QUAERITUR: Prayer for distribution of Communion at TLM and what to respond?

From a reader:

Fr. Z: Our parish priest often resorts to using “Corpus Christi” from the Novus Ordo rubrics in the distribution of Holy Communion at our extraordinapeory form Traditional Mass— when the deacon is not present and presumably he believes the distribution of Holy Communion takes too long.

For those laymen familiar and unfamiliar with the differing rubrics, we are left to wonder if we’re supposed to say “Amen” or not reply?

A deeper question is whether or not this is allowed in the Traditional Mass, or are the rubrics supposed to be used as called for strictly in the 1962 missal?

I thought there was an instruction some time ago that stated “no mixing of rites” should occur between the two? I’ve been to extraordinary form Masses with the FSSP, Institute of Christ the King, Institute of Good Shepherd, SSPX and other diocesan priests, and no matter the number of those communicating, the priest always used the traditional formula.

Just today, after writing the PCED, I received this response from the PCED to my question: “Priests are not free to change the rubrics or to mix the two forms. Period.”

First, there is an old phrase “gratis asseritur, gratis negatur“.  Maybe you received a response from the PCED and may be you didn’t.  That must be demonstrated.  Send me a scan of the letter.  I will “anonymize” it and post it here.  If you have it, that is.

It is unlikely that any response from any dicastery of the Holy See would include that “Period.”  Just wouldn’t happen.  Period.

But assuming that there was such a response – a real response (there have been in the past), there are several issues here. Let’s tease them out.

First, there is the issue of “mutual enrichment” that is supposed to take place between the two forms of Roman Rite, according to the vision of Pope Benedict.  Then there is the response that came from the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (PCED) to, I believe, someone in Poland.

Apparently the time isn’t ripe for every kind of “mutual enrichment”.    It may be that we need a period of stability of the use of the two forms side by side before a “mutual enrichment” can take place.   Also, these things will have to take place gradually and then receive approval along the way… at some point.

I anticipate that some are virtually frothing to jump in with comments that the new Mass “Corpus Christi” during the  eternal-Mass-of-all-ages-exactly-the-same-as-it-was-since-even-before-the-Lord-printed-the-books-Himself would be an “impoverishment” of the TLM rather than an “enrichment”.

During distribution of Communion during the Novus Ordo, the priest/deacon… whatever… is to say “Corpus Christi” (“The Body of Christ”) and the communicant responds “Amen.”.  Straightforward.  Efficient.  That says just about all that needs to be said if the communicant is paying attention and is well-catechized, etc.

During distribution of Communion during the Extraordinary Form, the priest/deacon … no whatever… is to say, in Latin of course, “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul unto life everlasting. Amen.”  The communicant says nothing.

Ideally, if we were closer to the angels, we might not have to have any formula for the distribution of Communion.  But formulas there are.  And that older form surely helped to strengthen the priest’s and people’s understand of what the Lord was doing for them in the face of attacks on the Church’s doctrine and on the Mass during the theological revolts of the 16th and 17th centuries.   Today, let’s just say it, the faith of many congregations isn’t exactly exemplary.

Maybe it was a mistake to shorten that formula for distribution?   Maybe?

During the priest’s own Communion during the Extraordinary Form he says: “May the Body [Blood] of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.”  But in the Ordinary Form this was changed to “keep me… custodiat me“, instead of “custodiat animam meam“.  I suspect the cutters and pasters of the Novus Ordo were worried that priest might be dualists if they said “animam meam“.  Indeed, I think there was a problem with a dualism, a kind of Jansenism among clergy trained in a certain place or under a certain regime … but I digress.

A simpler explanation is that those who tinkered with the Mass and pasted together the Novus Ordo were themselves tired of saying lots of prayers.  They jettisoned the prayers at the foot of the altar not so much because people were clamoring for them to be abolished, or that the “good of the faithful” required their suppression, but in large part because they themselves were tired of saying them and were bored by them.  They shortened Mass because they wanted a shorter Mass.  The same could apply to shorter offertory prayers and getting rid of the Last Gospel, repetition of readings, additional collects, etc.

I can understand why, if a priest is facing several hundred people for Communion and he is alone, and there is another Mass coming up, he would want to shorted that long form for Holy Communion.  Should he?  Probably not.  The PCED has said “no mixing” in letters/responses on paper to some of the faithful when asked if elements of the new Mass can be used in the old Mass.  In most cases of distribution of Holy Communion taking a few more minutes doesn’t threaten the stability of the parish or the health of anyone present.  Also, a few more minutes might underscore the fact that Catholics think that the reception of Holy Communion is fairly important in the larger scheme.

