ASK FATHER: “Why aren’t Masses restarted without Holy Communion?”

From a reader…


Father, thank you so much for the live streamed daily Mass. I’m ‘attend’ every day since you started and it has kept me focused on what’s important. My question: I thought that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was the most important act on the whole earth, and that distribution of Holy Communion was of secondary importance and a wonderful gift but not required. If so, why aren’t Masses restarted without Holy Communion for now since there’s such a dust up about it?

This is a good question.

For many generations, our Catholic forbears who really believed what the Church taught about the Eucharist and about the Sacrifice of the Mass, went to Mass regularly but received Communion relatively rarely.   They knew that, without confession, they shouldn’t receive because that would be an additional terrible sin.

Now, Catholics who barely believe, go to Mass with spotty regularity but they all receive Communion all the time.  They have not a clue that reception when not in the state of grace, many unshriven for a really long time, is the grave sin of sacrilege.

Both the 16th c. Council of Trent and 20th c. St. Pius X urged Catholic to receive frequently.  Frequently… BUT to receive frequently as true believers in Catholic doctrine and in the state of grace.

Lack of catechesis about the Sacraments and especially about the Eucharist and Penance, shabby liturgical practice, indifferent handling of the Eucharistic species by armies of lay people, and the dreadful indult for Communion on the hand have all contributed to a terrible shift in Catholic identity.  For so many people now the moment of Communion is that time when everyone goes forward and a smiley person, probably a woman, puts the white thing on their hand and then they sing a song… unless they are heading out the door to beat the parking lot rush.  “They like me!  I belong.   It’s nice to, like, see these people once in a while and, like, not have one of those, like, homilies that, you know, are kinda mean.”

Bottom line, a huge percentage of lay people and of, I dare say it, priests and bishops don’t have a firm grasp about what Mass is, what Communion is, and how they relate to each other.

Imagine the impact on the Body of Christ, on the whole wide world, from literally millions of sacrilegious Communions.  Sunday after Sunday after Sunday … er um… Saturday evening after Saturday evening… millions of sacrilegious Communions, endangering their immortal souls.  With hardly any effort from our Church’s pastors to improve the situation.

One of the very best things that we could do as we re-open and seek of “new normal”, hopefully a “better normal”, is basic catechesis on the Four Last Things, mortal sin and the Sacrament of Penance, and the “ends” of the Mass, which is above all a Sacrifice, something they may not have heard much about.

I suspect a lot of people would probably say,

“What’s the point in going to Mass if I can’t receive Communion?”

Stop and think about that attitude before reading on.

It seems to me a reasonable approach to open up churches for Mass but to tell people that Communion won’t be distributed during the Mass. All those who want to receive, can receive afterwards.  That’s a reasonable approach.   It isn’t the only approach, but it is reasonable.    Ironically, without swarms of unnecessary Communion ministers, and no ridiculous hand holding and antics at the entirely optional Novus Ordo version of the Sign of Peace, and few people receiving but many attending Mass… we will have returned to something that looks rather more like the normal of our forebears.  Our forebears… who would probably to a man and woman be appalled at what is done in many of our churches today and at what is spewed in pulpits.

Let’s please use this time of “phases” and lifting of lockdowns and reopenings to examine our practices, and consciences, with deep intensity.

Maybe opening Masses without Communion would be a good thing.  And the time not spent in distribution of Communion could allow for a longer sermon and basic catechesis, so that after a while, more people would at least have received, or reviewed the basics.

It’s an idea worth thinking about.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    As one who “came in from the liturgical cold”, I can tell you the reason why Mass without Communion is unthinkable in minds of many. In a current, muddled theology of the Mass and Eucharist, the main point of the Mass is Fellowship with God and each other with the reception of Communion as a sign of Unity of that Fellowship. There is no point in having Mass (Fellowship) without its sign (Communion). Everyone who attends Mass must receive under this muddled theology. As Father pointed out, this has led to many horrible abuses in the reception of Holy Communion.

  2. Antonin says:

    Respectfully disagree Father. The Catholic faith is very sensual (sights, sounds, that smells). The saints fought against iconoclasm basing the argument on the Incarnation. God became incarnate not to condemn the world but to elevate it. We can now deploy the things of the world in and through Christ to give us a foreshadowing of Heaven which will also be material – we are embodied beings and not simply cerebral.

