ASK FATHER: In Communion Services to do people “self communicate”?

elevation mass host 05From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Is anyone other than a Priest allowed to self-Communicate as in a “Communion” service? Thank you.

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson

Herein we get some fairly complicated liturgical law, and this is one of those situations where having a Code of Liturgical Law for the Roman Rite would be helpful.

In the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments clarified that, at Holy Mass, “It is not licit for the faithful ‘to take…by themselves… and, still less, to hand … from one to another’ the sacred host or the sacred chalice.”

This is an instruction (see canon 34), which does not make law, but rather sets out the provisions of the law and says how the law is to be applied. As an Instruction, it cannot change law (note, however, for those playing the home game, that not everything that is called, in English, an “Instruction” is really an instruction – the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” is actually the “Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani,” an Institution, which makes law, not an Instruction which applies or clarifies the law).

For the law, we have to go back to the 1988 Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest by the Congregation for Divine Worship (issued by the late, lamented Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, OSB, and his secretary, then-archbishop Vergilio Noe). In this Directory, we are informed, that, “for the communion rite, the provisions given in the Roman Ritual for Communion outside Mass are to be observed.”

For this, we are sent back to the Roman Ritual, issued in 1973 from the Congregation for Divine Worship, which says, (paragraph 33), “If the minister receives communion, he says quietly, ‘May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life.’ He reverently consumes the body of Christ.”

Redemptionis Sacramentum clarifies (a bit) further, stating that (paragraph 165) if there is not a priest or deacon present to led this service, “various parts be distributed among several faithful rather than having a single lay member of the faithful direct the whole celebration alone. Nor is it ever appropriate to refer to any member of the lay faithful as ‘presiding’ over the celebration.”

So, where does that leave us?

As far as I can tell, there’s been no further clarification on the rubrics of such a service since the Roman Ritual of 1973, instructing the “minister” to “reverently consume the body of Christ.” A lay person who, in such an instance, is serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, even if, in keeping with Redemptionis Sacramentum, is not directing the whole celebration alone, can reverently consume the Eucharist.

At the same time, I note the condition added in the Roman Ritual, “If…” So it would seem that the rubric envision the possibility of a minister leading a service of Holy Communion and not himself receiving. I think one who leads such a service in the absence of a priest could legitimately say that, owing the the clear indication that, during Holy Mass the faithful ought not self-communicate, and not wishing to cause any scandal among the faithful, he would refrain from self-communicating at these times.

I would further add that any service of the distribution of Holy Communion outside of Mass, especially one directed by lay people, should include significant and devout prayers for an increase in priestly vocations so that these types of services might become absolutely unnecessary.  [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

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11 Responses to ASK FATHER: In Communion Services to do people “self communicate”?

  1. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Perhaps bishops should duly appoint trusted male acolytes to handle these unfortunate situations.

  2. EC says:

    I used to be made to “preside” at these all the time (not just “Sundays in the absence of a priest”). I was always uncomfortable with self-reception and so ended up not doing it, unless it was a scenario where a ciborium was going to be poorly cared for on its return trip….. Then I made an exception.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    As an instituted acolyte, I will be leading my very first communion services this coming week. I have been “on the fence” about doing this. I am an instituted acolyte and “should” be the one to do it after a deacon instead of a non-instituted lay man or woman. However, they are not supposed to be in the regular parish schedule. But, they are…

    Anyway, regarding self-communicating, my “A Ritual for Laypersons” says: “If the minister receives Communion, he or she says: May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life” (Holy Communion Outside of Mass, n. 21). I have always taken that to mean that it is optional.

    “I would further add that any service of the distribution of Holy Communion outside of Mass, especially one directed by lay people, should include significant and devout prayers for an increase in priestly vocations so that these types of services might become absolutely unnecessary.”

    I plan on doing just that!

  4. The worthy former bishop of a neighboring diocese simply forbade Communion services and told his people to pray for vocations instead.