That said… if during Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form the priest uses the newer, shorter form, stay calm.  Everything will be okay.  Just say “Amen.”

Someone has to.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mdsmelser says:

    Amen! Thanks for the short answer at the end.

  2. Katherine says:

    And that older form surely helped to strengthen the … peoples understand of what the Lord was doing for them in the face of attacks on the Church’s doctrine and on the Mass during the theological revolts of the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Now, Father, whatever the ignorance some of your followers have, you know better than that. [You begin with an insult. You continue with something that doesn’t have much to do with my posts.]

    It’s time that those who find spiritual benefit in the TLM come to terms with the reality that for the most part they are not traditionalists (maybe neo-traditionalists) but are really (as Pope Benedict XVI suggests) “old liberals.”

    Pre-counciliar liturgical liberals like me followed the (almost trademarked) principle to “Pray the Mass.” We welcomed the translated Missals that aided us in following and understanding the Mass and welcomed those liturgically progressive and advanced parishes with the Dialogue Mass.

    True traditionalists differed with us as they viewed Latin as a sacred language in which its obscurity and incomprehensibility was a spiritual virtue. The Latin words were not to be understood. And those of this school of thought were often distinguished from us old liberals by bringing with them to Mass not a Missal as we did, but their book of private prayers.

    Whatever the deeper theological meaning of the words in the TLM, most Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries would have had no idea what was being said and therefore no direct benefit from this wording.

  3. Katherine: Your comment has little to do with what I wrote.

  4. Summers says:

    I anticipate that some are virtually frothing to jump in with comments that the new Mass “Corpus Christi” during the eternal-Mass-of-all-ages-exactly-the-same-as-it-was-since-even-before-the-Lord-printed-the-books-Himself would be an “impoverishment” of the TLM rather than an “enrichment”.

    That is as true as it is hilarious!

  5. MichaelJ says:

    As far as how the Communicant should respond when “confronted” with the newer, shorter form, my Mama taught me to never speak with my mouth full. So, if one receives kneeling and on the tongue, the answer should be obvious.

  6. MichaelJ: Similarly, I am sure that your mother taught you to serve your guests first. But that has been used as an argument for the priest to receive Communion last (clearly a BAD idea as well as being against the rubrics). So, table manners are perhaps not the best starting point for Communion reception.

  7. Mike Morrow says:

    I was very active in the pre-Vatican II Church. I recognize absolutely *nothing* reflecting the reality of that era from Katherine’s tale, whatever the point was supposed to be.

    On to point, I also wonder how the original correspondent could expect to be taken seriously after having used, as Fr. Z points out, such an absurd quote alleged to have PCED as source.

    However, I believe this liturgical derangement is of sufficient importance that I personally would choose to have no participation at a parish where this corruption has been consciously instituted as acceptable and standard operating practice.

  8. lucy says:

    Just this past Sunday, our FSSP priest gave a short teaching on reception of Communion. He made it quite clear that HE says the words and the amen, and the communicant says nothing. Every week that he’s here, there are a few folks who just keep saying amen after he says his part.

    Brick by brick….it’s gonna take awhile.

  9. MichaelJ says:

    I know, Father. It seems that my attempt to inject a bit of humor has fallen flat. Sorry about that.

  10. EXCHIEF says:

    In our fledgling (but growing) TLM the Celebrant (and he is the ONLY one to distribute Communion) uses the older form and those who receive have been instructed that no response is needed. As noted if one receives kneeling and on the tongue (and we all do) one cannot voice a response nor should one try.

    BTW, as an “old guy” who was an altar boy for many years pre 1962 I have been pressed into service as a server for our TLM. It is like learning to ride a bicycle at a young age. I have found that serving the TLM (and the Latin responses) are as fresh as they were 50 years ago. Once learned, never forgotten. The TLM is a joy to serve and is so much more reverant and non-distracting than the NO. Our TLM attendees are slowly growing in number. While it started with a group of us old “recycles” there are some younger Catholics never before exposed to the TLM who are becoming regulars.

    Final note. The “opponents” of the TLM in our parish have taken to sabotage as their childish way of trying to shut down the TLM. Things like hiding certain vessels used during the TLM, intentionally tangling the chains of the incensor, hiding the candles that we move to the main altar for high Mass. Desparate measures by those who are loosing control of “their” liturgy.