    The strippping if icons and art from churches and the dimunition ofmosunds and smells has impoverished the Church.

    It is true that there are monastic traditions such as the Cistercians that are less focused on those externals but that is the exception and is connected to an entire monastic discipline overall that few are called to. And even there, monasticism, itself, as a physical entity, is in itself a visible witness to an invisible reality.

    Trent and Pius X saw clearly the Modernist trends in diminishing the material as a means of sacramentals and even sacraments. They saw the need, ever more present in the Modern world to emphasize the goodness of physicality.

    The danger of online pietynis precisely that it becomes disemodied and technological severing us ever further from other people and the tangible realities of the world that can serve to draw us closer God and through which God represents his love for the world.

    [You’ve confused yourself by bringing in the online streaming. On that you have a point, but it is not relevant. On the other point, the sensual… no. I’m not buying that. The proposal isn’t about never receiving. It’s about receiving less often. First, this allows for the person to make a good confession. Also, it contributes to what John Paul II described as fama eucharistica.]

  3. CasaSanBruno says:

    Alas, that is our situation here. Since the apparatchiks in our chancery (aka Pyongyang) have forbidden Communion on the tongue, the Latin Mass parishes here are left without Communion for the faithful. My own thinking is that this is hardly based on good science, but is rather an ideological move. Since they couldn’t do away with Summorum Pontificum this was their way of attacking the Latin Mass.

  4. Josephus Corvus says:

    If the proposal to have Mass without distribution of Communion would have been made in March, I would have been all for it. At this point, though, it’s time for 100% opening with no restrictions on age, Communion, number of Masses per priest, or “face diaper” requirements. It seems like every single one of our bishops (in the US at least) bowed before Caesar and cancelled public Mass. As Archbishop Viganò said …it seems most that the Hierarchy, with very few exceptions, had no scruple in closing the churches and in preventing the participation of the faithful in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They have behaved like cold bureaucrats, like executors of the will of the Prince, and most of the faithful have taken their actions as a sign of their lack of Faith. … This is further proof that the Hierarchy is in a dreadful state and shows that Bishops are all too willing to sacrifice the well-being of souls to pacify the power of the state or the dictatorship of ideas.

  5. Sandy says:

    Oh Father, “a longer sermon” with the extra time? I’m not sure I could survive that, based on most of the sermons I have heard!

  6. Danteewoo says:

    It was hard enough to respect the hierarchy before the Covid lockdown. It is impossible now. I suspect a large fallout will occur if and when normalcy ever returns. The Church pushed the auto-destruct button at Vatican II, and it’s been one surrender after another since then. How many will conclude the Church just isn’t worth returning to?

  7. Ultrarunner says:

    Far fewer millions would commit the sacrilege of receiving unworthily if priests would simply provide instruction or convey the appropriate warnings immediately prior to distributing holy communion.

    “If you have been to confession recently and are in a state of grace please come forward to receive. If you have not gone to confession recently and are not in a state of grace, please, for the good of your own soul, do not come forward, remain seated, and go to confession as soon as possible this week.”

    You never hear anything like this prior to communion and yet it’s so simple.

    As a result, priests are fully complicit in this matter in that they foster perpetual ignorance about it, and distribute to those who come forward unworthily without ever saying a word to stop it.

    They are not too unlike a grocery store chain that sells cigarettes and alcohol to minors 95% of the time while operating under the false notion they can blame the kids for buying it as a defense.

    It’s also emblematic that when seating by reservation is a norm in churches today, not a single priest has insisted on putting their sign up sheets for limited seating opportunities at a mass exclusively in the confessional.

  8. Nathan says:

    Excellent post, Father! I know that distribution of Holy Communion to the Faithful in the TLM is a ceremony technically outside the Mass itself. I was under the impression that distribution of Holy Communion to the Faithful is organic to the Novus Ordo, and that omitting it while the Faithful were in attendance would be outside the rubrics. Does that pose a dilemma in the Novus Ordo?

