Here is something of what I wrote this week:
We are in the section of Mass called the Ritus communionis, the preparation for and reception of Holy Communion. We can dispense with a look at the rendering of the Our Father, since the translation is not changing. Let us then skip to the part immediately following, known as the rather medical sounding “embolism”.
The embolism (from Greek embolismos, “insertion, interpolation”) is the section between the end of the Lord’s Prayer and the fraction rite (during which the Host is broken). In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite the priest says this prayer quietly as he takes the paten, the small plate for the Host, from underneath the linen corporal, makes the sign of the Cross upon himself with it, and, having kissed the paten, slides it underneath the Host which was lying upon the corporal. None of that is done in the newer, Ordinary Form.
In Eastern Rites, after the Lord’s Prayer the priest blesses the people. Then, taking up the Eucharist, he utters the ominous “The Holy to the holy!” This is both an invitation to come to Communion and a warning not to approach unworthily. There was a blessing in Western liturgies as well. The liturgical scholar Joseph Jungmann in his Mass of the Roman Rite says that in Gallic liturgies a blessing was given not as a preparation for but as a substitute for Communion, after which those not partaking could leave.
Plus ça change… I suppose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
These days it is not rare that people will come forward at Communion time and, if they don’t receive, make some signal to receive a blessing instead. There may also be the rite of the rush to the parking lot, which continues all through the distribution of Communion. The parking lot is a modern development, but the theory remains pretty much the same.
This column isn’t about the moment of Communion itself, but the tidbit about blessings in lieu of Communion provides a segue to the subject of these fairly common practice of blessings at Communion time. I may be stumbling toward the third rail by bringing this up, but from what I understand blessings at Communion are not permitted.
You have seen the drill: people not intending or able to receive go forward in the regular manner, but instead of receiving Communion they cross their arms over their chests as a signal to bless them. In 2008 the under-secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter (Prot. No. 930/08/L) with observations about this practice. NB: this was a private response, not an official. But it’s not nothing. The letter states the obvious. The moment for a blessing during Mass is at the end. Moreover, the letter repeats that lay people may not give blessings.
It seems that this practice developed mainly to make people feel good, which isn’t the point of any of the rites of Mass. Receiving a blessing is not the same as receiving Communion. The practice therefore is not well-proportioned to the dignity of that moment at Mass and should be avoided for that reason alone: it gives the wrong impressions.
I don’t believe there is an official condemnation of this practice from the Congregation. Does there have to be? There is not an explicit condemnation of doing hand-stands at Communion time either. We all know the oft repeated point of the Church’s law that no one, bishops included, may not on their own authority add to or subtract from the rites Holy Church issues in its liturgical books (cf. SC 22 et al.). And yet that is precisely what is happening with these blessings at Holy Communion time. It may be that approval will be given someday for these blessings. But, would that not merely put the giving of blessings at Communion on a par with Communion in the hand or the introduction of girls serving at the altar? Both of those practices were contrary to the law and, because of widespread liturgical abuse, eventually approved. But I digress.
For the Gallic version of these pre-Communion blessings in the Carolingian period a deacon would say “Humiliate vos ad benedictionem… humble yourselves (bow) for the blessings.” The bishop, with mitre and staff, pronounced the blessing making three signs of the Cross, much as we see them do today at the end of Mass and other times. They would even add some reflection on the meaning of the feast being celebrated. According to Jungmann, Pope Zachary complained to St. Boniface in 751 in a letter about the introduction of these pontifical blessings into the Roman Rite. It seems there has ever been a struggle to keep gabby clerics in check.
When you’ve had a hard day fighting off the introduction of contra legem customs during Holy Mass, why not relax with a WDTPRS mug of piping hot Mystic Monk Coffee?
I am sure one of the reasons you go to Holy Mass regularly, apart from not wanting to go to hell, is to feel spiritually refreshed from your contact with the Lord. You want to get back out there in the world and do what God put you on earth to do! I am not suggesting that renewing yourself at Mass and renewing your supply of Mystic Monk Coffee are on par with each other… but perhaps refreshing your supply will in fact help you avoid hell too! Think about it!
Are you thinking about it? Not working?
Okay, it doesn’t work for me either, but the whole point of these is to make outrageous connections so that you’ll buy coffee from those traditional Carmelites in Wyoming to help them build their monastery.
Is it working yet?
If it isn’t perhaps the knowledge that the Carmelites are running a sale on their chocolate covered coffee beans right now might just do the trick.
Ground, or whole bean, or chocolate-covered beans, Mystic Monk Coffee!