  11. It should be pointed out that the “Corpus Christi. Amen” formula was introduced in 1964, even before the release of the 1964-65 alterations to the Missal. Further, at this stage in the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, some priests who are recently trained in the TLM, quite honestly forget the formula, as they don’t have a visual aid with them. A few will use the “short form” on the spot.

    I am suggesting that 1) there is often an innocent explanation for things, and 2) not everything associated with the reformed liturgy originated with it.

    In either case, responding “Amen” is not expected of the communicant.

  12. Joshua08 says:

    I do think it is important that the words for communion are not from the 16th century. They, more or less, date back to the 6th. By the time of St. Gregory the Great the words were already in a similar form “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thee. Amen” The Dominican form is slightly different than the Roman using “te” rather than “animam tuam”

    The manner also emphasizes a passivity to grade which is great.

  13. albinus1 says:

    In my local parish we occasionally have the TLM celebrated by the parish’s retired founding pastor, who is 90 years old. Last fall he celebrated his first TLM in 45 years for us. He was shaky, but he got through it, and at each Mass seems more comfortable with it than before. Still, he is 90; he cannot do all the genuflections, and his memory is not what it was. He also occasionally forgets that the Kyrie in the TLM is threefold, not twofold, and sometimes stumbles over the Latin. He says “Corpus Christi” when giving Communion., probably because it is easier for him. We are all happy to cut him some slack in these areas, because we know that he is aged and somewhat infirm, and because we are very grateful that he is willing to take the time and go to the trouble to celebrate the Traditional Mass for us as his schedule permits. After all, he spend the last 45 years — i.e., the vast majority of his ministry — not celebrating the TLM, and he has been kind enough to take the trouble to reacquaint himself with it to accommodate us.

  14. joanofarcfan says:

    During a full Christmas Eve TLM at our parish, a resident seminarian deacon assisted in distributing Holy Communion with “Corpus Christi.” It invites an “Amen” response. It was jarring, and I was going to mention this to the pastor, whom we cherish, but decided to let it go. But it just seems to me there is no excuse for a healthy young man who is assisting at the TLM NOT to learn the relatively short appropriate phrase in Latin. Maybe he is just lazy…or even obstinant. Too bad.

  15. Leonius says:

    At the OF the priest simply states a fact at the EF the priest is actually praying for the souls of the people he is responsible for sanctifying.

    It is much better for the priest to actually pray for the soul of the person receiving holy communion then to simply say body of Christ. While saying body of Christ might save time saying May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul unto life everlasting. Amen. is mroe useful for saving souls.

    It also takes advantage of a teaching moment far more effectively, not only is it teaching that Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament but also that it is a great aid to us for saving our soul, and that our salvation is not guaranteed.

    The priest prays for each of us individually one by one at the EF, which is just one more of the wonderful things about it.

    If we are going to take an economical eye to try and make the Mass efficient let is be with an eye to how to maximise the grace bestowed and the number of souls sanctified not to minimise the time it takes.

    A priest who makes changes to the mass so he can get it done faster needs to learn to love souls more than he loves those extra 5 minutes he might gain to do something else of less importance.

  16. joanofarcfan: It would be better to think the well of the seminarian and not let your idea of the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

  17. EXCHIEF says:

    or, maybe, he just hasn’t been taught correctly.

  18. joanofarcfan says:

    I’m curious about the picture that accompanies this post. They are both saints because of the haloes, but she is holding a cloth and looks as if the priest is going to put the Host in the cloth. Is there a story behind this picture? Or maybe she is just using the cloth as her own portable Communion rail, which is not a bad idea, come to think of it, considering the dearth of Communion rails these days.

  19. BT says:

    @joanofarcfan: It was at some time in the past a common practice for the faithful receiving Holy Communion to hold up a very long, narrow cloth over the altar rail. I know of this practice because the Institute of Christ the King does this at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis, MO.

  20. Leonius says:

    The cloth the lady is holding is used for the same purpose as the paten is now used, it is to protect any particles from the blessed sacrament falling on the floor, I don’t know hold old the practice is but it was used in medieval times.

  21. Frank H says:

    See this link for an interesting variation on the cloth discussed above. This is known as a houseling cloth…


  22. chcrix says:

    When I was an altar boy in the early sixties, I recall the priest going “Corpus…..etc.” at communicant A and then continuing “Custodiat…etc.” at communicant B, and repeating that way down the line.

    Was that an abuse?

  23. dcs says:

    Was that an abuse?

    Definitely a no-no. But perhaps it was summer, and Fr. was wearing heavy vestments, and the congregation was a large one?

