get to confession.

  104. catholicmidwest says:

    Fr. Basil,

    THE St Peter’s. Basilica. Rome. Italy.

  105. catholicmidwest says:

    Because, Phil_NL,
    We have tons of people who’ve been told that they should “participate” and since the only way that they think they can “participate” is to get a “ministry,” we have to find “ministries” for them. We have people running all over the place like ants.

  106. Phil_NL says:

    @catholicmidwest

    I thought as much – time to get the flamethower out and eliminate said superflouous ‘ministries’, won’t you say?

  107. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    This has been a rewarding if long read for a late-comer with high ‘blog stickiness factor’.

    I was struck by Archbishop Chaput’s remarks as quoted by Victor Claveau – combining a ‘coming forward’ with a commended spiritual communion – “Both children and adults can make a spiritual communion. They may come forward with their arms crossed and bow before the Eucharist. Then the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister could say to them kindly, ‘Receive the Lord Jesus in your heart.’ This is not a blessing, but an invitation to worship, so no gestures are made.” This looks like a likely (dare I say, even elegant?) way to make a transition away from irregular blessings where already established – though some sort of announcement for clarity with respect to any possible Byzantine Rite communicants would seem in order, somewhere, somehow, if crossed arms are retained.

    My memory regarding pew history was of a 13th-century origin, but I have not gone digging. Might it have been a sort of extrapolation (for the ‘better to do’?) from choir stalls and the misericord therein? (Cf. also the Throne for the Emperor in the Cathedral in Aachen!)

    I am also especially grateful for the details from Anita Moore OPL about spiritual Communion, but would welcome more. Someone’s question about different expectations re. preparation – or not – has not yet been answered (unless I read past it). Has anyone on-line reading suggestions?

    And what of the history of this ‘Communion blessing’? Is this an Anglican semi-borrowing? I quote a CofE bulletin: “All baptized Christians who receive Communion in their own churches are welcome to receive the sacrament with us. If, for whatever reason, you do not wish to receive, you are welcome to come forward for a blessing during the distribution of Communion.” I think this expression is not untypical, and I believe the matter is usually made plain whether in writing, by announcement, or both. This is a recent development. Recall the Kikuyu controversy. In 1913, the Anglican Bishops of Mombasa and Uganda invited non-Anglicans there, in the context of considering a “united Church of East Africa” together with other missionaries, mainly Methodist and Presbyterian, “to be present and to receive the Holy Communion” – as Stephen Neill puts it in ‘Anglicanism’ (1958), adding “At once the whole Anglican world was in uproar.” He also quotes “the caustic summary that [...] the events at Kikuyu ‘were highly pleasing to Almighty God, but not in any circumstances to be repeated’.” Things changed, I think formally, in the late 1970s, resulting in the type of Anglican practice and invitation presented above.

    I do not know if there is any conscious debt, but there is a resemblance to a practice about which Bishop Kallistos Ware already wrote in these terms in the first edition of ‘The Orthodox Church’ (1963): “In most Orthodox parishes non-Orthodox present at the Liturgy are permitted (and indeed, encouraged)to receive the Antidoron, as an expression of Christian fellowship and love.” He describes the Antidoron as “blessed but not consecrated, although taken from the same loaf as the bread used in the consecration.” This reception of the Antidoron takes place after “the final blessing with which the Liturgy ends” (in the first place by those who have communicated).

    In effect, if not in conscious intention, the Anglican “Communion blessing” resembles an analog of the sharing of the Antidoron with any non-communicating folk minded to receive it, but then interpolated into the midst of the Communion.