    In Christ,

  9. philosophicallyfrank says:

    I would suggest that this is a time to go much further. “Sacrosanctum Concilium” from the Second Vatican Council; was from the “Paraclete” (John 14, 16) who was sent to the Church by the Father, Himself. Instead of it being “promulgated” as Pope Paul VI ordered; it was totally ignored and we were given a man conceived mass which has been a profanation of the Mass. Now is a good time to for the Mass called for by the Holy Spirit. It has been 50 years that we have ignored God’s wish and “to my knowledge” during that time only one, then, Archbishop did do it:
    “His Excellency Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith has proclaimed a special “Year of the Eucharist” for his Archdiocese of Colombo, from August 2010 to August 2011. The text of the Archbishop’s circular, dated July 16, 2010 and announcing the Year of the Eucharist and enumerating its goals can be found here.”
    During that year he said that all the priests in his diocese would be retrained and after that year he would not tolerate any abuses.
    According to the Code of Canon Law Title 1 Canon #212 section #3 “We”, the Christian Faithful, ” have the right and even at times the duty” to a properly celebrated liturgy. It is long overdue for us to ask for what we have a liturgical right to be offered. “Sacrosanctum Concilium” is available online and/or a booklet with it can be purchased. We need to be able to understand what changes to the Tridentine Mass were called for and what was not called for and then we can try to “convert” our priests and our Bishops. The Bishops keep telling us that the laity needs to get more involved; so, let’s do just that.
    And just as important, we, each one of us, must learn our faith to the best of our ability; since we cannot trust what we hear from our bishops. It really is our responsibility to protect ourselves.

  10. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    Notably, the two things that carry the greatest amount of coronavirus risk at Mass — 1) communion to every person in attendance, and 2) audible responding/singing by the congregation from the pews — are both 20th century innovations.

  11. surritter says:

    Another reason why people today think they must receive Holy Communion at Mass: I’ve heard priests teach that going to Mass is not about what we give to God, but what He wants to give us… namely, Himself.
    While that’s true, it is often heard as “He wants to give Himself to us in Communion, so we’d better go up and receive or this Mass isn’t doing me any good.”
    Maybe we should dial back on what we get from Mass, and focus more on giving all that we can to God.

  12. kat says:

    This is what our parking lot Masses have been since Palm Sunday: Masses without communion.

    Thankfully, our priests have spent hours hearing confessions and giving Communion to those who signed up for spots during the week to receive those Sacraments.

    So much gratitude for our priests.

  13. WmHesch says:

    To distribute AFTER Mass wouldn’t be traditional at all. I can’t find a single Pre-Conciliar reference to Communion being distributed after High Mass… whereas it was very common before the Council to distribute at the rail BEFORE Mass, or between the low and high Mass.

  14. Vincent says:

    There are still no Masses here in England but I had the opportunity to go to an (illegal) one last week. That was my first Mass in 9 weeks. As someone who can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t attended Sunday/HDO Masses in 27 years, it was interesting to discover the profound physicality of the Mass.

    We are undoubtedly fortunate that in these times, we can unite ourselves visually to the Mass through livestreams, etc. However, I discovered that being physically in the same room as the Sacrifice of Calvary has a physical dimension to it – that is to say that it was not Communion (although clearly I wanted and was glad to receive Communion) but the actual presence of Our Lord which impressed itself upon me. It’s very difficult to explain, but perhaps to put it differently, that I was far more clearly aware that when Father lifted up the Host, not only did I believe that Transubstantiation occurs, but that I physically felt the change happening. I commented on this too my family and various others agreed with this perception.

    Obviously the Church understands this – you have to be physically present to receive sacraments, and rightly so. But I think this perhaps lays bare a ‘twisting’ of Sacramental theology in modern times to place the entire emphasis on the “Eucharistic Banquet” and somehow ignore the physical change that occurs even being in the presence of Calvary. Mass itself is a remedy; in normal times when I am having a bad day at work, there is no better solution than running down to Mass at lunchtime. I sometimes receive, but either way simply being present is enough to renew focus and set myself up for a better afternoon.

    I hope that this remains with me from now on, and that others feel it and realise that it’s the Mass that matters after all.

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