  24. Fr. Basil says:

    For comparison, the distribution formula in most of the Byzantine Liturgies is, “The servant/handmaid/child of God N. receives the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ unto [remission of sins and] life everlasting.”

    For children who have not made their first Confession, the bracketed words are omitted.

    BUT in Byzantine St. James and St. Mark, it is simply “The Body/Blood of Christ,” to which the communicant replies, “Amen.”

  25. wolfeken says:

    If a priest can’t remember the full communion sentence, then he should use a cheat sheet. (I’ve seen this done starting out — it also works for the distribution of ashes and for blessing of throats.)

    What needs to be understood is that the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments are logical, and that the words said for communion have a point. It is a statement — a declaration. Just like blessings and such from the Ritual. In the novus ordo, all of these things turn into stories (God the Father of mercies sent…) or incomplete sentences (The body of Christ.) which often have no point or do not even address the person or object at hand.

    Some explanation as to the meaning of the sentence may give the priest reason to sit down and memorize it. Then he can start saying it with ease, and, thus, more quickly.

  26. Precentrix says:

    Just to put the boot on the other foot…

    This is a one-time only experience, but it was rather weird at the time. I was assisting at Holy Mass in the OF, in a parish where Holy Communion is regularly distributed at the altar rails. The celebrant went along quite normally communicating everyone with the short formula ‘Corpus Xi’ and then, reaching me, switched to the old formula, before switching back. Okay, so he knew that I regularly assisted at the EF, but it was rather odd.


    The cloths are still used in some places, particularly in continental Europe.

  27. mjballou says:

    I will add my thanks for your response, Father. If this were the only thing we had to worry about…

  28. St. Rafael says:

    I would never say “Amen”, nor should anybody ever make a respond of “Amen” at any time for receiving Communion in the Extraordinary form. The tradition, organic development, and the rubrics in the EF, has been silence for reception. A response for Communion did not exist and is completely alien to the Missal of 1962.

    The fact that a priest is changing the words or making it shorter is his problem and mistake. I would not follow his folly and it would stick with the tradition and rubrics of the TLM.

  29. Hieronymus says:

    And that older form surely helped to strengthen the priest’s and people’s understand of what the Lord was doing for them in the face of attacks on the Church’s doctrine and on the Mass during the theological revolts of the 16th and 17th centuries. – Fr. Z

    While it is true that the older form communicates (pardon the pun) a far richer message, its real superiority is that the priest is saying a prayer for the communicant — and surely we all agree here that prayers have real, supernatural effects. This was the primary focus of classical Roman Rite. Prayers and sacrifices are offered because they really effect something, not just, nor even primarily, because one can learn something from them. Though when it does come to learning something from the liturgy, a reading of the texts and rubrics shows the traditional Mass does a far better job of this, too.

  30. paulbailes says:

    IMHO the significance of this issue is that it represents an example of what Fr Z cites as the HF’s hopes for mutual enrichment between the TLM and the NOM. That’s certainly consistent with the HF’s assertion that the TLM and the NOM are merely two forms of the one rite, but I find that assertion pretty hard to believe: unbelievable, actually.

    Further, the idea that the NOM – a product of the revolution – has something to offer the TLM is deplorable.

    I would urge friends (on WDTPRS, elsewhere, anywhere for that matter) just to have nothing to do with the revolution and its various manifestations. Stay away from the NOM. And if “mutually enriching” NOM-ism seriously rears its head in your TLM, you might want to reconsider your participation. For example, it’s not after all compulsory to receive Communion.

    (For the record, I wouldn’t necessarily reject all liturgical development, e.g. vernacular reading of the Gospel and Epistle … better minds than mine should be listened to about this. But I would be suspicious of other innovations first introduced during the slide down from the TLM to the NOM during the 60s, such as the new Communion formula.)

    God bless

  31. Carolina Geo says:

    This sounds so similar to what occurred at the parish I was at for Mass this past Sunday that it probably was that same parish. The priest there does seem to take certain liberties with the rubrics, such as transfering feast days (which the PCED has said is to not be done when celebrating the Traditional Mass) and reading the epistle and gospel in the vernacular at the altar (he did this even before the PCED said that it was OK to do so, which is my complaint). It seems to me that in the realm of “mutual enrichment,” the Novus Ordo has very little to offer the Traditional Mass. And when a priest imposes Novus Ordo practices onto the Traditional Mass, nothing of benefit occurs. All it does is dumb down the liturgy.

    My opinions, worth exactly what you paid for them.