  108. kdw says:

    This crowd might enjoy this story: When I was a catechumen, Fr Jon Sobrino visited my Jesuit university and concelebrated at our main Sunday Mass for students. I filed up with everyone and ended up in front of Fr Sobrino, where he apparently didn’t know what my arms-crossed gesture meant (perhaps they don’t do it in El Salvadore?) – so he kept trying to place the Host in my mouth, while I shook my head and tried to ask him for a blessing. There were other lines to my left and right, so I couldn’t really move, and another priest had to dash over and come to my rescue. I like to describe this story as “the time the famous Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino tried to force-feed me the Eucharist,” but it was obviously not his fault…

    I can only chuckle at the supposedly “Protestant” attitudes and practices of 20th century Catholics. I guess they might be mainstream or ‘middle church’ inspired, but as a former evangelical, let me tell you, we did NOT process in nice lines to “take communion” (instead we passed around the plate and slouched down a little to reflect in silence), and pews and rows were FAR too ‘old school’ and ‘forbidding’ and ‘pious.’ They required you to sit up straight, and they were hard! We had padded chairs like you might have in an office staff meeting. I’ve been to megachurches that had cupholders in your stadium seating for the cup of Starbucks you bought in the lobby on your way in. Thank God, Catholics still have a long way to go.

    “When The Heights School opened its new chapel a few years ago, the whole communion ritual was extremely chaotic as the boys tried very hard to be random without being disorderly. I think they’ve got it down now.”

    I can only imagine how much internal havoc this would cause for me! After four years I’ve only recently managed to stop worrying about which direction I should turn to first when I realize that the kiss of peace is coming. Usus antiquior regulars have probably not forgotten that acute Novus Ordo agony. Filing up in rows means I can stop thinking about everything but disposing myself to receive Our Lord.

    And I’m not trying to make any argument with this thought, but ironically, the chaotic, go up when you’re ready approach reminds me of everything we tried to do “spontaneously” in evangelical gatherings. We prayed in groups and someone just spoke up when they felt like it (and tried not to interrupt someone else). We had foot washing services at youth group events where we all sat panic stricken trying to get the courage to go and get it done. Waiting for the Spirit to move you, is, I found, an extremely mentally taxing activity that usually resulted in me chickening out. I’m not saying that Catholics who don’t go “row by row” SHOULD use that kind of reasoning, but without the bulwark of habit behind it, I’m pretty sure many would.

    When I was being catechised, a visiting Polish priest told us how surprised he was that everyone in the church went up for communion. In Polish parishes, he said, maybe 1/3 would receive communion, and they bunched up in front of the altar and eventually trickled back to their seats after waiting for a priest. (Polish readers please correct me…) All in all, I think it’s better to foster reverence and an awareness of what sins might keep us from the Eucharist than change our ways of processing! On the other hand, I am all for kneeling, and going through in lines (without an altar rail) can make that difficult.

    And as a last note, I rarely received a blessing (and always from the priest) when I was a catechumen, usually only when there was a small group present and I knew the priest personally. Not ‘justifying,’ just explaining. I got over the psychological pressure to “go up” fairly easily (though my sister had more trouble), but I’m so conscious of what is “disturbing the order” that what bothers ME and induces me to “go up” is making people move past me, either in the seat or in the aisle. Some pews have very little foot room – some churches have rather narrow aisles, some people are significantly roomier than other people – all these issues can make it seem less disturbing for me to file in and signal that I don’t wish to receive. I would hope it doesn’t damage my reverence for His Body and Blood. (When I was still a Protestant, in fact, I usually sat there longing just to get near the priest dispensing the Host, and I felt an almost overwhelming desire to get close to the Host during Adoration; I didn’t, because I knew it would be “unseemly,” but the impulse is real and doesn’t even always come from a conscious or rational acceptance that this is Christ.) I do see how it creates more distraction for the priest – who has to switch gears – and I understand that the practice probably leads to irreverence for Holy Communion in many cases.

    Finally, one of the reasons I felt comfortable staying in my seat when I first started attending Mass was that a traditionalist Catholic friend of mine told me (ostensibly to make me less anxious) that if I stayed seated, people would assume I was just “really pious,” not “really bad.” Well now, wanting to appear very pious is, unfortunately, one of my great hobbies, and maybe some others here can sympathize, so it is certainly a kind of motivation.

  109. Hilleyb says:

    How about at a Papal Mass? In this case, someone is granted the honor of receiving the Eucharist from the hand of the Holy Father beforehand, and then for whatever reason can’t receive. I lean toward the sentiment here in all situations, but it could very well have been from this particular situation that this practice came forth.