ASK FATHER: Parish priest doesn’t guard Eucharist from profanation. What to do?

From a reader…


Dear Father, I serve regularly at a large shrine which attracts vast numbers of non Catholics. Several of us have to be ‘on guard’ on Sundays to ensure that (mostly Hindu) friends of Catholics or just visitors don’t either try to take the sanctissimum away as a ‘lucky charm’ or receive it when they are not Catholics. Our priest seems reluctant to clamp down on this though the vast numbers and unaware visiting clergy make it more complicated. Yesterday was particularly bad. I need to raise this formally with the PP. Is there a ruling that I can quote to warn him, in a friendly way, that my next stop is the bishop?

It is the job of the pastor to be vigilant lest the Blessed Sacrament be treated disrespectfully and to guard against abuses (can. 528, 2). The question seems to be:  What should be done when the pastor is not doing his job?

Reminding him of his responsibility seems to be the logical first step. Doing his job for him is not a reasonable option. Self-appointed guardians, however well-meaning, seldom help.  They often hurt the cause of respect for the Blessed Sacrament.

If the pastor is not doing an adequate to ensure that the Blessed Sacrament is not profaned, a letter to the bishop is more than appropriate. Such a letter should be carefully written.  It should be written even with prayer and meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. St. Paul in Romans 12:10 urges us to outdo each other in showing honor. That applies very much to this situation.

If the Blessed Sacrament is being profaned and disrespected pray, you, and perhaps others, would do well to make reparation with sacrifices and fasting. Do this quietly, without a lot of show.  That may do more than you know to strengthen the heart of the pastor, the parish priest, to be more vigilant, or even to move the heart of the bishop to reprove a priest who may have grown lax.

Remember that all the faithful are involved in safeguard the sacred and the sacraments.  In Redemptionis Sacramentum we read:

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.

Thus, bring this to the parish priest’s attention first.  Then, if necessary you and others could address your concern to the local bishops.

I’ll add this from Redemptionis Sacramentum, for it is good – for priests and bishops – to review and reflect on this:

[186.] Let all Christ’s faithful participate in the Most Holy Eucharist as fully, consciously and actively as they can, honouring it lovingly by their devotion and the manner of their life. Let Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the exercise of the sacred ministry, examine their consciences as regards the authenticity and fidelity of the actions they have performed in the name of Christ and the Church in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Let each one of the sacred ministers ask himself, even with severity, whether he has respected the rights of the lay members of Christ’s faithful, who confidently entrust themselves and their children to him, relying on him to fulfill for the faithful those sacred functions that the Church intends to carry out in celebrating the sacred Liturgy at Christ’s command. For each one should always remember that he is a servant of the Sacred Liturgy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I have had reason to write the local bishop twice (once about a priest and deacon having a Holy Water fight on the altar – I kid you not- and another priest – at the same church – conducting what can be best described as a Baptist healing service for a Sunday Mass).
    An email goes to the bishop’s secretary when you click on the link for him, but I never received word one from the bishop’s office, not even an acknowledgement. Rude, if you ask me.

  2. APX says:

    Bob, the bishop may not have received it due to some technical glitch.

    I don’t send letters to bishops’ secretaries. I send them directly to the bishop and stamp the envelope clearly, “confidential”. Secretary doesn’t open them then and they go right to the bishop.

  3. Unwilling says:

    Finding the right tone for such a letter is, I have found, much assisted by keeping in mind that the person about whom will see what you have written.

  4. ChesterFrank says:

    I was at one Catholic church on Christmas and the priest said that anyone present could receive communion on that day , whether they were Catholic or not. I this the logic was that many people were travelling on that day and were from mixed religious marriages: and because of that some (Protestants) were not able to go to their congregations.

  5. Mike says:

    I have heard a priest friend, an orthodox, faithful, and experienced man, speak offhandedly about his being sure that “there were a lot of sacrilegious Communions” on Christmas Day. One wonders how priests in formation (or later) are advised to handle such situations as a crush of ill-disposed Christmas communicants, especially in the current era of poor (or heretical) catechesis. For this and myriad other reasons, priests need our prayers and support.

    Fr. Z’s advice would seem to aim at addressing the issue of profanation squarely while seeking (a) to mitigate the risk of ham-handed intervention making matters worse and (b) to rely on the lately-underused expedients of prayer, penance, and mortification — as good an operational definition of prudence as I can imagine.

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There is a world of difference between Catholics at Christmas and Easter possibly having the wrong disposition (which is up to their prudence to judge) or even while being in mortal sin (which would be very bad) — and non-Catholics or non-Christians receiving the Eucharist without being warned.
    Obviously, priests should preach to Catholics about worthy reception. But non-Christian, non-monotheist, actual pagans receiving? That’s really out there!

    On the bright side, God is able to bring good out of evil. He will glorify His Name even when we don’t. But that’s not an excuse.

    Still, Father Z is right about going through channels and making reparation.

  7. KM Edwards says:

    In this culture of “niceness”, I personally believe many priests are afraid to be perceived as “eucharistic nazis” (re Seinfeld 6th season Soup Nazi “No eucharist for you!”). They could use some tips on how to deal appropriately with people who come up illicitly for communion. Father Z, can you offer them some tips?

    One obvious one would be for each priest, in every mass, to remind the congregation before communion that “Only Catholics in good standing can receive communion. Non-Catholics are not permitted, and that Catholics are not in good standing if involved in premarital cohabitation or civil marriages outside of the Church.” (I’m sure that even this pre-emptive approach would create a huge stir, but this would be a good option to recommend to a priest who should know better).

    A holy priest I know is not very worried about that – sniffing out a non-Catholic in the Eucaristic line up, he said “The Body of Christ”, and actually waited for a response, which never came. Seeing that the response never came he declared firmly “You are not Catholic, leave this line”.

    Tough to imagine priests doing this with multitudes of potential communicants.

    But many of us Catholics have relatives who are “civilly remarried”, or in a second marriage outside of the Church, after a failed first marriage done in the Church. A number of these relatives may and sometimes do go to Church (at a Catholic wedding or funeral for example) and line up for communion. It is very difficult for individual lay persons to educate their wayward relatives. As such, I think the pre-emptive approach I suggest above is likely the best way to manage it en masse.

  8. KM Edwards says:

    Other options would be to enforce the use of kneelers. The same holy priest I mentioned in my previous post says “Non-believers don’t kneel”. True for the most part, although I do believe many Hindus do kneel and have no problem kneeling before Catholic statues and saints, and often display much more fervour before the statues of our saints than one might expect, so the rule may not be a good general one in an area where Hindus are likely to venture in.

    But between enforcing kneelers, and promoting a culture of kneeling for communion, along with the pre-emptive reminders, I would imagine that many (not sure if most) potential abuses would be mitigated.

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