  32. JKnott says:

    Regarding the picture of the woman receiving Communion with the cloth, I saw an interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider explaining how in the early Church, male communicants received in the palm of the RIGHT hand only and were not allowed to take the Host with the fingers but deeply inclined from the waist to receive from the palm. He than went on to describe how the women received the same only with a white cloth like a corporal covering their hand. In both cases the communicant was required to examine for fragments before moving on. This was rather cumbersome and was part of the reason that Communion was changed to receiving on the tongue. This picture seems to suggest the accuracy of that older practice.

  33. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    It was done by elderly priests in former times, when presented with a large number of communicants, as happened after the generosity of Pope St Pius X, to divide the formula between pairs of communicants: “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi” to the first, then “custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen.” to the second. This strikes me as perfectly reasonable.

  34. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    @JKnott except, of course, this picture in 20th century, thus a charming bit of archaeologism! The cloth is called a “houseling cloth” and is still used in some Benedictine monasteries, and by the FSSP in their seminaries. It is stretched out across the sanctuary by two servers. If you look in Fortescue, is is the primary method for seen by the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form of distributing Holy Communion to the ministers and priests in choir. This is why in many traditional churches, a linen cloth is fixed to the communion rails. You may see this still today in St James’ Spanish Place in London, where it is also sued for the Ordinary Form.

  35. When I used to go to Mass in an FSSP parish, the priests used to simply repeat the old formula over and over, like a mantra, giving holy communion to those at the rail and not actually saying the ENTIRE formula to everyone. I was told by a former SSPX seminarian that this was quite common and perhaps even encouraged. Thoughts?

  36. Joel says:

    In the OF is it terribly wrong to not say “amen”?

    Speaking at the moment of reception for me has the effect of breaking the aura of the mystery or the magnificense of the encouter that is about to take place. Don’t get me wrong, when I say Amen, I acknowledge that I believe this is the real body, blood, soul and divintity of our Lord before me, something I would lay down my life for. It just seems awkward though to try and speak while trying to open my mouth to recieve.
    The revernce just seems lost.

    The EF is not just “better”, it makes sense. The OF or the way it has been contorted is often time a square peg in a round hole. This just seems to serve as another example.

  37. Re: formula, it seems obvious that the guy just opened his mouth and had a correct formula in Latin come out. He may or may not have even been aware of what it was, depending on how deep he had gone into a flow state of celebrating Mass. It doesn’t seem like anything I’d even have noticed, depending on how deep I’d gone into a flow state of praying and receiving Communion.

    Re: missals, it seems a bit weird to assume that everyone who brings along a prayerbook is a) not interested in the meaning of the words in Latin and b) not using a missal. You have to search pretty hard to find an old prayerbook that doesn’t include the Ordinary of the Mass.

    I have read a book from the old days whose author assumed that coming to Mass with no missal in hand constituted not attending Mass, but this person had a lot of other mean, crazy things to say. (Mostly against the older generation of Irish immigrants, many of whom had learned conversational Latin and Greek at their hedge schools, or other old Catholic immigrants, who had attended Mass many thousands more times than she had.) I’ve also read books from the Sixties which assumed that reading a missal or missalette constituted not attending Mass, because obviously you were ignoring what was going on and worshipping the page. This also strikes me as mean and crazy. :) Usually it’s better to ignore what other people are doing at Mass, unless you’ve got a legitimate reason to fiddle with their devotions. We all approach the same worship by different ways of thought and action. Our spiritual lives are not all exactly the same, nor did God mean them to be.

  38. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    Many priests I have seen celebrate Mass say, “May the Body [Blood] of Our Lord Jesus Christ bring OUR soulsto everlasting life.”

  39. William A. Anderson says:

    A simpler explanation is that those who tinkered with the Mass and pasted together the Novus Ordo were themselves tired of saying lots of prayers.

    You are so right. I was there — at the Harvard Radcliffe Catholic Center in the spring of 1967. A researcher came to our table at a reception after the Easter Vigil Mass, surveying our opinions as to which prayers might best be omitted from the Mass. I don’t recall whether the researcher identified whom she was working for, and I did not then comprehend that a massive liturgical change was in the works. I do recall being flattered at being asked for input. Pure vanity. Since then, I have often regretted allowing myself to be co-opted.

  40. brendanus says:

    What a beautiful image of St. John the Apostle giving Holy Communion to Our Lady!

    Incidentally, the abuse of reciting the prayer and crossing the Host once for several people at St. Mary’s Kansas by the Fathers of the SSPX was corrected by Bishop Fellay a few years ago. The whole prayer and blessing are done for each communicant, even where hundreds are present.

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