    Some people seem to think a Communion service is “Mass without a priest.” That these services can breed this level of confusion seems to be a reason right there to forbid them. It also says something about the quality of how Mass is celebrated.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Intending no disrespect to the learned explanations of Fr Ferguson,

    the simpler answer to the question would be:

    1. No.
    2. Not even a priest may do this, unless he should happen to be celebrant (including concelebrant) of the Mass in question.

  6. Volanges says:

    Anita Moore, O.P.(lay) — Over the years we’ve generally had 2 or 3 of these liturgies a year in our parish. Some are scheduled because Fr. has to be absent on Sunday because of a diocesan retreat or because he’s ministering to a remote parish, some are spur-of-the-moment because Fr.’s return is weather-delayed and it’s easier to have a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion than attempt to notify everyone that Mass is cancelled. Sadly, I’ve actually heard people expressing a preference for this, as in “Wish we could have this every Sunday instead of what we have. ” Their preference stems, as I see it, both from a profound misunderstanding of what Mass is, and from the way more care is taken preparing one of these than preparing Sunday Mass.

    The Rite promulgated by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops “Sunday Celebration of the Word and Hours” is different from just a Liturgy of the Word with Communion. The layout is different, it generally involves more lay people than Mass: a leader of prayer, an EMHC to do the Communion Rite (because the rubrics express a preference for this rather than having a leader of prayer who also does the Communion Rite), 2 readers, sometimes 3 if the leader of prayer doesn’t read the Gospel. The choir seems to work extra hard for these because they involve rituals not found in the Mass: sung acclamations, etc. As a result people see it as a liturgy that is theirs rather than the priest’s and they like that. Sometimes it seems that they’d be happy to have Father celebrate a weekday Mass they don’t attend just so there’d be consecrated Hosts in the Tabernacle to allow us to have a Sunday Celebration of the Word, which they wouldn’t attend if Communion wasn’t offered.

  7. Andrew says:

    Here and there, on a weekday, I was present when it had been announced that a ‘communion service’ would take place instead of a scheduled Mass. In every instance I departed from the church at once.

    Should this happen on a Sunday, is a Catholic obligated to stay in order to fulfill the Sunday precept?

  8. Volanges says:

    Andrew asks: Should this happen on a Sunday, is a Catholic obligated to stay in order to fulfill the Sunday precept?
    ===========
    The precept is to attend Mass. No Mass, no obligation.
    Personally, I would remain for the prayers. Of course if I had my druthers, we would celebrate Morning Prayer, the official prayer of the Church, rather than a made up liturgy. But that’s just me. Even if you stayed for the prayers there is no obligation to receive Communion.

  9. tdhaller says:

    Are astronauts in space given some sort of special dispensation to do this? I seem to recall some Catholic ones self-communicating up there (or rather, speaking about it, I wasn’t there)… or am I confusing something?

  10. Volanges says:

    Imrahil said;
    Intending no disrespect to the learned explanations of Fr Ferguson, the simpler answer to the question would be:

    1. No.
    ======================
    Well, the rubrics in the official Canadian Rite for this liturgy specifically say that the EMHC self-communicates. He/she is not obliged to, of course.

  11. Stephen Matthew says:

    Volanges and Andrew:

    Generally speaking only the Mass fulfills the Sunday/Holy Day obligation in the Latin Church. If it is impossible to fill the obligation, then what you do to keep holy the Sabbath is at your discretion.

    However, bishops and pastors have the ability to dispense someone from the obligation or in certain cases to transfer it in various ways, so perhaps in theory a bishop could perhaps make particular law for his diocese that allows the Liturgy of the Hours or Liturgy of the Word or Communion service to fulfill the obligation in place of Mass for those in some way impeded from conveniently participating in Mass, and if there were such a particular law you would need to either stay for the service or drive to somewhere having Mass.

    So, probably not, but perhaps theoretically possible.